MeerLICHT – more light

MeerLICHT – the Dutch translation for ‘more light’ – is an astronomical project which aims to provide a simultaneous, real-time optical view of the radio (transient) sky as observed by MeerKAT, South Africa’s SKA precursor radio telescope array. As such, it provides a uniquely broad contemporaneous view of the southern skies through multiple windows of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Located at the Sutherland station of the South African Astronomical Observatory, MeerLICHT is a fully robotic 0.65-m telescope with an instantaneous field of view matching that of MeerKAT (2.7 square degrees, approximately the equivalent of 9 full moons stacked together in a 3×3 grid). This wide field of view is achieved by a specific telescope design, and using the largest CCD currently available, a 100 megapixel camera provided by STA mounted in a cryostat build by the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Leuven (Belgium). Although the MeerLICHT project has a different scientific objective and partnership consortium as the closely related BlackGEM project, the MeerLICHT telescope serves as a prototype for BlackGEM.

The core scientific objective of MeerLICHT is the study of astrophysical transients at multiple windows of the electromagnetic spectrum simultaneously. It is driven by the exploration of the transient radio Universe on the MeerKAT telescope, via the ThunderKAT MeerKAT large survey project. This novel approach to study the transient Universe has been made possible by the commensal approach to MeerKAT science, combined with the wide fields of view of MeerKAT and MeerLICHT, allowing astronomers to search large parts of the southern skies in search of variable and transient objects.