Did you know?
Even quasars can be picked up by the Southern African Large Telescope.
The reason the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) was erected outside the town of Sutherland, some 370km from Cape Town, is because it is one of a handful of locations in the world that is ideal for stargazing.
Its remoteness, elevation (2 000 metres above sea level), the cold and the absence of light pollution, ensure clear, cloudless skies essential for research.
Tourists who visit SALT during the day can book a guided tour of the interpretive visitor centre and a selection of the research telescopes, including SALT, located on an elevated plateau overlooking a vast expanse of the Karoo.
And while the SALT facility is closed to the public at night, visitors can experience the thrill of astronomy by booking a stargazing session at the visitor centre where two dedicated visitor telescopes, a 16″ Meade and 14″ Celestron, are located.
Nobody is allowed to drive up to the dome facilities on the plateau at night as astronomy research is light sensitive and that's when local and international scientists are at work.
The stargazing session lasts about 90 minutes, but may be cancelled due to inclement weather conditions. Booking is essential.
SALT is an extraordinary international collaboration and has put South Africa at the forefront of 21st century scientific exploration. Such is its magnification that it can see the light of a candle on the moon.
One of the first light images taken by SALT was of 47 Tucanae, an ancient cluster of several million stars about 15 000 light-years from earth. The stars are 10 to 12 billion years old and among the oldest stars in our Milky Way galaxy, which makes them the perfect laboratory for the study of the life, birth, and death of stars.
Astrophysicists are currently unable to explain about 96% of the universe, notably dark matter and dark energy, and they believe images and information gathered from SALT may trigger a revolution more dramatic than the leap from Newtonian to quantum physics.
SALT will assist them to look deeper and more clearly into the dark heart of time and tackle unsolved questions about the universe and our place in it. This means giant leaps for not just those who make it to Mars, but for the whole of humankind.
It is managed by the South Africa Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).