Distant past through Africa's big telescope

With the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) which was launched in a remote corner of South Africa's Karoo region, scientists hope to unlock one of the most curious secrets. In the beginning all was smooth. And now all is scattered. How this process unfolded long ago?

"SALT gives us the ability to look far back in time," Dr. David Buckley, the project scientist, told.

The light from the objects that SALT will probe was emitted billions of years ago, giving us an eye on the distant path and the evolution of the universe.

"When the universe was very young it was smooth and had a uniform distribution but now it is quite clumpy," Buckley said.

"You look at the night sky and the stars are scattered all over the place. We want to find out how this happened," he said.

Looking at the night sky from the windswept hillside where SALT is located gives one an idea of how scattered things are out there.

It is like a dazzling canopy of lights, thick with the swirls of our Milky Way. On some nights the lights of Cape Town 400 km away can be faintly seen on the horizon, which seems to go on forever.

The location is widely regarded as one of the best on our own planet for exploring distant worlds.

Buckley said SALT will also probe far off black holes which are sucking in matter spinning around them — terrifying things.

"Whatever goes into a black hole doesn't come out," he said.

SALT is also able to capture rapid images of stars and other objects in a constant process of change.

"Unlike other large telescopes which take snapshots, SALT has a detection system akin to a video camera. It can take 10 to 20 frames per second," he said.

SALT will be put to use in the search for planets in solar systems far from our own, Reuters reports.


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