Photo: SA Astronomical Observatory
Photo: SA Astronomical Observatory

SA Astronomical Observatory continues to inspire

By Lonwabo Marele Time of article published Oct 19, 2017

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More than 83 000 pupils were introduced to “astronomical wonders” last year at Cape Town’s South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory.

Today marks 197 years since Cape Town’s first permanent, modern telescope was erected.

It was established in 1820 by a British astronomer, Fearon Fallows.

Astronomer and science manager at the observatory, Steve Crawford, said that SAAO and the Salt (Southern African Large Telescope) Collateral Benefits Programme reached out to thousands of pupils and members of the general public every year.

Among others they host school groups, offer visitors a look at the telescopes in Sutherland and invite the public in Cape Town to open nights twice a month.

He said they welcomed Grade 12 pupils to visit the observatory for job shadowing opportunities while they engaged with scientists and astronomers.

Crawford said: “The observatory has been a part of the history of South Africa for close to 200 years and has contributed to the curiosity of how the universe works and how astronomers learn about the universe with exciting technology, research and discoveries.

“The observatory is a part of the National Research Foundation.

"It promotes astronomy and astrophysics in southern Africa by sharing research findings and discoveries and hosting regular tours and open nights. On October28 we will have a public night talk with various professors.”

Part of the observatory contains the Large Telescope, or Salt as it is commonly known, which is the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, and among the largest in the world.

An Outreach Astronomer at SAAO, Daniel Cunnama, said that during the 1830s astronomers at the observatory were already making significant contributions worldwide.

“Some of their contributions included the most accurate measurement of the Moon’s distance from the Earth, and the first observations from which the distance of a star (Alpha Centauri) could be measured,” he said.

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