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The desert regions of South Africa, provide the perfect radio quiet backdrop for the high and medium frequency arrays that will form a critical part of the SKA’s ground-breaking continent wide telescope.

Artist impression of the SKA dishes on the South African SKA site, with MeerKAT dishes in the background.

South Africa is not alone in hosting components for the SKA in Africa. Eight partner countries around the African continent will also have radio telescopes contributing to the network that will provide scientists with the world’s most advanced radio astronomy array. These include Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

South Africa is already host to the KAT7 telescope array, an important testing ground for the MeerKAT telescope array, a 64 dish system which will form a precursor to the full SKA Telescope.

In SKA Phase 1, the 64-dish MeerKAT precursor array which is currently under construction and expected to come online in a few years time will be integrated into SKA1 MID, with the construction of another 130 dishes. In total, SKA1 MID will count almost 200 dishes spread around the Karoo.


SKA1MID infographic

An infographic of SKA1 MID, the first phase of the SKA’s mid-frequency instrument.

SKA1 MID will conduct observations in many exciting areas of science, such as gravitational waves, pulsars, and will search for signatures of life in the galaxy. It will provide a jump in capability, providing 4 times more resolution and 5 times more sensitivity than the JVLA, the current best telescope as similar frequencies. Additionally, it will be able to map the sky 60 times faster.

Mid frequency aperture array antennas are currently under development and could be installed in Africa in Phase 2.

Click here to see the South African SKA site on Google maps.

To see a stunning wide panoramic image of the SKA site in South Africa  – Click Here


SKA Precursors – MeerKAT and KAT-7

South Africa’s KAT-7 telescope catches the last rays of light as the sun sets over the Karoo desert. The seven-dish KAT-7 is being used as an engineering test bed to refine South Africa’s SKA precursor telescope MeerKAT. Credit: Rupert Spann

South Africa’s KAT-7 telescope catches the last rays of light as the sun sets over the Karoo desert. Credit: Rupert Spann


A photograph of the first MeerKAT dish antenna, installed on site in the Karoo in March 2014.


Already in the process of development in the South African Karoo region, MeerKAT is a precursor to the full SKA system and as an independent instrument will itself be conducting critical science for some years before being integrated in to the first phase of the full SKA. When completed the 64 offset Gregorian dishes each 13.5 m in diameter will provide invaluable scientific data ahead of the full SKA telescope becoming operational.The first seven dishes the precursor to MeerKAT are complete and are known as KAT-7. The first of the MeerKAT dishes was placed on site in 2014. Working with South African industry and universities, and collaborating with institutions around the world, the South African team has developed technologies and systems for MeerKAT, including innovative composite telescope dishes and cutting edge signal processing hardware and algorithms.

This innovation combined with the scale of the project has resulted in the first five years of observing time on being already allocated to international project teams for ten priority large radio sky surveys.


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Interesting Facts

  • In 2013 all seven of the KAT-7 dishes were successfully fitted with “cold” radio receivers, which marks the successful completion of the telescope antennas.
  • The first astronomical image taken with the cold receivers was of the galaxy Centaurus A, whose intense radio emission is powered by a massive black hole in the centre of the galaxy.