South African Astronomical Observatory
P.O. Box 9
Observatory, 7935, South Africa
Media enquiries:
Dr Ian Glass, / Dr Dave Laney,
Tel: 021 447-0025 / Fax: 021 447-3639

Japanese and South African astronomers are about to start putting together a clearer, sharper picture of the two nearest galaxies to our own (the Magellanic Clouds) and of the central regions of our own Milky Way galaxy. These will be the main targets of surveys with the new InfraRed Survey Facility (IRSF), officially opening on Wednesday 15 November 2000.
The IRSF is the seventh telescope on the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) observing site near Sutherland in the Northern Cape, and the second largest there, with a mirror 1.4 metres in diameter.
"Japan and South Africa have long been partners in building and using infrared cameras for astronomy. This international partnership resulted in the new computerised, hi-tech facility at Sutherland, ushering in an exciting new era for infrared astronomy," says Dr Khotso Mokhele, President of the National Research Foundation (NRF). Mokhele officially opened the facility with Prof Shuji Sato, Principal Investigator and Head of the Infrared Group at Nagoya University, Japan.
"We can’t see infrared radiation, but we may feel it as heat. At these wavelengths we can ‘see’ through dust clouds to regions otherwise hidden from our view," explains Dr Bob Stobie, Director of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). "Infrared light is also ideal for studying cool stars that radiate most of their energy at wavelengths too long for the eye to see," he says.
To date, collaboration between Japanese and South African astronomers for infrared observations has mainly involved the 0.75 metre telescope at the SAAO’s Sutherland site and a small 0.4 m telescope at the SAAO in Cape Town. The SAAO is a national research facility managed by the NRF.
The total construction cost of the IRSF is about R18 million. The SAAO is responsible for the building (R1.1 million), infrastructure and continuing support. Major funding came from the Japanese Ministry of Education. Nagoya University in Japan built the infrared camera (SIRIUS) at a cost of R7 million. University staff worked with an optical company at Kyoto to build the telescope (R10 million), using Russian optics.
In each infrared survey exposure at Sutherland, an area of the sky (a square about one quarter as wide as the full moon) will be recorded in three different infrared wavebands simultaneously. Previous infrared surveys have covered large areas of sky, while the Sutherland project will record fainter objects, in images four times as sharp.
Examples of images taken with the SIRIUS infrared camera
View some of the images taken with the SIRIUS infrared camera on 2 trial runs in Hawaii,
Further information on the InfraRed Survey Facility,