World-first linked optical and radio telescopes will capture deep space data
A new optical telescope in Sutherland with a direct link to the just-completed 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope in Carnarvon, more than 200km away, will be unveiled on Friday. It will be the first time in the world that a dedicated optical telescope will simultaneously observe the same part of the sky as a radio telescope. The telescope on the South African Astronomical Observatory’s (SAAO’s) Sutherland site in the Northern Cape is called MeerLICHT, Dutch for "more light". The site is home to almost two dozen optical telescopes. SA, particularly the Northern Cape, has a geographic advantage in astronomy due to its clear night skies and low population density. What makes MeerLICHT different from other telescopes, however, is that it will have a direct line to MeerKAT. "Basically we can visualise in the optical what is being done in the radio," says Patrick Woudt, head of astronomy at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and SA’s principal investigator on the MeerLICHT project.