Scientists promised it would be the world's most powerful radio telescope, capable of exploring dark energy, black holes, and traces of the universe's creation 14 billion years ago. South Africa's MeerKAT has already exceeded expectations. Though operating at a quarter of its eventual capacity with 16 of 64 planned dishes, MeerKAT's first image, released Saturday, revealed some 1,300 unknown galaxies in a tiny patch of sky previously known to house only 70, reports AFP. Its other "exceptionally beautiful" images "are far better (than) we could have expected," says Fernando Camilo of Square Kilometer Array—a multi-radio telescope project involving 200 specialists and 20 countries that will eventually include 3,000 dishes, mainly in South Africa and Australia, reports Wired.
The images feature a galaxy forming new stars from hydrogen gas and a black hole emitting electrons close to the speed of light, reports CNN. Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s science minister, tells IOL that the quality of images is what scientists expected from 32 dishes, not 16, meaning MeerKAT "is already the best radio telescope in the southern hemisphere," says Camilo. "When the 64 dishes are in place next year, it will be the best telescope, not only in the southern hemisphere but in the world," adds Pandor. When it hits full capacity in the 2020s, SKA "will have a discovery potential 10,000 times greater than the most advanced modern instruments," reports AFP. Wired reports some 500 groups have already asked to book MeerKAT between 2017 and 2020. (The world's largest radio telescope was just completed.)