South Africa's MeerKAT radio telescope has uncovered 1,300 new galaxies. Astronomers working on the telescope fired up 16 of its 64 recently built dishes and almost instantaneously discovered hitherto unseen galaxies in an area of the universe, which till now was believed to have housed only 70 galaxies.

MeerKAT operators also published "first light" images from what is touted to be one of the world's most powerful radio telescope. If things proceed accordingly, the South African facility will have all of its 64 dishes up and running by the end of 2017. It will also eventually become a part of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, which is slated to be set up by 2020.

"South Africa has already demonstrated its excellent science and engineering skills by designing and building MeerKAT. This telescope, which is predominantly a locally designed and built instrument, shows the world that South Africa can compete in international research, engineering, technology and science. Government is proud of our scientists and engineers for pioneering a radio telescope that will lead to groundbreaking research," said Naledi Pandor, South Africa's minster of science and technology.

1,300 new galaxies uncovered by one of the world's most powerful radio telescope
This image showcases over 200 astronomical radio sources (everything but the circled dots) first spotted by MeerKAT. SKA

What is the SKA project?

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope, spread over a square kilometre (0.4 square miles) of collecting area. It will use around 3,000 dishes and up to a million antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence. This will be a boost for scientists searching for answers about dark energy, black holes, etc.

However, for now, MeerKAT is expected to lead the project.

"Based on the results being shown today, we are confident that after all 64 dishes are in place, MeerKAT will be the world's leading telescope of its kind until the advent of SKA," said Professor Justin Jonas, SKA South Africa Chief Technologist.

MeerKAT is one of the major array of dishes established in Africa. The other clusters will be in Australia. The images released by MeerKat showcase several galaxies distanced at 200 million light years away, some of which have also been detected to have black holes at their centres.

The United Kingdom is one of the 10 member countries that are part of the SKA project.