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Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
10-meter telescope, one of the largest in the world, looks deep into space
Dartmouth researchers are celebrating the arrival of the first color images from the new Southern African Large Telescope, called SALT. This achievement, known as "first light," marks the successful operation of the telescope, which took five years to build. Dartmouth is one of the more significant partners in this multinational project, with an 11 percent share. SALT is the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere, and one of the three largest in the world.
"The images speak for themselves," says Robert Fesen, Professor of Physics and Astronomy. "They are excellent for so early in the initial operations phase. This will be a huge asset to Dartmouth students, both undergraduate and graduate. For the next decade, SALT will be one of the best as far as telescopes go."
Fesen, one of Dartmouth's SALT project leaders, says that the location in South Africa, on a hilltop near the tiny town of Sutherland, is one of the darkest places on earth. A dark environment facilitates the telescope's ability to gather light, allowing it to "see" deep into space. Adding to this are the 91 hexagonal mirror segments that comprise SALT's mammoth primary mirror array, stretching 11 meters across (about 33 feet), with a collecting area of a single 10-meter telescope mirror.
Brian Chaboyer, the other project leader and an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, says, "Our 11 percent share allows for about 30 nights each year of use. The teaching and learning opportunities for the Dartmouth community are incredible. There are very few colleges or universities that have this kind of access for their faculty and students."
Both Fesen and Chaboyer eagerly anticipate the new SALT images that will contribute to their work. Their research interests bookend the life of a star. Chaboyer looks at the birth of stars, calculating their age. Fesen studies super novas, exploding stars and the debris they leave behind. Research like theirs provides insight into the earliest moments of the universe.
Over the next few months, SALT's telescope and instruments will be calibrated and tested. November 10, 2005, will be the official opening of SALT by South African President Thabo Mbeki.
The SALT Partners
In South Africa: South African Astronomical Observatory, the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation.
Internationally: The Hobby-Eberly Telescope Board, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Dartmouth College, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Canterbury (New Zealand), Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Poland), Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (Germany), and the United Kingdom SALT Consortium comprised the Armagh Observatory, the University of Keele, the University of Central Lancashire, the University of Nottingham, the Open University and the University of Southampton.
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