Some of the 64 radio antennas of the MeerKAT telescope in the Karoo, 90km outside Carnarvon. Photo: SARAO

The MeerKAT telescope is making global headlines once again, this time for solving a longtime riddle about a galaxy that was missing a key element… hydrogen.


Northern Cape, South Africa – In March of this year, the MeerKAT telescope started prowling the universe to find things unknown and capture images unseen.

It captured an image of the M83 galaxy, which was colour coded according to the velocity of the gas in each location. Astronomers were able to distinguish which parts of the galaxy were moving at different speeds.

While it can take up to a week for an image to be captured, they are incredible and help Astronomers calculate a variety of things which aid in theories about the universe and galaxies beyond.

Over R300 million has been spent in the Northern Cape with the construction of the KAT-7, a proof-of-concept radio telescope, and MeerKAT, the precursor to the SKA. The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) spearheads South Africa’s activities within the SKA, an international project. The project created thousands of jobs during its construction and investment in education is another aspect too.

This week the MeerKAT made a significant scientific discovery in the MGC 1316 galaxy, solving a long-time riddle for astronomers. The team of international astronomers published their findings in the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal.

According to a report on The South African, they discovered hydrogen gas. Over years of study, astronomers have always questioned why MGC 1316 has had lower hydrogen levels than any other galaxy observed in history. This was the riddle, why was this galaxy missing hydrogen when it was a vital part in a galaxy’s existence?

The MeerKAT gave scientists the ability to study this, which led to the discovery of the gas.

“NGC 1316 contains a very large amount of dust in its interstellar medium. In this article we show new radio images obtained with MeerKAT, which revealed where all the hydrogen was hiding; it’s distributed in two long, faint, gaseous tails, stretching to a large distance from the galaxy.” – Paolo Serra, Project lead author at the Italian Institute for Astrophysics Cagliari Observatory

Hydrogen is present in the form of two tails, note Tn and Ts on the diagram above.
Image: Astronomy & Astrophysics manuscript no. n1316

The MGC 1316 galaxy was formed by the merging of two galaxies, billions of years ago. Being able to study it in such detail has created a new wave of excitement in the science world, and many astronomers look forward to what the future of their studies hold with an asset such as the MeerKAT.

“With this beautiful piece of work, Paolo and his colleagues, among whom are several young South Africans, have significantly advanced our knowledge of the formation and evolution of galaxies. This provides a wonderful taste of what MeerKAT will do in years to come.” – Dr Fernando Camilo, Chief Scientist

Anyone else feeling like Penny from Big Bang Theory? The astronomers have the science in hand; we are just excited that a South African telescope is behind the discovery.

Sources: The South African 
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Tyler Leigh Vivier
About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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