Oct. 12, 1999 NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers officials today announced the university's participation in the South African Large Telescope (SALT) project that will create the second largest telescope in the world. The university has committed to participating at the level of a 10 percent partnership with a pledge of $2.4 million plus an additional $1 million toward operations during the first 10 years for a total of $3.4 million. Of this, the university is contributing $2.2 million, and the Rutgers University Foundation is seeking to raise the balance. Total cost of the SALT project is expected to run approximately $22 million for construction and $8 million for operations for the first 10 years.
"We are building the next-generation, ground-based telescope and the prototype for all large telescopes of the future," said Theodore B. Williams, professor of physics and astronomy in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences-New Brunswick and Rutgers' liaison to the SALT Board. "This will catapult Rutgers into the front rank of astronomical research institutes. It will allow us to attract the best faculty to enhance our teaching of both graduate and undergraduate students. Our participation will also increase our ability to attract funding from outside sources such as NASA and the National Science Foundation."
A key component of Rutgers' involvement in the SALT project is the formation of an outreach center for teachers of grades K-12 throughout New Jersey. The teachers will be able to come on campus and learn about astronomy and take this knowledge back to their classrooms. They also will be able to bring their classes to see actual astronomical observations being made in real time through SALT and find experts who can visit New Jersey classrooms and speak directly to students.
"Rutgers was the first partner to come into SALT," said Bob Stobie, director of the South African Astronomical Observatory and chairman of the SALT board, which met at Rutgers Oct. 8. "This was excellent news for us. It got the ball rolling and made a huge difference to the perception of the project in South Africa. Rutgers has some very strong links with Africa in general, but not in science and technology until now. I think Rutgers is, in a sense, broadening its portfolio of interaction with Africa."
SALT will have an innovative design that includes a fixed primary mirror. The huge, heavy mirror will not move, but an instrument package suspended above it will maneuver on a tracking beam. This will enable astronomers to follow objects across the sky as the earth rotates. This approach, along with building the 10-meter mirror from 91 easily-manufactured segments, will bring the cost of SALT down to one-fifth that of a traditionally designed telescope.
SALT is a spectrographic telescope. It takes the light from stars and other celestial objects and breaks it into its component colors and analyzes them. "You take an image or a photo and see what an object looks like but that doesn't tell you anything about its composition, distance or brightness," said Williams. "Spectroscopy does this, and it is the key to understanding what we see in the sky."
According to Stobie, groundbreaking for the South African Large Telescope is expected to take place in March or April 2000, with a construction time scale of five years. While the South African government will underwrite one-half the project costs, the remaining funds will be raised from international government and university partners in exchange for observing time on the telescope.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Theodore Williams can be reached at (732) 445-2516 or by e-mail at email@example.com. A diagrammatic design image of the South African Large Telescope may be downloaded from http://ur.rutgers.edu/medrel/photos/salt.jpg
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