×

We've got news for you.

Register on Sunday Times at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

SA telescope captures clearest image ever of the centre of our ...

News

Astronomical news

SA telescope captures clearest image ever of the centre of our galaxy

MeerKAT’s groundbreaking technology has revealed a host of new phenomena that’ll keep astronomers busy for years

Senior science reporter
The new MeerKAT image of the galactic centre region is shown with the galactic plane running horizontally across the image. Many new and previously-known radio features are evident, including supernova remnants, compact star-forming regions and a large population of mysterious radio filaments.
ABOVE AND BEYOND The new MeerKAT image of the galactic centre region is shown with the galactic plane running horizontally across the image. Many new and previously-known radio features are evident, including supernova remnants, compact star-forming regions and a large population of mysterious radio filaments.
Image: Ian Heywood, SARAO

The clearest image ever of the centre of our galaxy has been released, captured from a telescope on South African soil.

The MeerKAT telescope — a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array — is managed by South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) and consists of 64 antennae spread over a diameter of 8km in the Northern Cape. 

I always try to emphasise that radio imaging hasn’t always been this way, and what a leap forward MeerKAT really is in terms of its capabilities.
Dr Ian Heywood from the University of Oxford, Rhodes University and SARAO

The image shows radio emission from the region with “unprecedented clarity and depth” and is a culmination of three years of detailed analysis of a survey conducted during the telescope’s commissioning phase, according to a statement released by SARAO.

The international team behind the work is publishing the initial data from the image in The Astrophysical Journal for the worldwide astronomical community to explore further.

“The image captures radio emission from numerous phenomena, including outbursting stars, stellar nurseries and the chaotic region about the 4-million solar mass supermassive black hole that lurks in the centre of our galaxy, 25,000 light-years from Earth,” said the statement.

Radio waves penetrate the intervening dust that obscures the view of this region at other wavelengths. 

A rare, almost-perfect spherical supernova remnant that has been discovered at the edge of the MeerKAT mosaic. Numerous compact radio sources are also visible, many of which signpost supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies far beyond our own. There is also an intriguing tailed radio source visible on the right of the image, which could be an object in our galaxy moving at high speed, leaving a trailing wake.
SUPERNOVA A rare, almost-perfect spherical supernova remnant that has been discovered at the edge of the MeerKAT mosaic. Numerous compact radio sources are also visible, many of which signpost supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies far beyond our own. There is also an intriguing tailed radio source visible on the right of the image, which could be an object in our galaxy moving at high speed, leaving a trailing wake.
Image: Ian Heywood

“I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this image while working on it, and I never get tired of it,” said Dr Ian Heywood from the University of Oxford, Rhodes University and SARAO, and lead author of the study. 

“When I show this image to people who might be new to radio astronomy, or otherwise unfamiliar with it, I always try to emphasise that radio imaging hasn’t always been this way, and what a leap forward MeerKAT really is in terms of its capabilities.”

The new image is based on a mosaic of 20 separate observations using 200 hours of telescope time covering an area of six square degrees (30 times the area of the full moon). 

Dr Fernando Camilo, SARAO chief scientist, said: “The best telescopes expand our horizons in unexpected ways. It’s a testament to the skill and dedication of our South African colleagues who built MeerKAT that it’s making such remarkable discoveries in one of the most intensively studied corners of the radio sky.”

In the centre of the image is the supernova remnant G359.1-0.5. To the left is the 'Mouse’, a runaway pulsar possibly formed and ejected by the supernova event. To the upper right is one of the longest and most famous radio filaments, known as the 'Snake’.
RARE GLIMPSE In the centre of the image is the supernova remnant G359.1-0.5. To the left is the 'Mouse’, a runaway pulsar possibly formed and ejected by the supernova event. To the upper right is one of the longest and most famous radio filaments, known as the 'Snake’.
Image: Ian Heywood, SARAO

He added: “The image we’re sharing today is rich with scientific potential, and we very much look forward to further surprises as the astronomical community mines these data for years to come.”

MeerKAT, originally the Karoo Array Telescope, was inaugurated in 2018 and is the most sensitive telescope of its sort in the world.

subscribe