MeerKAT team receives Royal Astronomical Society group achievement award

by SKAO on 13 January 2023
The Royal Astronomical Society’s group achievement award for 2023 has gone to the team behind SKA precursor instrument MeerKAT.

The society recognised the MeerKAT team “for a series of spectacular observations in radio astronomy”, specifically those depicting the centre of the Milky Way and the radio bubbles around our home galaxy’s supermassive black hole. Furthermore, “MeerKAT has supported an intensive programme of human capital development in Africa, stress-tested the technology for the Square Kilometre Array, and helped train the next generation of radio astronomers”, the award citation stated.

The MeerKAT telescope – inaugurated in 2018 and currently being extended – derived from the aspiration to have an SKA precursor telescope that would be a powerful instrument in its own right, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) said in a statement. “This award is accepted with pride because it confirms the successful rendition of this aspiration into physical reality on African soil,” SARAO added.

The greater MeerKAT team extends beyond SARAO, as indicated by the diversity of institutions cited by the award. Colleagues and partner institutions from around the world have expressed their confidence in MeerKAT by providing instrumentation, software, and know-how to enhance telescope capabilities. In turn, the scientific exploitation of the telescope capabilities has involved collegial international partnerships.

MeerKAT’s 64 dishes will eventually be incorporated into the SKA Observatory’s mid-frequency telescope in South Africa, SKA-Mid.

“At MeerKAT’s launch, I told guests that the telescope would ‘certainly make history’. It did not take long to be proven right as the prestigious Royal Astronomical Society award confirms,” said the SKAO’s Director-General, Prof. Philip Diamond. “I wish to congratulate everyone who shares the well-deserved reward.”

MeerKAT telescope showing radio bubbles

The core of the MeerKAT array telescope, in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, with a radio image of the Milky Way showing the previously unknown “MeerKAT bubbles” (from top right towards lower left) surrounding the black hole at the centre of our galaxy. Credit: SARAO, I Heywood (Oxford), S Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)