The Technical Genesis of the Meerkat Radio Telescope
The MeerKAT radio telescope, located at the SKA-mid telescope site in the Karoo region of South Africa, is a project that was initiated and funded by the South African government to design and build a world-class radio telescope. MeerKAT has enabled major scientific discoveries in its first five years of operation, providing an early indication of what the scientific impact of the SKA will be. In addition to being a powerful instrument in its own right, the MeerKAT is also an SKA precursor that has developed critical techniques and technologies that have been adopted by SKA-mid. The MeerKAT receptors will eventually be incorporated into the SKA-mid array, contributing significantly to the sensitivity and capabilities of the international telescope. This talk will give a retrospective overview of the path from an initial concept to the eventual realization of the telescope, describing the technical innovation and engineering processes that guided the development of the overall system and its component subsystems.
Prof. Justin Jonas was born in London and emigrated to South Africa with his parents in 1965. He attended school in Uitenhage, matriculating from Muir College in 1975, and enrolled at Rhodes University for a BSc degree in 1976. All of his degrees were obtained from Rhodes University, culminating in a PhD in Radio Astronomy in 1999. His PhD topic was the Rhodes/HartRAO 2.3 GHz radio continuum survey of the Milky Way.
He has worked in the Department of Physics and Electronics at Rhodes since 1981, starting as a research technician and progressing through the researcher and lecturer ranks, and was appointed as Professor of Physics and Electronics in 2001. From 2003 till 2006 he was seconded to be the Managing Director of the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (a post he again held temporarily during 2017/2018).
His professional interests include all aspects of observational Radio Astronomy, from instrument design through to data processing, and the observation radio emission from the Milky Way. He has a side interest in the detection of radio transients and pulsars.
His professional life is divided between Rhodes University, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) and the international Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO). He has been intimately involved in the design and construction of the MeerKAT radio telescope, and is the Chief Technologist for SARAO. He is Professor of Physics and Electronics at Rhodes University, where he is Director of the Centre for Radio Astronomy Techniques and Technologies (RATT). He is the inaugural recipient of the Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Achievement Award.
He has had a close association with the Square Kilometre Array project since 2001, sitting on various technical, management and advisory committees, and was a long-standing member of the SKAO science and engineering advisory committee (SEAC). Since 1st November 2022 he has taken up a System Scientist position at the SKA Organization (SKAO), initially in conjunction with his SARAO and Rhodes responsibilities, but this will become his full-time, post statutory retirement job when the first SKA dishes are constructed in the Karoo during 2023.
During the Covid-19 pandemic he was Technical Advisor to the National Ventilator Project team that managed the rapid development and production of 20,000 locally produced Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices that provided an alternative to invasive ventilation therapy for patients with severe symptoms. His recreational activities include hiking, road and trail running, mountain biking, dinghy and windsurfer sailing, tinkering in his carpentry and metal workshops, and model boat building.