For the next few years, South Africa and its German, Polish, American, New Zealand and United Kingdom partners will build the largest single telescope in the southern hemisphere, with a hexagonal mirror array 11 metres across. Although very similar to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) in Texas, the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) will have a redesigned optical system using more of the mirror array.
SALT will be able to record distant stars, galaxies and quasars a billion times too faint to be seen with the unaided eye - as faint as a candle flame at the distance of the moon. SALT is being built on the South African Astronomical Observatory's site near Sutherland. On this desert hilltop, far from city lights and pollution, SAAO has operated telescopes since the early 1970s.
SAAO will also operate SALT, under contract with the SALT Board, and the SALT design and engineering team is based at SAAO in Cape Town. The South African Astronomical Observatory is open to visitors at specific times. Qualified observers conduct the tours, which consist of a short slide presentation, a brief talk on SALT, a description of how astronomers collect data (with telescopes, PMTs and CCDs as props) followed by the much anticipated tour of the domes.
From Monday to Saturday there are 2 guided day tours per day and 4 night tours per week. A maximum of 20 people are allowed per tour. Booking is essential.
Day Tours: (Day tours entail a guided walk through the Visitor Centre as well as a guided tour of selected research telescopes including SALT)
Monday to Friday: 10:30 and 14:30
Saturday: 11:30 and 14:30
Sundays: no tours
Night Tours: (Night tours entail the viewing of interesting objects in the sky through two dedicated visitor telescopes, 16" Meade and 14" Celestron. Note that visitors cannot visit any of the research telescopes at night, not even SALT.)
Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: When booking tours, visitors will be notified of their tour starting time. In mid-winter it could be near 18:00 and later in mid-summer 20:00.
There is a mimimal charge for the tours, tel (023) 571 2436. Also see their websites www.saao.ac.za and www.salt.ac.za