Mrs Marina Joubert

National Research Foundation

+27 12 481-4055

1 September is celebrated as Spring Day in South Africa – but the day took on even more special significance in South Africa this year when thousands of people gathered in the small town of Sutherland in the Karoo to celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony for the building of a large new telescope just outside the town. The telescope will be known as SALT – the Southern African Large Telescope.

International and local partners and scientists, as well as other dignitaries attended the ceremony at the observatory site of the South

African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) near Sutherland in the Northern Cape.

Funding partners from five countries joined South Africa’s Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in digging into the rock-hard soil where SALT will be built over the next four years. Germany, New Zealand, Poland, the UK and the USA are all committed to supporting Africa’s quest for a giant eye to the universe. The international representatives described SALT as a bold step into the future and wished South Africa every success with the construction phase lying ahead.

“It is with great national pride that we stand here today to witness the turning of the sod of what will be the most powerful telescope – not only on the continent of Africa, but in the entire southern hemisphere,” said Minister Ben Ngubane. “Such a telescope will provide a focus for the development of basic sciences on the African continent,” he said. “The new telescope will have two primary objectives – to do cutting-edge physics, and to change the fortunes of the country,” said Dr Khotso Mokhele, President of the National Research Foundation (NRF). The NRF is the official South African SALT partner, with funding provided by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST).

Minister Ngubane expressed the hope that SALT would be a significant catalyst in producing more black post-graduate students in science and engineering. The great economic and educational benefits expected from the project were emphasised throughout the day.

The local community of Sutherland is positioning itself to become a popular tourism and science destination. Earlier today (1 September 2000), a twinning agreement was signed between Sutherland and Fort Davis in Texas, USA. Fort Davis is home to the Hobby-Eberley Telescope, almost identical to the design of SALT.

Notes for Editors

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