Press Releases

    7 November 2005

    Largest Optical Telescope in Southern Hemisphere to Be Inaugurated in South Africa

    VIENNA, 7 November (UN Information Service) -- The largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere will be inaugurated on 11 November at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Sutherland, South Africa, by the President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) can gather more than 25 times as much light as any existing telescope in Africa, enabling it to detect a candle flame as far away as the moon.

    SALT is a follow-up project of the Basic Space Science workshops organized by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) and the European Space Agency, within the framework of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications. Over the past 12 years, the SALT project was further promoted by the United Nations Basic Space Science Initiative through the dissemination of information to the international basic space science community and through the technical advisory services that the Initiative provides to Member States.

    As a leader of the SALT project, South Africa has opened new horizons for international cooperation between industrialized and developing countries in facilitating the development of optical astronomy. SALT involves 11 partner institutions, mainly universities, from Germany, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. The science programmes to be conducted on SALT will range from studies of the most distant and faint galaxies to observations of solar system objects such as asteroids and comets. This will be facilitated by the telescope's powerful primary mirror array, which is 11 metres in diameter.

    Modern technology will enable astronomers to use the telescope without travelling to the actual site. Astronomers from the SALT consortium will be able to submit their requests for observations over the Internet. Once the observations have been conducted by the SALT operations staff, the data will be sent over the Internet to the requesting astronomer. This method of work, combined with the operational model for SALT, which involves the well-established and successful SAAO operating the telescope on behalf of the SALT partners, makes SALT far more like a space-based telescope than a ground-based one.

    More information on SALT can be accessed at: .


    The United Nations Programme on Space Applications is implemented by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and works to improve the use of space science and technology for the economic and social development of all nations, in particular developing countries. Under the Programme, the Office conducts training courses, workshops, seminars and other activities on applications and capacity building in subjects such as remote sensing, communications, satellite meteorology, search and rescue, basic space science, satellite navigation and space law.

    The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) implements the decisions of the General Assembly and of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its two Subcommittees, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee. The Office is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, and assisting developing countries in using space science and technology. Located in Vienna, Austria, OOSA maintains a website at .


    For information contact:

    Qais Sultan
    Associate Programme Officer, OOSA
    Telephone: +43 1 260 60 4962