Southern African Large Telescope

Southern African Large Telescope

Infobox Telescope
bgcolour =
name = Southern African Large Telescope

caption =
organization = National Research Foundation of South Africa
location = Sutherland, South Africa
coords =
altitude =
weather =
wavelength = Optical
built = 2005
website =
style = Reflector
diameter = ~11.1m x ~9.8m
angular_resolution =
area = 66m2
focal_length =
mounting = 45 ton steel structure
dome = 25m spherical
The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is a ~10 metre (~33 feet) diameter optical telescope, located in the semi-desert region of the Karoo, South Africa. It is a facility of the South African Astronomical Observatory, the national optical observatory of South Africa.

SALT is the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. It will enable imaging, spectroscopic, and polarimetric analysis of the radiation from astronomical objects out of reach of northern hemisphere telescopes. It was originally planned to be a copy of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory, but while adapting the construction plans, significant changes were introduced to its design, especially to the spherical aberration corrector. The main driver for these changes were desired improvements to the telescope's field of view.

First light (astronomy) with the full mirror was declared on 1 September 2005 with 1 arc second resolution images of globular cluster 47 Tucanae, open cluster NGC 6152, spiral galaxy NGC 6744, and the Lagoon Nebula being obtained. The official opening by President Thabo Mbeki took place during the inauguration ceremony on 10 November 2005.

South Africa contributed about a third of the total of $36 million USD that will finance SALT for its first 10 years ($20 million for the construction of the telescope, $6 million for instruments, $10 million for operations). The rest was contributed by the other partners - Germany, Poland, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

General information

SALT is located at coord|32|22|33.62|S|20|48|38.44|E|, on a hilltop in a nature reserve 370 km (230 miles) north-east of Cape Town, near the small town of Sutherland. In March 2004, installation of the massive mirror began. The last of the 91 smaller mirrored hexagon segments was put in place in May 2005.

Korea and Japan have telescopes at the site and South Africa has at least five optical telescopes there. The University of Birmingham has a solar telescope to help monitor the Sun around the clock.

SALT will probe quasars and enable scientists to view stars and galaxies a billion times too faint to be seen by the naked eye.

Primary Mirror

Both SALT and HET have an unusual design for an optical telescope. Similar to the Keck Telescopes, the primary mirror is composed of an array of mirrors designed to act as a single larger mirror; however, the SALT mirrors produce a spherical primary, rather than the paraboloid shape associated with a classical Cassegrain telescope. Each SALT mirror is a 1-meter hexagon, and the array of 91 identical mirrors produces a hexagonal-shaped primary 11 x 9.8 meters in size.To compensate for the spherical primary, the telescope has a four-mirror spherical aberration corrector (SAC) that provides a corrected, flat focal plane with a field of view of 8 arcminutes at prime focus.

Each of the 91 mirrors can be adjusted in tip, tilt and piston in order to properly align them so as to act as a single mirror. Because the mirror is spherical, light emitted from a position corresponding to the center of curvature of the mirror will be reflected and refocused to the same position. Therefore, the telescope employs a Center of Curvature Alignment Sensor (CCAS) situated at the top of a tall tower adjacent to the dome. Laser light is shone down on all the segments and the position of the reflections from each mirror measured. A process called "stacking" thus allows the telescope operator to optimize the adjustments of the mirrors.

The telescope is also unusual in that during an observation, the mirror remains at a fixed altitude and azimuth, and the image of an astronomical target produced by the telescope is tracked by the "payload", which resides at the position of prime focus and includes the SAC and prime focus instrumentation. This is similar in operation to the Arecibo Radio Telescope. Although this results in only a limited observing window per target, it greatly simplifies the primary mirror mount, when compared to a fully-steerable telescope, transferring the complexity to the smaller and lighter payload tracking system, providing for an overall reduction in total telescope construction cost. SALT has a zenith angle of 37 degrees, but because of the full range of azimuths and the celestial rotation, SALT has access to a good fraction of the sky available at the Sutherland site.

Another consequence of this design is that the entrance pupil varies in size during the tracking of a target.


The first generation instrumentation for SALT includes the SALT Imaging Camera (SALTICAM), designed and built by the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO); the Robert Stobie Spectrograph (RSS) (née Prime Focus Imaging Spectrograph), a multi-purpose longslit and multi-object imaging spectrograph and spectropolarimeter, designed and built by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rutgers University, and the SAAO; and a fiber-fed High Resolution Spectrograph (HRS), designed by the University of Canterbury (New Zealand). SALTICAM was installed in early 2005, while the RSS was installed on 11 October 2005.

Internet connectivity

The telescope has a 1.5Mbit internet connection, feeding to what is termed the 'Beach-head', from where other institutions can access the data.

cience working group

Membership of the SALT Science Working Group :

David Buckley, Gerald Cecil, Brian Chaboyer, Richard Griffiths, Janusz Kałużny, Michael Albrow, Karen Pollard, Kenneth Nordsieck, Darragh O'Donoghue, Larry Ramsey, Anne Sansom, Pat Cote


* Carnegie Mellon University
* Dartmouth College
* Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
* Hobby-Eberly Telescope Board
* National Research Foundation of South Africa
* Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences
* Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
* University of Wisconsin-Madison
* University of Canterbury (New Zealand)
* University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
* United Kingdom SALT Consortium (UKSC), comprising:
** Armagh Observatory
** Keele University
** University of Central Lancashire
** University of Nottingham
** Open University
** University of Southampton

In 2007, the following new partners joined the SALT consortium:

* American Museum of Natural History
* Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (India)

External links

* [ SALT] - official site.

ee also

* List of observatories
* List of optical telescopes
* List of largest optical reflecting telescopes


* Reuters. [ South Africa looks to stars with super scope] . United Kingdom: "Reuters Limited". March 15, 2004.

* [ South African Large Telescope Makes Its Debut] . . September 1, 2005

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