Thursday, October 15, 2015

SALT Status update for October 2015

Recent Scientific Papers

The 2015 calendar year will top the number of 31 refereed SALT publications from 2014.  While waiting for the final tally, here is a list of SALT papers that have appeared since our last update in July:

* Brosch et al. study an "empty ring galaxy" using RSS/Fabry-Perot observations finding a past merger of disc galaxies and current star formation in a regularly spinning gas ring.

* Coe & Kirk present a catalogue of Be/X-ray binary systems in the Small Magellanic Cloud including H-alpha measurement using RSS.

* Gvaramadze et al. combine Spitzer Space Telescope and RSS data to characterize the blue Galactic supergiant MN18 and its bipolar circumstellar nebula.

* Hajduk et al. combine X-Shooter spectra with RSS data to conclude that [JD2002]11 is the ninth symbiotic star known in total, and only the 2nd known dusty symbiotic star in the Small Magellanic Cloud.

* Karachentsev, Kniazev & Sharina present RSS spectroscopy of a globular cluster in the center of the nearby isolated dwarf spheroidal galaxy KKs3.

* Katkov, Kniazev & Sil'chenko show, using RSS spectra of isolated lenticular galaxies, that there is a large range in their formation epochs and that their gas is likely externally accreted by minor mergers.

* Macfarlane et al. present the overview and first results of the large OmegaWhite survey at ESO/VST for short-period variable stars, including follow-up spectroscopy with SALT/RSS.

* Menzies, Whitelock & Feast study AGB variables in the Local Group galaxy IC 1613 and their RSS spectra demonstrates on-going "hot bottom burning" in an Oxygen-rich Mira variable.

* Silverman et al. include RSS data in their study of high-velocity features of calcium and silicon in a large sample of Type Ia SN spectra.

* Zinchenko et al. present oxygen abundance distributions in six late-type galaxies based on RSS spectra of regions of ionized hydrogen in these galaxies.

Too Large A Black Hole in the news

And in another new publication, Jacco van Loon from Keele University and Anne Sansom from the University of Central Lancashire used SALT to study a significantly over-sized nuclear black hole in a modest-mass early-type galaxy.   This result was featured on CNN along with the Espresso morning TV show here in South Africa.  For more details, see:
 On ADS:
 SALT Press Release:

Record number of Blocks Observed

We don't know what the final number will be yet, but this semester has seen a record number of blocks observed!   Eric Depagne and Thea Koen passed the old record of 798 blocks on 3 October.  See how they celebrated the accomplishment of passing 800 observed blocks!
SALT Facebook:

Laser Frequency Comb at SALT

We have been fortunate to be approached by researchers from the University Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, the Department of Photonics and Quantum Science, asking SALT to provide an on-sky test for their prototype laser frequency comb. These instruments provide an incredibly precise method to calibrate spectroscopy using tens of thousands of lines with well known wavelengths.  Currently, only HARPS at ESO is equipped with such an instrument, and with such a calibrator it regularly delivers precision down to a few cm/s.

The frequency comb is expected to be installed on the telescope for a three month period and provide HRS with a high stability calibration source. It will be installed, commissioned and tested as soon as it arrives in January 2016, and will be available for HRS science during the second quarter of 2016. For more information, and if you have ideas of how to make use of the capability on HRS in this limited time period, please contact us at

SALT polarimetry update

The RSS polarimetry beamsplitter was returned to its US manufacturer in 2013 after problems were discovered with leaking coupling fluid. An alternative coupling "gel" was used in the repair and the beamsplitter was successfully re-installed into RSS in June 2015. The recommissioning of the mechanical and electrical mechanisms and control software associated with the polarimetry mode has been ongoing over the past few months. As of October 2015, closed dome re-commissioning tests are almost complete. On-sky commissioning and calibrations are scheduled to begin in October/November 2015.  We hope some of the polarimetry modes will be ready to be advertised for the SALT 2016-1 Semester Call, but at this point we are not certain yet. We will keep users informed. For more information about RSS polarimetry, please send any queries to

RSS Guider

A new RSS guider project is progressing well with proof-of-concept hardware for the motion stage and stand-alone control system on its way and concept designs of all the major components under way. This new two-probe design will be able to deliver rotation guidance (which especially MOS mode users will appreciate) and automatic focus feedback (which the observers will greatly appreciate), while delivering significantly improved performance with much fainter stars, reaching the same V~20 mag in 15 sec sensitivity as the current FIF guider. It is expected to be ready for integration with the telescope towards the end of 2016.

Tracker Upgrade

Last week, the telescope was taken offline for the installation of the new Y-drive motors. The installation went smoothly and the telescope was back online and in operation after only two nights of down time.  The final stage of the upgrade is expected to be carried out in April 2016 and will result in a much better performing and capable tracker for the telescope.   Congratulations to the TechOps team for successfully carrying out this major milestone!

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