The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world. It has a hexagonal primary mirror array 11 metres across, comprising 91 individual 1m hexagonal mirrors. Although very similar to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) in Texas, SALT has a redesigned optical system resulting in a larger field of view and effective collecting area.
SALT can detect the light from faint or distant objects in the Universe, a billion times too faint to be seen with the unaided eye – as faint as a candle flame would appear at the distance of the moon. The telescope and instruments are designed to operate from the near ultraviolet to the near infrared (320 to 1700 nm), and offer some unique or rare capabilities on a telescope of this size.
SALT is situated at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) field station near the small town of Sutherland, in the Northern Cape province, and is ~380 km from Cape Town. SALT is funded by a consortium of international partners from South Africa, the United States, Germany, Poland, India, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The construction phase was completed at the end of 2005 and from 2006 to 2009 it entered a period of commissioning and performance verification. Since September 2011, observing is now in full swing and the telescope is finally realising its huge potential as Africa’s Giant Eye on the Universe.