This is precisely what professors and researchers in UNC's Department of Physics & Astronomy hope to accomplish within the next decade through their possible participation in a project to build one of the most phenomenal telescopes on earth.
"This is the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere and equal to the largest in the world," said Chris Clemens, an assistant astronomy professor at UNC.
The project, titled the South African Large Telescope, or SALT, is part of the mission of South Africa's post-apartheid government to re-energize its technology industry and attract future scientists.
A consortium of universities and science agencies around the world will collaborate to build SALT. The project, which is set to be completed in 2006, will cost about $30 million.
Clemens said the telescope's features not only allow scientists to observe and examine faint objects but also distinguish the speed of light and analyze the relative intensities of each particle.
UNC researchers are seeking to use 10 percent of SALT's observation time. But scientists must raise $1 million within the next year and another $3 million in the next three years to participate in the SALT project. "We plan to receive a combination of funds from the University and private donors," Clemens said.
He also said the project will proceed without funds from UNC but expressed the importance of this telescope as a gateway to make competitive research conclusions. "UNC astronomers have never had a resource such as this one to study distant galaxies and learn more about the history of our universe," Clemens said.
Joining the project will allow UNC to obtain remarkable gains. Clemens said the University will expand its reach to international students and build connections with universities worldwide.
"Astronomy is a good program, but, with the right tools, it could be a world-class program," he said.