SciTech

The SALT project adds dimension to astrophysics research

Once again, man is looking for
answers to the origins of the universe in the very place archeologist believe the human race began 150,000 years ago.
The Southern African Large Telescope will be the largest single telescope in the southern hemisphere, powerful enough to see celestial phenomena a billion times too faint to be seen with the naked eye. The South African government announced its support for the building in June 1998, and Carnegie Mellon is now one of several national and international contributors to the SALT Project.
The SALT Project is located outside Sutherland, a small town in Karoo in South Africa?s Northern Cape. Africa?s clear, dark skies make it the perfect location for a telescope of such grandeur. Though modeled after the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Texas, the SALT has a redesigned optical system: it uses 91 hexagonal mirrors to create an array measuring 10 meters by 11 meters. A large array allows the telescope to capture more light from space, enabling us to see fainter (read: further) objects. Astronomers will be able to see light from stars, galaxies and quasars that were emitted 13.5 billion years ago, 1.5 million years after the big bang.
Many government and academic institutions have partnered up to fund the $32 million project during its construction and for 10 years afterwards. Carnegie Mellon has committed $1 million to the project, guaranteeing CMU observation time over the next 10 years. Other U.S. contributors include the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Board, the University of Texas, Rutgers University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. International institutions in Poland, New Zealand, Germany, and the UK are participating in the SALT Project as well. There are 11 contributors in total.
Astronomers in the consortium will not have to travel to SALT to use it. Instead, they can submit observation requests over the Internet and data will be sent back in the same way. This makes it simple for CMU astrophysicist Richard Griffiths to conduct research at Carnegie Mellon (more than 4000 miles away).
Griffiths, instrumental for CMU?s involvement in the SALT Project, stated in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on September 5 that he is interested in using the SALT to analyze previously observed galaxies to determine what fraction of the recorded X-ray emissions are coming from quasars and which from active galaxies. By subtracting quasar X-rays from those sources, he hopes to use the distribution of galactic clusters to measure ?dark energy,? the inexplicable force thought to be accelerating the expansion of the universe.
?It?s great that the telescope can be used remotely,? said Philip Cuadra, a senior electrical and computer engineering major, ?It?s nice to see CMU taking an active interest in astrophysics research.?
This summer, the first light from space reached the
SALT from the Lagoon
Nebula part of the Sagittarius
constellation, from 3800 light years away. Following its completion, South African President Thabo Mkeki will officially open the SALT on Nov. 10, enabling astronomers see galactic phenomena that
existed before Earth was even formed.

[TEXT BOX]
WHAT IS A QUASAR?

A quasar is an astronomical object that looks like a star in optical telescopes. Quasars appear to be red, are very distant, and emit more energy than dozens of normal galaxies.

Source: [SLANT 12]en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasar[SLANT 12]