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Radboud University > Faculty of Science > Department of Astrophysics > Research > The MeerLICHT telescope for Radio-Optical Transients

The MeerLICHT telescope for Radio-Optical Transients

The MeerLICHT telescope is a proposed optical telescope, to be located at the Sutherland site of the South Africa Astronomical Observatory, and to be twinned to the MeerKAT radio telescope, currently under construction near Carnarvon, ZA. The scientific focus of MeerLICHT is to obtain simultaneous optical and radio data on astronomical transient phenomena: cosmic explosions and outbursts. The MeerLICHT+MeerKAT combination will be the first such a collaboration anywhere in the world. Want to make MeerLICHT happen? Jump to 'Donations'! MeerLICHT is to become operational in 2015, concurrent with the MeerKAT array. MeerLICHT is a joint project between the Astronomy Department at the University of Cape Town (UCT, South Africa) and the Department of Astrophysics at the Radboud University Nijmegen (RU, The Netherlands), in collaboration with the Astronomy Group of Southampton University in the UK.


Project Role Lead
Principal Investigators Paul Groot (RU) & Patrick Woudt (UCT)
Project Scientist Elmar K├Ârding (RU)
Project Management Marc Klein Wolt (RU)
Instrument Scientist Retha Pretorius (ESO/Southampton)
Optical Design Harrie Rutten (Castor Optical Design) & Rik ter Horst (NOVA)
Mechanical Design Arno Engels (RU TechnoCenter)
Science Team Rob Fender (Southampton/UCT), Christian Knigge (Southampton), Valerio Ribeiro (RU), Matthew Schurch (UCT),
Ben Stappers (Manchester), Michael Kramer (MPIfR Bonn), Erwin de Blok (ASTRON),
Matt Jarvis (Oxford/UWC), Kurt van der Heyden (UCT), Sarah Blyth (UCT), Benne Holwerda (ESA),
Deanne Coppejans (RU/UCT)

Science Objectives

The science objective of the MeerLICHT telescope is to detect astronomical transients (explosions and outbursts) in the optical, at the same time as the MeerKAT array detects them in the radio. The pointing of the MeerLICHT telescope is dictated by the MeerKAT array: whereever it looks in the sky, MeerLICHT will follow. This dedication of an optical telescope to a radio telescope is unique in the world. The approved ThunderKAT project at the MeerKAT array forms the scientific framework for the MeerLICHT project to work in. The MeerLICHT data will form an essential stepping stone from MeerKAT to the SALT telescope, also located at Sutherland, which will be used for in-depth follow-up studies of sources detected by MeerKAT+MeerLICHT. In this way MeerLICHT forms the bridge between SALT and MeerKAT: the two premier astronomical facilities in Africa.

Additional to the transient data MeerLICHT will monitor and make deep observations of the optical sky seen by the MeerKAT radio array. This will also strongly benefit all the science projects with MeerKAT.

MeerLICHT will be an important tool for the education of the next generation of astronomers, and will actively team-up students in The Netherlands and South Africa. The Netherlands has a leading role in astronomy worldwide and South Africa has chosen astronomy as the field of science to show its abilities in research on a global scale, to bolster technological development in the fields of telecommunication, Big Data and large scale computing, and as the field best able to bring science to the people.

MeerLICHT is also foreseen to play an important role in the astronomical education of people in Southern Africa. The project team also hopes that the MeerLICHT project can grow into a stepping stone to allow other Southern African country to share in humanity's fascination of the night sky.


The MeerLICHT telescope will consist of a single, robotically operated, 60cm telescope, equipped with an advanced CCD detector and will be able to monitor a square degree of sky with a spatial resolution limited by atmospheric conditions only. The MeerLICHT telescope shares its optical design with the BlackGEM project in Chile, ensuring uniformity and homogeneity of data across continents. The MeerLICHT telescope will be operated from Cape Town and/or Nijmegen. It will be completely solar powered, and the data will be reduced and analysed in a data center housed at UCT in Cape Town. From here data will be available from anywhere in the world.


The telescope will be housed in a modified sea container, and be located on the plateau of the Sutherland site of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO, pictured below). Sutherland is the main optical observatory in Africa, also hosting the SALT telescope. The exact location of MeerLICHT on the plateau is to be confirmed.

The Sutherland Observatory


Project Phase Description Time period
PDR Science case, Optical design, preliminary mechanical design, proposal 2012-April 2013
FDR Final design, pre-purchase long-lead items April 2013 - October 2013
MAIT Manufacturing phase, housing, database October 2013 - October 2014
PAE Acceptance test and commissioning Europe October 2014 - January 2015
PASA Shipment and commissioning South Africa January 2015 - May 2015
Operations Start operations MeerLICHT June 2015


MeerLICHT is a collaboration between the Astronomy Department at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and the Department of Astrophysics at the Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Strong science support is given by the Astronomy Group at the University of Southampton in the UK. The MeerLICHT telescope is part of the ThunderKAT survey, an approved effort for finding and understanding astronomical explosions and outbursts with the MeerKAT radio array.


The estimated cost of the MeerLICHT project is 600 000 Euro (6 million ZAR). A request for funding for 449 000 Euro is currently under review at the Netherlands Science Foundation (NWO), with an expected decision in February 2013. The majority of the remainder is already approved by the University of Cape Town and the Radboud University Nijmegen.

However, this is to fund the hardware of the project only. Outreach, education and a growth of the project to neighbouring Southern African countries is currently unfunded. In case the current NWO bid (partly) fails, the majority of the project needs to be funded from other resources.

You can help make this facility come alive! If interested, please contact:
Prof.dr. Patrick Woudt (, for people in Africa
Prof.dr. Paul Groot (, for people in Europe and the rest of the world.

Donations will be administered by the University of Cape Town and the Radboud University Nijmegen and used for 100% for the MeerLICHT project. For those interested within the Netherlands: donations to science are tax deductable (brochure in Dutch)

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