Africa’s most advanced telescope Meerkat was launched in Carnavon, Northern Cape Province on Friday, allowing scientists to better explore the universe.

“Today is a special day of pride for the continent of Africa. This day represents some of Africa’s milestones in the successful interweaving of science, technology and innovation into our solutions of dealing with our developmental challenges in our quest to catch up with the rest of the world and make our contribution to world civilization,” Deputy President David Mabuza said at the launch ceremony.

The 64-dish Meerkat radio telescope is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1.

The SKA, the world’s largest telescope, will be about 50-100 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope on earth. It’s designed to probe the edges of the universe and help scientists answer fundamental questions in astronomy, physics and cosmology, including the nature of dark energy and dark matter.

China has been a major player in the development of the SKA project and is a member of the Board of Directors of the SKA organization.

South Africa takes pride in the fact that Meerkat was completed on time and within the originally projected budget of 3.2 billion rand (about 240 million U.S. dollars), Mabuza said.

“This efficiency and precision demonstrate our capability of managing major projects,” he said.

“This iconic instrument will produce science that changes our understanding of the universe,” said Mabuza.

The SKA project will be the largest of its kind in the world, with image resolution quality exceeding the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 50 times, according to Mabuza.

“This will give the SKA unprecedented scope in observations, enabling it to produce transformational science,” he said.

In addition to China, the project involves Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Nine African countries also take part. They are South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Kenya, Zambia and Ghana.

“The African Union Heads State and Government supported our bid to host the SKA and committed Africa to participate in the global SKA project. The success of this project demonstrates that fulfilling Africa’s Vision 2063 is possible,” Mabuza said.

The Meerkat would, once fully operational, take its place among the world’s leading research instruments, he said.

There is no doubt that the launch of the Meerkat further strengthens the prospects of a larger role for South Africa in the construction of the SKA, and promises numerous benefits for the country and the region as a whole, said Mabuza. Enditem

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