The name MeerKAT means “More KAT”, a sequel to KAT 7, the seven-antenna Karoo Array Telescope – though the meerkats actually lurk around the remote area, sharing space with wild asses, horses, snakes, scorpions and kudus, moose – size mammal with long, spiral antlers. Visitors to MeerKAT are required to wear safety leather boots with steel toes in case snakes and scorpions. They are also warned about the kudus, which is very protective of their calves and recently attacked a security guard’s pickup truck, causing him and his car to overturn. MeerKAT is completely silent around the radio; All visitors must turn off their phones and laptops. The only place with connection is an underground “bunker” shielded by 30 cm thick walls and a heavy metal door to protect sensitive antennas from any man-made interference. .
MeerKAT is one of two precursors to a much larger radio observatory of the future – SKA, or the Square kilometers array. After the SKA is completed, the scientists will add another 131 antennas in the Karoo. The first SKA just arrived at MeerKAT from China. Each antenna will take weeks to assemble, followed by months of testing to see if it really works the way it needs to. If all goes well, more will be commissioned, built and shipped to this remote place where the main color is brown during the day; However, as the sun sets, the MeerKAT disks dance in an incredible palette of purple, red, and pink colors, as they welcome the Milky Way stretching its starry path just above. Bailes says the MeerKAT will soon turn into an incredible FRB machine.
There is another forerunner of SKA – ASKAP in Australia. Back in 2007, when Lorimer was working on it nature denied, Ryan Shannon is completing his Ph.D. in physics at Cornell University in New York – sharing office with Laura Spitler, who later discovered Spitler Burst. Shannon came from Canada, raised in a small town in British Columbia. About half an hour’s drive from his home is the Radio Astronomical Observatory and the Dominion (DRAO) – a relatively small facility that is involved in building equipment for the VLA.
Understandably, DRAO must have influenced his career choices, Shannon said. And it was at DRAO, a few years later, a completely new telescope – Chime – would be built that would have a big impact on the fledgling FRB field of research. But in 2007 that will still happen. After graduating from Cornell School in 2011, Shannon decided not to stay near home – “what my mom wanted.” Instead, he moved to Australia and eventually Swinburne University in the Melbourne suburbs.
Shannon joined Bailes’ team in 2017 – and then astronomers began to understand why they didn’t detect more FRB, even though they have estimated that these flashes occur hundreds of times per day, if not more. “Our large radio telescopes don’t have a wide field of view, they can’t see the entire sky – that’s why we’ve missed out on nearly all of the FRBs in the decade. first realize these exist.
When he, Bailes and other FRB hunters saw the ultra-bright repeater, Spitler Burst, they understood that there were fast radio explosions that could be found even without giant telescopes like Parkes, by how to use devices with a wider field of view. So they started to build ASKAP – a new observatory formed in 2012 and recently completed in the Australian outback. It has 36 dishes with a diameter of 12 meters each and just like with MeerKAT, they all work together.
To get to ASKAP, in a very sparsely populated area of Western Australia’s Murchison Shire, one had to fly to Perth first, exchange a smaller plane to Murchison, then squeeze into a single-winged plane. Very small fan or drive for five hours on 150 km of dirt road. Shannon, who went to the ASKAP site twice, said: “When it rains, it turns muddy and you can’t drive there,” Shannon, who went to the ASKAP site twice, to introduce villagers geography about the newly built telescope – with permission – on their ground and watch the next generation ultra-sensitive radio observatory remotely for himself.