Ben Ngubane, South Africa's minister of arts, culture, science and technology, gave the green light last week for the construction of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single telescope for optical and infrared astronomy in the Southern Hemisphere.
The design of the new telescope will be based on that of the recently completed Hobby–Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory, in Texas, United States. The decision to authorize construction followed the signing of an agreement on science and technology between Poland and South Africa by Ngubane and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Wiszniewski.
Poland's contribution to SALT is more than 15 million rand (US$2.5 million), making up one third of the 45 million rand committed so far by international partners towards the telescope. The South African government has committed 50 million rand, enabling construction of the telescope to commence next year.
“SALT will enable South Africa to remain internationally competitive in astronomy well into the twenty-first century,” says Ngubane,
He went on to say that the telescope's activities will range from observing some of the most distant galaxies in the Universe and studying the early evolution of the cosmos to searching for planets around neighbouring stars.
Now that formal approval has been given by the government, the project team can be recruited and the construction of the telescope, expected to take five years, can be started next year.
The telescope will be sited at Sutherland in the Northern Cape, an outstation of the South African Astronomical Observatory operated by the National Research Foundation.