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Signing of Southern African Large Telescope agreement marks major milestone

An agreement was signed this week, formalizing the Hobby¬Eberly Telescope Board of Directors’ participation in the design and construction of a $16.5 million Southern African Large Telescope observatory, to be built at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa.

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AUSTIN, Texas—An agreement was signed this week, formalizing the Hobby¬Eberly Telescope Board of Directors’ participation in the design and construction of a $16.5 million Southern African Large Telescope observatory, to be built at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa.

Dr. Robert Stobie, chairman of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) Board of Directors, and Dr. Frank Bash, chairman of the Hobby¬Eberly Telescope (HET) Board of Directors, signed the agreement on Wednesday (Jan. 26). The Hobby-Eberly Telescope is located at McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis and is a research facility of The University of Texas at Austin’s department of astronomy.

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. This approval was given with the Nov. 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,” said 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 Hobby-Eberly Telescope. The the Hobby-Eberly Telescope 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,” said 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. Astronomers will have unparalleled views of the southern sky’s portion of the Milky Way galaxy, but also will be able 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.

Note to editors/news producers: Related images are available at http://stardate.utexas.edu/pr/pr.html. For additional information, contact Gary Harrison at McDonald Observatory, (512) 475-6763 or e-mail address harrison@astro.as.utexas.edu