While the United States and Europe continue to dominate space research, a telescope in South Africa is doing an equally great job, exceeding experts' expectations.

Perched on top of a grassy hill in the suburbs of Cape Town is the South African Large Telescope (SALT), an imposing structure aptly named for being one of the biggest of its kind in the world. It's also the largest telescope in the entire Southern Hemisphere.

Costing $43 million to build, it shares its enormous space with an observatory that's open for day tours. Both are products of a passion for astronomy and a collaboration of institutions and groups in the United States, Poland, India, South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Beyond the looks and newness, though - it became fully operational in 2011 - SALT is dazzling observers and researchers with what it can help them find.

"SALT is now living up to expectations, producing high-quality science data that probe the far reaches of the universe," said South African Astronomical Observatory director Ted Williams.

These discoveries include the first white dwarf pulsar. Pulsars, produced from neutron stars, are compact bodies that generate radio waves of up to 1,000 pulses every second.

White dwarfs are described as stellar remnants, meaning they are the outcome of low-mass stars like our sun that have already degenerated or come to the end of their lives. Studying them, especially detecting their pulsars, can help us understand the past and future of our galaxy.

SALT was also used to obtain a galaxy spectrum of an unusual black hole discovered by a team of UK astronomers sometime in 2009.

The spectrum then revealed that not only was the galaxy around 1.86 billion light-years away from us but also that the black hole was incredibly massive for the galaxy it is in, a deviation from the usual notion of what black holes are.

SALT has also proven its worth in terms of speed. Only a few hours after a supernova was detected in Centaurus A, one of the closest galaxies to Earth at 13.05 million light-years away, scientists were able to get its spectrum.

With these feats, the telescope is changing the landscape of South African astronomy.

"It is what we wanted for South Africa and for Africa, not to stay at the margins but actually at the center and beginning to do world-class quality work," said science minister Naledi Pandor.

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