University of Central Lancashire, UK

23 August 2000

International collaboration to tackle deepest questions in the universe

Five UK institutes will represent British interests when the construction of the biggest telescope in the southern hemisphere is embarked upon next month. By investing in the project they will ensure an input into the specification and development and over 100 nights observation time from a unique location for observing the southern skies. The 85 ton telescope takes advantage of recent technological innovations to achieve high performance at relatively low cost.

The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is a truly multinational project that will shed light upon some of the oldest questions astronomers have asked about the age and scale of the universe, and will be able to see objects a billion times too faint to be seen by the naked eye.

The British consortium, led by the University of Central Lancashire, includes the Universities of Keele, Nottingham and Southampton and Armagh Observatory and will be joining the other partners in the SALT project, from South Africa, Poland, Germany, USA and New Zealand. Armagh Observatory's participation in the project has been made possible by the provision of funding by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for Northern Ireland.

Due for completion by the end of 2004, the optical/infrared telescope dubbed "Africa's Giant Eye" will have an eleven metre hexagonal mirror, very similar in design to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) in Texas, but with a redesigned optical system using more of the mirror array. SALT is a fixed-altitude telescope which can access 70% of the sky observable at its base in Sutherland, South Africa. It will be capable of gathering twenty times as much light as any existing telescope in Africa. SALT will be able to record distant stars, galaxies and quasars a billion times too faint to be seen with the unaided eye - as faint as a candle flame at the distance of the Moon!

A Letter of Intent and statements of the UK's involvement will be signed at the University of Central Lancashire on 23 August when an international conference brings Dr David Buckley, the Project Scientist of SALT and international colleagues to Preston for a Conference on the New Era of Wide Field Astronomy. The Letter of Intent will be signed by Dr Malcolm McVicar, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire. Dr McVicar will also be present at the groundbreaking ceremony at Sutherland, South Africa on 1 September, where he will represent the UK as one of the 12 partners to ceremonially dig the first soil beginning construction of the new telescope site.

Professor Gordon Bromage, Head of the Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire said "This is a fantastic new opportunity for the UK's astronomers and research students. We are delighted to be working with our partners around the world, over the next 15 years, first building the telescope and then probing the nature of stars and galaxies with SALT. SALT is also going to provide many opportunities for links and exchanges between students and staff in Britain and in Southern Africa."


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