University of Texas-Austin
Office of Public Affairs
P O Box Z
Austin, Texas 78713-7509
(512) 471-3151  FAX (512) 471-5812
Mary Lenz, Office of Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas — A groundbreaking ceremony for the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) project will be held in Sutherland in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa on Friday, Sept. 1. South African President Thabo Mbeki will officiate.
Guests will include Dr. Frank N. Bash, director of The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, leading a small delegation of senior McDonald Observatory staff. Other representatives of South Africa’s seven international partners, including Germany, New Zealand, Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom, will attend.
The McDonald Observatory, located near Fort Davis, is known among astronomers for being the darkest astronomical observation site within the continental United States, and houses the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, a 9.2-meter aperture instrument.
The Southern African Large Telescope also will be a 9.2-meter class telescope for optical/infrared astronomy, basing its design on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. SALT will be used for everything from searching for planets around neighboring stars to studying the most distant objects in the universe. It will provide South Africa and its international partners access to the one of the most powerful optical/infrared telescopes in the southern hemisphere. Construction is expected to take five years.
Dr. Phillip W. Kelton, assistant director of the McDonald Observatory, said the SALT project will be of major benefit not only to the nation of South Africa, but to UT Austin as well.
"The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) can only observe primarily in the northern sky. The SALT telescope will have access to the southern sky, so it is an excellent complement for expanding the HET’s northern sky coverage," Kelton said.
"The HET consortium is obtaining a 10 percent time share on the SALT telescope in return for our contribution of the HET design and technical support for the SALT project," Kelton said. "When it is operational, we will get a substantial science return for our effort."
In addition to UT Austin, the HET consortium includes Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich and Georg-August-Universitat in Goettingen.
Other U.S. institutions involved in the project include the University of Wisconsin, Carnegie-Mellon University and Rutgers.
Sutherland is the site of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), about a four-hour’s drive north of Cape Town. Also on Sept. 1, the town of Sutherland also will celebrate the signing of a sister community agreement with Fort Davis, with the premier of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province officiating.
For more information, contact:
Joel Barna at (512) 471-6335 or e-mail: or
Sandi Preston at (512) 475-6765 or e-mail:
For more McDonald Observatory information, see
For the SALT Website, see
For images of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, see