One of the world’s largest optical telescopes, the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), in which the Armagh Observatory has a share, was officially unveiled today by the South African President Thabo Mbeki in Sutherland, a small town in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Also known as Africa’s Giant Eye, SALT (www.salt.ac.za) is a new ground-breaking project which will enable astronomers from six countries, including the UK, to study more closely the lives of stars and the origins of the universe. The gigantic telescope with its 11-metre-wide mirror will also be a truly 21st century facility, with researchers able to submit observing requests and receive data back via the internet.
Speaking at the official opening, South African President Thabo Mbeki said: “SALT means that our country will remain at the forefront of cutting-edge astronomical research. The telescope will enable us to observe the earliest stars and learn about the formation of our galaxy which will help us reveal clues about the future. We are also proud that SALT will not only enable Southern African scientists to undertake important research, but also provide significant opportunities for international collaboration and scientific partnerships with the rest of the world.”
South Africa has a long and proud tradition of excellence in astronomy dating back to 1820 when the first observatory was built in Cape Town, and SALT is the biggest science project undertaken by the new South Africa. The £11 million project is an international partnership backed by six different countries including a UK consortium consisting of the Armagh Observatory, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Keele, Nottingham and Southampton universities, and the Open University.
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