MeerLICHT, which was officially unveiled at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Sutherland last Friday, is a fully robotic telescope which aims to provide a simultaneous, real-time optical view of the same part of the sky as the radio telescope MeerKAT to which it will be permanently linked.
According to Professor Patrick Woudt, co-principal investigator of the MeerLICHT telescope and head of astronomy at UCT, the chief scientific goals of MeerLICHT is the study of stellar explosions, which need to be investigated intensely before they fade away again.
“The study of exploding stars across the Universe will gain a whole new dimension”, said Professor Woudt.
The launch of the MeerLICHT optical telescope coincided with Africa Day, which acknowledges the need to recognise African skies and the partnerships between Europe and Africa that led to this innovation.
“Besides extreme astrophysics, typically associated with black holes and neutron stars, we will also study normal stars, in particular those that produce strong flares” added Professor Rudy Wijnands of the University of Amsterdam.
Professor Paul Groot, co-principal investigator from Radboud University in the Netherlands emphasised that all data collected would be shared globally to advance the science and take advantage of global research.
MeerLICHT is an example of projects aligned to the objective of the Multi-wavelength Astronomy (MWA) strategy, which was approved by the Department of Science and Technology in 2015.
The aim of the MWA strategy is to forge closer ties between radio, optical and gamma ray astronomy communities and facilities to work together to achieve common scientific objectives and develop human capital.