Virtual sky display in MeerKAT control room

Article republished with kind permission from SKA Africa.

A real-time virtual sky display has been installed as part of the newly deployed control room in the Cape Town MeerKAT project office. This innovative display, based on the popular open source Stellarium software, provides telescope operators with a synthesised view of the Karoo sky that includes radio and optical sources, satellites and the antenna pointing positions.

High-resolution screen shots of Stellarium with KAT-7 integrated.
Click on images to view larger versions

“KAT-7 and MeerKAT will use Stellarium to give the telescope’s operators a real-time view of the sky,” explains Simon Ratcliffe, computing architect on the MeerKAT team. “This will help us to avoid observations that run too close to satellites and other sources of interference.” Future developments will include overlays that show historical observations, at radio and other wavelengths, and allow easy retrieval of archived data.

In the future, home users will be able to download the software, which is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, and receive a live view of the telescope operations.

“We have made a number of modifications to Stellarium in order to integrate it with our telescope control system and include radio sky data,” Simon adds. “We will be pushing these changes back to the host project which will allow anyone to download Stellarium and get a view on what KAT-7 is currently observing.”