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Rutgers Partners With South Africa In New Telescope

October 12, 1999
Rutgers, The State University Of New Jersey
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey joins the South African Large Telescope project -- to build and operate the second largest telescope in the world.

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers officials today announced theuniversity's participation in the South African Large Telescope (SALT)project that will create the second largest telescope in the world. Theuniversity has committed to participating at the level of a 10 percentpartnership with a pledge of $2.4 million plus an additional $1 milliontoward operations during the first 10 years for a total of $3.4million. Of this, the university is contributing $2.2 million, and theRutgers University Foundation is seeking to raise the balance. Totalcost of the SALT project is expected to run approximately $22 millionfor construction and $8 million for operations for the first 10 years.

"We are building the next-generation, ground-based telescope and theprototype for all large telescopes of the future," said Theodore B.Williams, professor of physics and astronomy in the Faculty of Arts andSciences-New Brunswick and Rutgers' liaison to the SALT Board. "Thiswill catapult Rutgers into the front rank of astronomical researchinstitutes. It will allow us to attract the best faculty to enhance ourteaching of both graduate and undergraduate students. Our participationwill also increase our ability to attract funding from outside sourcessuch as NASA and the National Science Foundation."

A key component of Rutgers' involvement in the SALT project is theformation of an outreach center for teachers of grades K-12 throughoutNew Jersey. The teachers will be able to come on campus and learn aboutastronomy and take this knowledge back to their classrooms. They alsowill be able to bring their classes to see actual astronomicalobservations being made in real time through SALT and find experts whocan 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 ofthe SALT board, which met at Rutgers Oct. 8. "This was excellent newsfor us. It got the ball rolling and made a huge difference to theperception of the project in South Africa. Rutgers has some very stronglinks with Africa in general, but not in science and technology untilnow. I think Rutgers is, in a sense, broadening its portfolio ofinteraction with Africa."

SALT will have an innovative design that includes a fixed primarymirror. The huge, heavy mirror will not move, but an instrument packagesuspended above it will maneuver on a tracking beam. This will enableastronomers to follow objects across the sky as the earth rotates. Thisapproach, along with building the 10-meter mirror from 91easily-manufactured segments, will bring the cost of SALT down toone-fifth that of a traditionally designed telescope.

SALT is a spectrographic telescope. It takes the light from stars andother celestial objects and breaks it into its component colors andanalyzes them. "You take an image or a photo and see what an objectlooks like but that doesn't tell you anything about its composition,distance or brightness," said Williams. "Spectroscopy does this, andit is the key to understanding what we see in the sky."

According to Stobie, groundbreaking for the South African LargeTelescope is expected to take place in March or April 2000, with aconstruction time scale of five years. While the South Africangovernment will underwrite one-half the project costs, the remainingfunds will be raised from international government and universitypartners in exchange for observing time on the telescope.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Theodore Williams can be reached at (732) 445-2516or by e-mail at A diagrammatic design image of theSouth African Large Telescope may be downloaded from

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Rutgers, The State University Of New Jersey. "Rutgers Partners With South Africa In New Telescope." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 October 1999. <>.
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