After a night spent at the roadside just outside Sutherland gazing out at SALT, the Southern African Large Telescope, we drove up the mountain the next morning for a visit.
Unfortunately we hadn’t been able to book a star gazing session with this formidable telescope, but a visit inside sounded quite exciting. (We were not sure in any case if one can visit SALT inside if the astronomers are actually working… at night- the stargazing takes place at another telescope).
We entered the visitor’s centre and were welcomed by a beautiful quilted wall hanging depicting interpretations of our skies in an African context.
After the now customary signing in, temperature checking and sanitizing process our young guide took us around the exhibition area first to explain some more about the importance of light and light refraction to see more clearly in deep space. There was a model of SALT on display where she showed how the telescope gets rotated whenever mirrors need to be removed for cleaning… which seems to be an almost daily chore.
We had a photo taken with any space related background we fancied (unfortunately ours seems to have gone AWOL in cyberspace) and then it was time for the convoy to drive further up to the mountain to visit the telescope.
Arriving at the SALT we saw signs warning for falling ice. In 30+ temperatures it is quite funny and unbelievable, but an instructional video at the visitor centre, documenting the construction of SALT, had illustrated how darn cold it can be there.
Our guide got the technical team, one floor below, to set the mechanism in action to turn the telescope so we could actually see the mirrors: amazing and impressive! A few of the panels had some bird pooh on them and we knew… they were next in line for a wash!
From SALT we drove a little bit further between the little town of telescopes to the Elizabeth telescope (I felt very special that day…): a one meter diameter mirror telescope compared to the 91 mirrors (making up a 10m diameter mirror) of SALT.
That was the end of our visit and we vowed to come back one day to actually gaze at the stars.
We couldn’t however not leave without a celebrity selfie of Trokkie with SALT! 🙂
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