A Giant Eye to the Stars, from Africa.

6th Sept 2000

Five UK institutions have joined forces to form a consortium to enable their participation in an international project to build an 11 meter telescope in Africa, called the Southern African Large Telescope (or 'SALT' for short). SALT is being led by African astronomers, engineers and electronics experts, together with international partners from the US, Poland, Germany, New Zealand and now the UK as well. The UK SALT consortium (UKSC) currently includes the universities of Central Lancashire (UCLAN), Southampton, Nottingham and Keele, plus Armagh Observatory. We met up with the international partners at Sutherland, South Africa on 1 September 2000 for the ground breaking ceremony. The first soil for the telescope construction was overturned during this moving ground breaking ceremony attended by hundreds of visitors and addressed by the Premier of the Northern Cape (Mr Manne Dipico) and the South African Minister for Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Dr Ben Ngubane (photographed here with representatives from the international partners).

SALT, with its fixed altitude and advanced tracker system is a bargain: it will be able to observe 70% of the southern sky for 20% of the cost of a more conventional telescope. This will include the Magellanic Clouds, our nearest satellite galaxies to the Milky Way, and the centre of our own Galaxy, which passes directly overhead at the latitude of Sutherland. The telescope (illustrated schematically in the next picture) is due for completion in 2004 when astronomers will start observing the skies to high resolution (in time, space and energy) to probe galaxies and stars on the cutting edge of astronomy in the 21st century. Involvement of the UKSC in SALT, dubbed 'Africa's Giant Eye', will allow astronomers and students in Africa and the UK to develop new links between the two countries in this new era of large telescopes.

Anne Sansom,
(UK representative on the SALT science working group).


1) The first soil is turned by representatives of SALT, following music and dance presented by school children from the town of Sutherland. The UKSC representative, UCLAN Vice Chancellor Malcolm McVicar (right of centre), is seen here together with the Premier of Northern Cape, Manne Dipico (centre) and the Minister, Dr. Ben Ngubane (left of centre).

2) Dr. Ben Ngubane with the children from local schools in Sutherland, just prior to the ground breaking.

3) Representatives of the UKSC at the telescope site in Sutherland, north-east of Cape Town. Included is professor Gordon Bromage, head of the Centre for Astrophysics at UCLAN, whose vision and determination in encouraging other partners to join SALT enabled the UKSC to become a reality.

4) Here is how SALT (the giant eye) might look by the year 2004. UCLAN and other UKSC astronomers (including research staff and postgraduate students) will be entitled to guaranteed time on this telescope until at least 2015. The main mirror for SALT will have 91 segments, it will be 10 times as broad and 100 times as powerful as the 1 metre telescope at Alston Observatory, just outside Preston.