Government-funded MeerKAT telescope team win international award

SKAO Minister 02

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, welcomed the award of the Royal Astronomical Society's 2023 Group Achievement Award (A) to the MeerKAT Team.  The Society was founded in 1820, and encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and related branches of science.

Announcing the award on Friday, 13 January 2023, the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) said that the MeerKAT team had, in a short time, achieved spectacular advances in radio astronomy.  Among many breakthrough observations, the MeerKAT images of the Galactic Centre region revealed for the first time the amazing large-scale radio bubbles around Sagittarius A and evidence of a common origin for these bubbles.  The team had tracked the radio afterglow of the first ever observed neutron star merger event and revealed powerful ejections from a stellar-mass black hole.  It had also contributed to the detection of the first afterglow from a gamma-ray burst detected by ground-based Cherenkov telescopes.

As well as its extensive scientific output, the MeerKAT has supported an intensive programme of human capital development in Africa, stress-tested the technology for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and helped train the next generation of radio astronomers.

Congratulating the MeerKAT team on winning the award, Minister Nzimande said that the government had to date invested about R4,5bn in the construction and operation of the MeerKAT telescope, which will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of the SKA Phase 1.  When completed, the SKA will be the world's largest radio telescope. South Africa and Australia are co-hosting the international project.

The Minister said that the MeerKAT had already yielded impressive successes and would continue to do so.  He noted that, while the government's investment in mega science projects had generated new knowledge benefiting the global scientific community, it had also improved socio-economic conditions.

"Several initiatives linked to the mega science project are benefiting communities, through job creation, the funding of students, and skills development projects, including welding training.  We have also trained companies and individuals to prepare them to bid for SKA contracts.  The announcement last December of contracts to local companies shows that this has born fruit," said the Minister.

He added that the MeerKAT had also benefited local businesses, as the majority of materials used in construction were sourced locally, and towns near the telescope site, like Carnarvon, had experienced economic development benefiting poor communities.

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Issued by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation.

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