year in review 2018 Paperturn - Page 139

colleagues are interested in.
“There are some detectors that can
measure a millisecond of variability, but
never over such a vast area,” he said.
“One of the things that’s very exciting
in the radio observations – people have
discovered things called fast radio
bursts. These are things that only last 10
milliseconds ... and they don’t recur.”
Researchers will now have a greater
chance of capturing these bursts and
investigating them further using data
from the optical telescope.
“We know they are at large distances,
but we don’t know exactly how and
where. So, by linking this [optical]
telescope to the radio, we can try
to understand these very fast time
We are in an era of astronomy where
we are dealing with very large data
volumes, explained Woudt.
“About five or six years from now,
there will be an optical telescope that
will map the entire southern sky every
two days ... So, how do you deal with
that information flow? What are the
important objects in there? What do
you select for follow-ups?
“This project, although on a much
smaller scale, will start to address some
of those questions.”
Given UCT’s expertise in dealing with
data flow, the institution’s key role in
MeerLICHT is in managing its influx.
Data will stream into the Inter-university
Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy
(IDIA), at UCT, for analysis.
The team is investigating using
algorithms and machine learning
to help sift through this deluge of
a costly exercise. In the end, the
project was championed by seven
institutions: namely UCT, the SAAO,
Radboud University Nijmegen,
the Netherlands Organisation
for Scientific Research, and the
universities of Amsterdam, Oxford
and Manchester.
MeerLICHT, meaning ‘more light’, is
distinct for a number of reasons.
The telescope has an enormous
field of view at 10 500 by 10 500
pixels, so it is able to focus on, and
capture data from, a larger portion
of the southern sky. The telescope
also outputs this data faster than
ever before, allowing researchers to
produce a rapid time sequence of the
night sky.
“When we study astronomy ... we
haven’t really looked at things that
vary very rapidly,” said Woudt.
It is these rapidly varying
phenomena that Woudt and his UCT


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