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Synthetic image of SALT at Sutherland
Artists impression of SALT at Sutherland

Armagh Observatory, 24 August 2000:

Professor Mark Bailey and Dr John Butler will represent the Armagh Observatory at the official Ground-Breaking Ceremony on 1 September 2000 to mark the commencement of construction of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). The Armagh Observatory's participation in SALT has been made possible by the provision of funding from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), which has enabled the Observatory to join a consortium of research institutes currently including the universities of Central Lancashire, Keele, Nottingham and Southampton. The UK SALT consortium will join international partners from South Africa, Poland, Germany, the USA and New Zealand.

SALT, dubbed "Africa's Giant Eye", will have an eleven-metre diameter main mirror comprised of 91 identical one-metre hexagonal mirror segments. It will be located at an altitude of 1760 metres at the Sutherland Outstation of the South African Astronomical Observatory, in Cape Province, South Africa. This is one of the world's darkest astronomical sites, with a very high percentage of clear and transparent skies spread evenly around the year. The telescope, due for completion in 2005, will be the largest single astronomical telescope in the southern hemisphere.

SALT is the biggest and most important single investment in science, culture or arts by the South African Government. As well as underpinning and enhancing current research programmes at the Armagh Observatory, SALT will help to attract senior research staff and students to Armagh and will provide new opportunities for scientific collaboration and the development of international links with Armagh and Northern Ireland.

Armagh Observatory has a strong tradition of overseas collaboration in astronomical projects. In the late 1940s it collaborated with Harvard Observatory (USA) and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies to build a large photographic Schmidt telescope, the Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard (ADH) telescope, at a site near Bloemfontein, South Africa, where clear skies were virtually guaranteed. Subsequently, the two Irish partners invited participants from other European, US, and South African universities to set up the first international observatory in the world, at the Boyden Observatory, South Africa. The decision to found the Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard (ADH) telescope, signed in 1947, was the first agreement approved by the two Irish governments to collaborate on a joint venture.

The SALT Ground-Breaking Ceremony takes place on Spring Day in the southern hemisphere. In addition to senior members of the international SALT partnership, the meeting will be addressed by Dr Ben Ngubane, the South African Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the South African President, Mr Thabo Mbeki.

For images, quotes and further details: Contact John McFarland, at Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh BT61 9DG; Tel: 028-3752-2928, FAX: 028-3752-7174; e-mail: jmf@star.arm.ac.uk.

See also:
Press Release from the UK SALT Consortium
Some pictures of the ground breaking ceremony
Information on the Prime Focus Imaging Spectrograph for SALT from Ken Nordsieck

Last Revised: 20th September 2000
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