MeerTRAP, or "more TRANsients and Pulsars", is a project to commensally use the MeerKAT telescope to search the sky for pulsars and fast transients, and to rapidly and accurately locate them. The word "commensal", which means "eating at the same table", is a term in ecology where one organism obtains food from another organism without affecting it. In astronomy it means that while an observer is using the telescope for their specific observations, a commensal observer (in this case, MeerTRAP) is also using the observations.
Using the excellent sensitivity of MeerKAT, MeerTRAP will enable the discovery of many rare and scientifically important pulsar types: relativistic binaries, intermittent emitters, transitioning systems. Current radio telescopes have only explored the tip of the transients "iceberg" and MeerTRAP will transform our knowledge of these manifestations of extreme physics. It will detect hundreds of new fast radio bursts, which will all be well localised, allowing us to identify hosts and distances, greatly enhancing their use as cosmological probes. Localisation also enables measurement of their true fluxes, polarisation, and spectral indices, which are all crucial to identify their origin.
MeerTRAP will do this by expanding the tied-array beam-forming capabilities of the Max Planck Institut fur Radioastronomie (MPIfR) and add the capability to search the coherent and incoherent beams for transients and pulsars in real time. It will also implement a tied-array buffer on each of the dishes and the ability to use this data to image the field around bursts. It will also allow the extraction of high time resolution and polarisation calibrated data on each burst.
MeerTRAP will work with the MeerLICHT telescope to obtain optical data before, during, and after fast radio transient bursts. MeerTRAP is funded through a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant. The system will be deigned in close collaboration with colleagues from MPIfR and the University of Oxford and builds on the beam-former developed by the MPIfR.
A schematic of the MeerTRAP pipeline. More detail about the real time transient detection pipeline (blue) and the rapid imaging pipeline can be found here.