Signing of Southern African Large Telescope Agreement Marks Major Milestone

28 January 2000

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA/AUSTIN, TEXAS: Dr. Robert Stobie, chairman of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) Board, and Dr. Frank Bash, chairman of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) Board, signed an agreement January 26, 2000, formalizing the HET’s participation in the design and construction of the $16.5 million SALT observatory, to be built at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa.

The South African Parliament approved the SALT project on June 1, 1998. Dr. Ben Ngubane, Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, gave the project the "green light" to begin construction, with the November 25, 1999 signing of the Science and Technology Agreement Protocol between South Africa and Poland, one of the project’s major international partners.

"SALT will enable South Africa to remain internationally competitive in astronomy well into the 21st century," says Ngubane. "SALT has become a prominent national project, exciting the minds and imaginations of our nation’s children. It is critical that we use this opportunity to get them involved with science and technology."

The nine-meter-class SALT is based almost entirely on the design of the HET, located at McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. The HET partnership is providing its innovative telescope design, software, commissioning experience, and technical expertise in exchange for 10 percent of observing time when SALT begins operations, scheduled for 2003.

"The Hobby-Eberly Telescope institutions are delighted that the SALT project has decided to copy our innovative telescope," says Bash. "We look forward to working with South Africa and the other participating institutions to create an outstanding telescope in the Southern Hemisphere."

When completed, SALT will be the largest single telescope in the Southern Hemisphere optimized for spectroscopy, affording astronomers not only unparalleled views of the southern sky’s portion of the Milky Way galaxy, but also allowing them to explore the origins of the universe; study quasars, active galactic nuclei, and galaxy populations; and conduct planetary searches.

Major financial partners for the construction of SALT include the Governments of South Africa and Poland, Rutgers University, and Goettingen University (Germany). Strong interest has been shown by Carnegie—Mellon University, University of Wisconsin, Iowa State University, and the New Zealand government.

The HET partnership is a consortium of five universities: The University of Texas at Austin, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, Georg-August University in Goettingen, and Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich.

For more information, contact
Sandra Preston
Director, Public Information Office
(512) 475-6765