New Insights in Time-Domain Astronomy with MeerKAT
Speaker: Prof Patrick Woudt (University of Cape Town)
In July 2018, MeerKAT started its science mission. One of the 5-year programs on MeerKAT is the ThunderKAT large survey project. ThunderKAT is a global collaborative research project involving nearly 100 researchers, including many postgraduate students from South Africa and African SKA partner countries. This legacy project on MeerKAT aims to revolutionize our understanding of the astrophysical processes in stellar explosions, accretion processes in compact stellar binaries, accretion-induced outflows, and other energetic events in the sky. This talk will include a brief background on the MeerKAT radio telescope array and its role within the Square Kilometre Array project, and will touch upon the impact that the MeerKAT project has already made in transforming the astronomical landscape in South Africa and the African continent. In this talk, I will present the main science drivers for the study of astrophysical transients and highlight the need for a comprehensive multi-wavelength approach. In this regard, the optical MeerLICHT telescope at the Sutherland station of the South African Astronomical Observatory provides an important link between the optical and radio astronomy facilities in South Africa. The MeerLICHT telescope is permanently tied to the observing schedule of MeerKAT, providing a simultaneous optical view of the transient radio sky. Given the vast size and complexity of MeerKAT data, and the globally distributed network of researchers, new ways of bringing researchers to the data have been developed through federated regional data centres. I will give some examples of our experience over the last two years in the rapid analysis and astrophysical interpretation of large MeerKAT data sets on the Ilifu research cloud, and present some of the new insights in the study of astrophysical transients with MeerKAT.
Patrick Woudt is a professor of astronomy and the Head of the Astronomy Department at the University of Cape Town, the immediate past President of the South African Institute of Physics, as well as an adjunct professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Venda. He obtained his PhD in 1998 from the University of Cape Town, and following a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the European Southern Observatory (Germany) he returned to UCT in 2000. His research focuses on the study of accretion processes and accretion-induced outflows in (ultra)compact stellar binaries using optical and radio telescopes. He has co-authored over 120 peer-reviewed papers, supervised 18 MSc and 10 PhD students, and is B1 rated by the National Research Foundation. He is the co-principal investigator of the ThunderKAT large survey project on MeerKAT and the co-principal investigator of the MeerLICHT telescope.