Telescopes, Terrain, and Technology Unite Twin Towns

31 March 2000

SUTHERLAND, SOUTH AFRICA/FORT DAVIS, Texas: The west Texas town of Fort Davis, in Jeff Davis County, and the rural South African town of Sutherland, announced this week that they intend to enter into a "twin town" agreement.

As twin towns, Fort Davis and Sutherland will establish a working relationship between the Commissioners' Court of Jeff Davis County and the Council of Sutherland, with the goal of sharing experiences and potential economic benefits as "observatory towns."

Fort Davis is home to the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Sutherland is known for the South African Astronomical Observatory, where the largest single telescope in the Southern Hemisphere – the 9-meter Southern African Large Telescope – is being built over the next five years. The Southern African Large Telescope is based almost entirely on the innovative design of the 11-meter Hobby-Eberly Telescope.

The scientists and engineers who built the Hobby-Eberly Telescope are collaborating with their South African counterparts working on the Southern African Large Telescope. "This twin town agreement demonstrates how scientific cooperation often leads to cooperation in other areas also," said Dr. Peter Martinez of the South African Astronomical Observatory.

"Not only do our two towns share a similar size and environment," said Judge Peggy Robertson, Jeff Davis County Commissioners' Court, "we enjoy international exposure because of our world-class observatories. It seems only fitting that both the Hobby-Eberly Telescope and the Southern African Large Telescope are technological 'twins' as well."

Alletta van Sittert, Chief Executive Officer of Sutherland Municipality, also cited the mutual educational and economic advantages that the towns derive from their observatories. "McDonald Observatory is known for its Visitors' Center and the planned Texas Astronomy Educational Center," van Sittert said. "And as part of the agreement between our observatory and the Local Council of Sutherland, we will work jointly toward the economic development of the town of Sutherland and surrounding areas. One of our efforts will be to develop a Science Visitor Center similar to the one at McDonald Observatory."