64 telescopes will study the structure of the universe in detail

(ORDO NEWS) — For the first time, an international team of astronomers has combined the capabilities of 64 radio telescopes to detect faint signs of neutral hydrogen gas on a cosmological scale.

This was made possible by the MeerKAT telescope located in South Africa. It is the forerunner of the world’s largest radio observatory, the SKA Observatory (SKAO), which will explore the universe in as much detail as possible.

Radio telescopes are a fantastic tool for this, as they can detect 21cm radiation generated by neutral hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. By analyzing three-dimensional maps of hydrogen extending over millions of light years, we can trace the overall distribution of matter in the universe.

SKAO is currently under construction. However, there are already pioneering telescopes such as the 64-beam MeerKAT telescope. Located in the Karoo Desert and operated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), MeerKAT will eventually become part of SKAO.

MeerKAT and SKAO will operate primarily as interferometers, where an array of dishes is combined into one giant telescope capable of high-resolution imaging of distant objects.

This ambitious project involves many other institutions located on four continents. In the new study, the team presents the first-ever cosmological discovery using this technique.

The new discovery is a general pattern of clustering between MeerKAT maps and the positions of galaxies as determined by the Anglo-Australian Optical Telescope.

Because these galaxies are known to track the general matter of the universe, the strong statistical correlation between radio maps and galaxies shows that MeerKAT is detecting large-scale cosmic structure. This is the first such detection by a multibeam array operating as separate telescopes. The entire SKAO system will rely on this technique.

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