MeerKAT makes extraordinary galactic discovery

The MeerKAT telescope which made the latest impressive discovery is located in the Northern Cape in South Africa.

The innovative MeerKAT telescope in South Africa has recently made a groundbreaking discovery!

The South African MeerKAT radio telescope, located in the Northern Cape, has discovered a group of undiscovered 20 galaxies.

In a press release issued on Wednesday July 6, by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), the newly discovered galaxy group is said to likely be the most neutral hydrogen gas-rich group ever discovered. Despite being located in a very well-studied area of the sky, this is the first time the group has been identified!

The paper was led by Shilpa Ranchod, an MSc student supervised by Professor Roger Deane at the University of Pretoria. “The distribution of neutral hydrogen gas in these galaxies has revealed interesting, disturbed morphologies suggesting that these galaxies are group members, and are being influenced by their cosmic neighbours in the group”, noted Ms Ranchod. “For example, we found an interacting pair of galaxies that will potentially merge to form a new galaxy with a completely transformed appearance.”

According to the press release, this galaxy group was discovered by the MeerKAT International Gigahertz Tiered Extragalactic Exploration (MIGHTEE) survey. It is one of the large survey projects in progress with South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope and involves a team of South African and international astronomers.

The MeerKAT radio telescope in the Northern Cape, South Africa’s precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), aims to answer fundamental questions about the formation and evolution of galaxies. Its exceptional sensitivity provides astronomers with further insight into the drivers of galaxy evolution.

Dr Bradley Frank, SARAO’s associate director of astronomy operations at the Inter-university Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy and co-chair of the MIGHTEE neutral hydrogen working group said: “This discovery really highlights that MeerKAT is an amazing instrument. MeerKAT’s large field-of-view, wide bandwidth, coupled with excellent sensitivity and resolving power makes it a premium survey instrument, allowing us to conduct a census of galaxies in a variety of environments.

“MeerKAT is an important step in the direction of the SKA — providing us with a view to future SKA science projects and lessons on how to overcome the many technical challenges involved in realising the true scientific potential of SKA and SKA pathfinders,” said Dr Frank.

Dr Anastasia Ponomareva, researcher at the University of Oxford and co-author of the paper said: “This discovery shows that our MeerKAT observations caught a galaxy group in the early stages of its assembly, which is very uncommon. Therefore, this discovery is not only important per se, but will set new grounds for understanding of how galaxies are assembled into groups and transformed by their environment. We expect many wonderful findings like this in the future, thanks to the ongoing MeerKAT surveys.”

This discovery has been published in the Monthly Notice of the Royal Astronomical Society, and its pre-print version is available on this link at, https://arxiv.org/abs/2107.01237. Photo credit: SARAO