MeerLICHT science

The MeerKAT radio telescope is currently being built in South Africa as a precursor array for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Construction is expected to be finished by the end of 2017, but early science could commence around the middle of 2017. After completion of MeerKAT, the construction of SKA1-MID – a truly global flagship science and engineering project in Africa – will start on the same site, expanding the array from 64 to 200 dishes of similar design over an extended baseline.

Ten legacy-style large survey projects (LSPs) on MeerKAT were defined in 2010 after international peer-review. This includes two surveys focussed on the detection and study of radio transients, one for image-domain transients on time scales above 1 second (ThunderKAT) and one for time-domain transients on time scales faster than 1 second (TRAPUM).

ThunderKAT and TRAPUM will be fully commensal with all other MeerKAT LSPs, providing an enormous time baseline over which to detect transients at any redshift and sky location. ThunderKAT and TRAPUM will always be ‘hunting’ for transients through a dedicated data ‘spigot’, scanning all the data from MeerKAT in real-time for transient detection.

A group of researchers from the ThunderKAT project are constructing MeerLICHT. This is an optical telescope that will be exclusively tied to the MeerKAT radio telescope (observing the same part of the sky at the same tie). This facility will add an unprecedented and innovative dimension to the novel commensal observing mode of MeerKAT, and will open up the regime of simultaneous, ‘round-the-clock’ radio and optical observations of astrophysical transients.

By exclusively linking MeerLICHT to MeerKAT, we will, for the first time ever, provide optical multi-band observations of every night-time observation conducted by a radio telescope, ensuring that every transient in the field of view will be simultaneously covered in the radio and the optical.

This combination opens up the regime of simultaneous, short time-scale radio-optical correlations in astronomical transients: dwarf novae, novae, X-ray binaries, pulsars, fast radio bursts, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, active galactic nuclei, and eventually also gravitational wave events and sources yet unknown.