A heritage of which to be proud.
Whereas the various Observing Sections of ASSA look forward to
upcoming events in 2010, the Historical Section--by its very
nature--looks back to the past. Listed below are events in Astronomy and
Science in general that will hopefully stimulate interesting
conversations and lead to a commemoration or two.
Scientific advances that were made:
400 years ago (ya): On 7 January 1610 Galileo observed four moons
orbiting Jupiter. This event was to have far-reaching results as it
helped to inaugurate science as a discipline.
170 ya: On 1 st January 1840 France became the first country in the
world to accept the decimal system of weights and measurements.
80 ya: On 18 February 1930 Tombaugh discovered the
"planet" Pluto. In the same year the first circular particle
accelerator or cyclotron was invented by Ernest Lawrence.
20 ya: In 1990 John Mather announced that the COBE satellite found
black body radiation to within a 99.97% fit of Big Bang theory.
The dissemination of knowledge:
540 ya: Invention of the Printing Press in 1470
400 ya: In 1610 Galileo published his discovery of Jupiter's
moons in a publication called "Starry Messenger".
350 ya: The Royal Society of London was founded in 1660.
320 ya: Johann Hevelius' "Star Catalogue" was
published posthumously in 1690.
190 ya: The Astronomical Society of London was founded in 1820. In
1831 it was renamed The Royal Astronomical Society.
120 ya: In 1890 Henry Draper published the "Draper
Catalogue". It was the first to list the spectral type and
magnitude of stars (10 000 stars listed). Ten years prior to this, in
1880, he took the first photograph of the Orion Nebula.
Advances in Instrumentation:
420 ya: The microscope was invented by in 1590 by Hans and
30 ya: In 1980 the Very Large Array radio telescope became fully
20 ya: On 24 April 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched.
100 ya: Halley's Comet was visible in 1910.
50 and 10 ya: On 13 November 1960, and again on 14 July 2000, solar
storms disrupted electrical grids.
40 ya: In April 1970 Apollo 13 was launched. There was an explosion
in the SM en route to the Moon during which a successful recovery was
carried out resulting in a safe return. In the same year the Russian
Venera 7 unmanned craft landed on Venus and returned data.
30 ya: Voyager 1 visited Saturn in 1980.
Historical events in South Africa.
100 years ago: In 1910, the year that Halley's comet graced
the skies, the British Colonies and the Boer Republics amalgamated to
become the Union of South Africa, thus 2010 marks the first centenary of
the existence of South Africa.
Events in Cape Town.
190 ya: In 1820 an Order of Council was made to establish The Royal
Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope. (Hereafter referred to as the Cape
150 ya: In 1860 Thomas Maclear received a knighthood for his work
on the Arc of the Meridian.
140 ya: Both Maclear (age 76) and Mann retired in 1870. On 13
October 1870, Edwin Stone became "Her Majesty's
Astronomer" (hereafter referred to as Director of Cape
Observatory). Ten years later, in 1880, Stone published the
"Catalogue of Southern Hemisphere Stars" for which he received
the Lalande Medal. Yet another ten years later, in 1890, Stone published
the [degrees]Radcliffe Catalogue".
110 ya: David Gill was knighted in 1900.
100 ya: The 4-inch heliostat was installed for Solar Photography at
the Cape Observatory.
80 ya: Spencer Jones was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society in
1930. He died fifty years ago in England on 1 November 1960.
60 ya: R. H. Stoy became Director of the Cape Observatory (1950 -
40 ya: In 1970 the CSIR announced the amalgamation of the Cape,
Radcliffe and Republic Observatories to form the South African
Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).
10 ya: In June 2000 the 1.5m ATP telescope became operational and
in November the IRSF (Infrared Survey Facility) opened at Sutherland.
Events in Gauteng.
60 ya: Theo Walraven appointed as Superintendent of Leiden
Events related to the Natal Observatory.
70 ya: Director Nevill died at Eastbourne (England) in 1940.
For a brief summary of historical events in Southern Africa, visit
Or for a more complete list of events, visit
Contemporary Astronomy in Southern Africa
Building on its astronomical heritage, Southern Africa has a number
of professional astronomers as well as many enthusiastic amateurs.
Besides the government-sponsored observatories, there are several
private installations in countries of the region operated by amateurs.
The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) is a national
facility for optical and infrared astronomy and forms part of the
National Research Foundation (NRF).
The SAAO headquarters in Observatory, Cape Town is open for
night-time visits on the second Saturday of each month at 20:00. Day
tours for large groups only by arrangement in advance and may be booked
through the Observatory on 021 460 9319.There is no fee, but a donation
would be appreciated. A gift shop sells t-shirts, posters, books etc. on
The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) situated at Sutherland
started observations in 2005. It is the largest single optical telescope
in the southern hemisphere, with a 10 x 11 metres hexagonal segmented
primary mirror and has an area equal to the largest in the world, namely
the Keck I & II telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
Day and night visits to the SAAO observing site near Sutherland can
be booked via 023-5712436 direct or 076-900-0308. Tours, limited to 20
visitors, are conducted Mondays to Fridays at 10:30 and 14:30, and
Saturdays at 11:30 and 14:30. Night tours are on Mondays, Wednesdays,
Fridays and Saturdays. Bookings must be made well in advance. The night
tours do not include a visit to SALT. The fee is R30 pp for day tours
and R50 pp for night tours. Note: no tours on public holidays. E-mail
[firstname.lastname@example.org] Websites about Sutherland:
The Boyden Observatory, situated at Mazelspoort (25 km east of
Bloemfontein), is managed by the University of the Free State.
Professional observing facilities include the third largest optical
telescope in Africa, namely the 1.52m Boyden-UFS reflector. The robotic
0.41 m Watcher reflector was recently installed by the University
College, Dublin, Ireland. Other instruments include the 0.41m Nishimura
reflector, the 0.33m Alvan Clark refractor, the historic 0.25m Metcalf
triplet refractor and a 0.20m coelostat. A stellar auditorium, seating
100 inside and 200 on the roof, is used during the Observatory's
many public evenings. The auditorium includes an interactive Personal
Response System with large screen multimedia facilities. Visits are by
Contact: Prof. P J Meintjes Tel: 051 401 2191
[email@example.com] or Prof. M J H Hoffman
Tel : 051 401 2924 [firstname.lastname@example.org] Website is
The Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO), 30 km NW
of Krugersdorp, is a National Facility for radio astronomy managed by
the NRF. The Director is Prof Roy Booth. The 26m telescope operates at
18, 13, 6, 5.0, 4.5, 3.6, 2.5 and 1.3 cm wavelengths and is used for
observations of interstellar and circumstellar molecules, pulsars, x-ray
sources, quasars and active galaxies. A 15-m diameter radio telescope
antenna prototype for the Karoo Array Telescope (meerKAT), the
eXperimental Development Model (XDM), was constructed on site at
Hartebeesthoek and erected in 2007. It is being used to test technology
leading up to development of the Square Kilometer Array Telescope (SKA).
Also in 2007 a 7.5m dish was obtained for the C-Band All Sky Survey
(C-BASS). The Observatory provides research facilities for astronomers
in South African universities and internationally. It frequently
participates in global networks of radio telescopes using the technique
of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). This has two purposes: high
angular resolution imaging for astronomical purposes and high precision
position determination for geodetic purposes. The Space Geodesy
programme also operates a Satellite Laser Ranger and a network of Global
Positioning System base stations. There are visiting days for the public
once a month on a Saturday from 16:00 to 20:00. It is essential to book
for all visits.
Contact: Tel: 012 326 0742 weekdays 08:00 to 16:00 only.
E-mail: [email@example.com] Website: [http://www.hartrao.ac.zal
The UNISA Observatory is situated on the main campus of the
University, south of the city of Pretoria. Due to the lights from the
city and its suburbs, the skies are not particularly dark, but the site
is easily accessible and provides a secure environment for night-time
visits. The Observatory houses a 14-inch (35-cm) computer-controlled
telescope mounted on a fixed pier. The facility is used for public
visits and for training students. It is equipped with a photometer, a
spectroscope and a CCD camera. Research projects can also be carried out
at the facility. Viewing evenings for the public can be arranged by
Contact: Prof D P Smits. Tel: 012 429 6345. E-mail:
The HESS Gamma-Ray Telescopes are located in the Khomas Highland of
Namibia, about 100 km south-west of Windhoek. HESS is an array of four
gamma-ray telescopes, each with a hexagonal segmented mirror roughly 12
metres in diameter. Each telescope is equipped with an advanced
electronic camera with 960 high-speed light detectors, designed to
detect the weak flashes of light emitted by high energy gamma rays in
the Earth's atmosphere to an accuracy of 0.1 of a degree. These can
detect gamma ray sources with intensities a few thousandths of the flux
of the Crab Nebula. Facilities on site include a control building, a
residence building, power generators, and a microwave link to transmit
data to Windhoek. The first telescope became operational in 2002 and by
January 2004 the four-telescope array was in regular operation. The
official inauguration was on 2004 September 28. HESS is operated by an
international collaboration of institutes from Germany, France, UK,
Ireland, Czech Republic, Armenia, Namibia and South Africa (represented
by North West University). Since starting operations, 35 new sources
have been detected, opening a whole new area of astronomy. A second
telescope has been constructed consisting of a 39m tessellated dish.
Access to the site is restricted and tours are by arrangement only.
Contact: Prof B C Raubenheimer. Tel: 018 299 2403. E-mail:
The Karoo Array Telescope (KAT) and MeerKAT. South Africa and
Australia are the last two countries in the running to host the largest
radio telescope ever built; the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) which is
planned for 2019. To facilitate the bid for the SKA a site has been
obtained at Klerefontein, 11 km outside Carnarvon in the Northern Cape,
providing workshops and accommodation. During 2009 the access road,
buildings and the KAT-7 dishes were installed. Extra funding was
obtained to extend KAT-7 to MeerKAT (Afr. more Kat). MeerKAT, as a
scientific and technological pathfinder for the SKA, will be a premier
instrument in its own right when commissioned in 2012. It will consist
of up to 80 dishes each 12 metres in diameter, a centrally concentrated
core and goal frequency range of 700 MHz - 10 GHz.
The SKA "Youth into Science and Engineering Project"
supports 142 bursaries and post doctoral fellowships in the fields of
mathematics, physics, engineering and electronic engineering. More than
60% of students supported have stayed in fields relevant to the SKA and
Contact: Kim de Boer [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Website: http://www.ska.ac.za/kat/index.html or
Private and amateur observatories
Astro Amphitheatre This unique astronomical facility at River
Place, 60 km north of Johannesburg, comprises a viewing site with 14 and
10 inch telescopes and a conference venue with restaurant. African Sky
Lore Theatre (a project of IYA 2009) is a travelling cast who perform at
schools and other venues, accompanied by astronomers with portable
Group bookings:Tel 082 901 3796 E-mail: [email@example.com]
Astro Tours takes you on a guided tour through the Karoo night sky
in Prince Albert, Olive Grove (Beaufort West) with the aid of 8 and 10
inch Meade telescopes. Workshops, school courses etc.
Contact: Hans Daehne. Tel: 072 641 9657 or 072 732 2950 E-mail:
Astronomy Africa Provides a range of astronomical products and
services including design and construction of private observatories and
sky watching facilities. Installation and maintenance of telescopes and
equipment, astronomy education and training courses, evening
entertainment at conferences, corporate functions and special events,
travel services to prime sky viewing and stargazing destinations and
development programmes aimed at advancing astronomy in Africa.
Contact: Eckhart Piprek Tel: +27 (0) 82 901 3796
E-mail [firstname.lastname@example.org] Website:
Astronomy For Africa Presents astronomy talks and telescope viewing
evenings at the customer's venue of choice. We use a fully
motorised Celestron CPC800 (SCT) telescope and point out objects using a
green laser pointer. We cater for interest groups such as school
children, churches, companies, tourists and most importantly, the
Contact: Paul Ludick or Marhalda Botha Tel: +27 (0)78 009 9032
E-mail [email@example.com] Website:
Cederberg Observatory is situated 250km by road north of Cape Town
and is operated by seven amateur astronomers. It has excellent dark
skies and public open nights (weather permitting) are held every
Saturday except at or near Full Moon. Contact: Chris Forder. Tel: 021
E-mail: [firstname.lastname@example.org] or Cliff Turk. E-mail:
Kroonstad Astronomy Club is run by a group of astronomy enthusiasts
in Kroonstad who meet once a month, usually during a new Moon and on a
Contact: Barry Fourie 082 443 3246 or 056 212 2535
Kruger National Park At Olifants Camp "Sky Rangers" set
up telescopes at a remote viewing site on the bank of the Olifants river
for visitors to view the spectacular Kruger night sky.
Bookings: Olifants Camp 013 735 6606 or SANParks Central
Reservations 012 428 9111
Observatory Marischel is situated on a farm just outside the town
of George in the Western Cape. We provide: Stargazing tours of the
beautiful Garden Route night sky to families, small groups and
individuals. The night sky is explored using a fully computerised
Sky-Watcher 20cm Newtonian Reflector telescope with GOTO. Stargazing
tours by appointment only.
Contact: Lucas Ferreira Tel: 083 376 4910 E-mail
Port Elizabeth Peoples' Observatory situated on the corner of
Westview Drive and MacFarlane Rd, is open to the public on the 1 st and
3rd Wednesday of every month and on every Wednesday during December and
January. Admission is free. Viewing evenings for groups may be arranged
at other times during the month. Contact: F du Toit E-mail:
Prince Albert Observatory Observatory House, 3 Market Street,
Prince Albert caters for accommodation and hosts observing evenings by
Contact: Hans Daehne. Tel: 072 641 9657 E-mail:
Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve Observatory Situated in the Cradle of
Humankind. Astronomy viewing evenings are presented by professional and
advanced amateur astronomers. Various astronomy packages tailored for
tourist groups, conferences, corporate functions, team building and
special events are offered that combine telescope viewing and game
Contact: Group bookings. Tel: +27 (0)11 957 0349
Sutherland Stargazing every night using three 11" Celestrons
with GPS. Indoor presentations on a large screen. Located 1 km from
Sutherland on a smallholding. Please book in advance Contact: Jurg
Wagener. Tel: 082 556 9589 E-mail: [email@example.com]
The Iziko: Planetarium is located within the Iziko: South African
Museum in Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town. It has a Minolta Series IV
projector and seats 140.
Contact: Tel: 021 481 3900 Website:
The Johannesburg Planetarium is situated in the grounds of the
University of the Witwatersrand (entrance in Yale Road, alongside the
M1). It is equipped with a Zeiss projector and has seating for over 400
Contact: Tel: 011 717 1392 Website:
Science centres with star labs Pretoria Science and Technology
Museum Tel: 012 392 9000 and the Unizul Science Centre in Richards Bay
Tel: 035 797 3204.
Other sites of astronomical interest
The Tswaing (Soutpan) Meteor Crater is located about 40km north of
Pretoria, west of Hammanskraal, off the M35 Soutpan road. This crater is
the result of a meteoritic impact about 220 000 years ago and is 1.1 km
in diameter, comparable in size to the much better-known Barringer
meteor crater in Arizona, USA. The Tswaing site is controlled by the
'Northern Flagship Institution' (museum). It is open to the
public, and has an interpretive centre.
The Hoba Meteorite is an iron-nickel meteorite located on a farm 18
km from Grooffontein in northern Namibia. Believed to have fallen some
80000 years ago, this 60 ton meteorite, claimed to be the largest in the
world, measures 3m x 3m x 1 m. Declared a National Monument in 1920.
The Vredefort structure is currently regarded as the oldest and
largest clearly visible impact structure on Earth, formed when a
gigantic meteorite (larger than Table Mountain) hit the Earth. The
original crater is estimated to have been 250-300 kilometres in
diameter. It is difficult to visualise from the ground; the central
uplift is near Parys in the Free State and the outer wrinkle is the
Braamfontein Ridge in Johannesburg. Vredefort played a role in the
concentration of the Free State and Transvaal gold deposits. In 2005
July it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is considered
crucial to our understanding of the planet's evolution, because
such impacts caused great global and evolutionary change. [see also p
Education in astronomy
Several universities undertake research in astronomy and offer
courses in astronomy:
The University of Cape Town (UCT) Astronomy Department has easy
access to the facilities of SAAO and offers astronomy and astrophysics
courses at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, as does the
University of South Africa (UNISA), a distance-learning institution. The
Dept of Mathematical Sciences at UNISA also offers a number of
postgraduate study opportunities, available through their Centre of
Excellence in Computational Relativity, Astrophysics and Cosmology
The UCT Dept of Applied Mathematics has a theoretical cosmology
The University of the Free State, Dept of Physics, offers
postgraduate studies in astrophysics and a graduate programme in
astronomy in collaboration with UNISA.
The Dept of Physics and Electronics at Rhodes University
specializes in radio astronomy and has its own observatory outside
The Dept of Physics at Potchefstroom University hold courses in
gamma-ray astronomy and general astrophysics that form part of the
regular honours and masters courses.
The Dept of Computational and Applied Mathematics, University of
the Witwatersrand, offers an introductory first year course in astronomy
and a postgraduate course in cosmology/astrophysics.
The University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg includes astronomy in
physics and computational physics courses from first year through to
The NASSP (National Astronomy and Space Sciences Programme) was
established seven years ago as a joint project of all the universities
offering Honours and Masters degrees in astronomy. A set of courses is
being offered in one location so that students can be exposed to the
many areas of expertise available in South Africa.
The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), situated in
Muizenberg, Cape Town, is a collaborative project of the Universities of
Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, Cambridge, Oxford and
Paris-Sud-XI. AIMS offers an intensive nine-month postgraduate course
which concentrates on developing research skills.
The Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) based in the
School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal was
established to promote research in, and increase public awareness of,
astrophysics and cosmology.
Astronomical Societies and Clubs
Besides the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (see below)
there are a number of other societies in the region.
The Astronomical Work Group (Windhoek, Namibia), active in solar
& occultation observing and astrophotography, has a 36-cm telescope
at the Brakwater Agricultural Centre. Exhibitions and public viewing
sessions are organized.
Contact: Mrs S Enke, PO Box 5198, Windhoek.
The Friends of Boyden is an organization founded to foster public
appreciation of the historical, cultural and scientific value of Boyden
Observatory, to promote public interest in the affairs of the
Observatory and to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of
the installation. The Friends organize a number of activities such as
popular lectures on astronomy and viewing sessions at Boyden. Membership
of the Friends is open to all interested persons. Members receive the
Naghemel newsletter compiled by ASSA Bloemfontein Centre and are kept
informed of the astronomical activities at Boyden and in Bloemfontein.
Contact: B van Zyl Tel. 051 436 7555. Website:
The Hermanus Centre meets monthly on the first Thursday after New
Moon at the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory.
Contact: J Saunders Tel. 028 314 0543 or S Kleyn Tel 028 312 2802
The Port Elizabeth Peoples Observatory Society holds bi-monthly
meetings on the 3rd Monday.
Contact: PO Box 7988, Newton Park, Port Elizabeth.
The Rhodes University Astronomy and Ham Radio Society meets weekly,
every Thursday at 19:30, in the Department of Physics and Electronics,
Rhodes University, during university terms.
Contact: Tel 046 603 8450 during office hours.
The Soutpansberg Astronomy Club meets on the first Thursday of
every month, excluding December. Informal observation evenings, with a
10-inch Meade LXD 55, are held monthly at a dark-sky site 4km outside
Makhado, just off the N1.
Contact: Kos Coronaios Tel: 015 516 3000 E-mail:
The Southern Peninsula Astronomy Club (SPARC) in the Western Cape
meets monthly in the Fish Hoek Civic Centre on the last Thursday at
19:30. Viewing evenings are held at a nearby site in Simon's Town
on the Sunday evening closest to new moon. Visitors and tourists are
Contact: Wolf Lange. (Tel: 021 785 3713) E-mail:
The purpose of the SAAO--ASSA Scholarship is to encourage current
or intending undergraduates (i.e. 1st, 2nd or 3rd year) studying for a
B.Sc. degree at any university in South Africa, who have a stated
interest in astronomy, to prepare for furthering their interest.
Applicants must be resident in South Africa. One quarter of the value of
--ASSA Scholarship (in 2010 it is R4600) will be paid be to the
Scholarship holder to assist with expenses and prescribed book
purchases, and the rest will be paid into the holder's university
fees account. The holder will automatically be considered for the SAAO
-ASSA Scholarship in future years, until completion of the B.Sc. degree,
subject to good progress being made.
Applications and queries may be addressed by e-mail to
[Maciej@telkomsa. net or in writing to: Astronomical Society of Southern
Africa, Scholarships, c/o PO Box 9, Observatory, 7935.
The Historical Section was formed in 1992 with the purpose of
establishing a strong historical record of astronomy in Southern Africa.
The goals are to identify, locate, and keep track of historical objects;
digitize all issues of MNASSA and the Journal, minutes of Society
meetings, and old astronomical photographs (before they are damaged or
the emulsion fades) in order to preserve them and make them available to
the public, and to make future research easier; undertake research of
specific topics and to publish articles, obituaries etc.; and to follow
up on specific enquiries. An archive and database, in the form of a
website hosted by the SAAO, has been established. All members (and
families of deceased members) are invited to donate material to the
Section Director: Chris de Coning, 15 Wilkinson St, Gardens, Cape
Town, 8001. Tel: 021-423-4538. E-mail: [firstname.lastname@example.org]
The purpose of the ASSA Scholarship is to encourage the study of
astronomy. The Scholarship is available in support of 2nd and 3rd year
undergraduate studies (and, in exceptional cases, Honours) in astronomy
subjects only, at any Southern African university. Preference will be
given to members of ASSA as well as to previous holders of the
Scholarship who have made good progress in their studies. The
Scholarship will cover academic fees for astronomy subjects only, as
well as a contribution towards the cost of prescribed books for these
subjects, and is valid for one year. More details are available at
http://assa.saao.ac.za/html/25_scholarship.html. Queries may be
addressed by e-mail to [Maciej@telkomsa.net] or in writing to: The Hon.
Secretary, ASSA, PO Box 9, Observatory, 7935.
Table 21. Historical observatories in South Africa
Observatory name Location longitude (East) latitude (South)
Boyden Mazelspoort + 26[degrees] - 29[degrees]
Observatory 24.3' 02.3
Lamont Hussey Bloemfontein + 26 14.2 - 29 05.7
Leiden Hartebeespoort + 27 52.6 - 25 46.4
Radcliffe Pretoria + 28 13.7 - 25 47.3
Republic/Union Johannesburg + 28 04.5 - 26 10.9
The Royal Cape Town + 18 28.6 - 33 56.0
Yale Southern Johannesburg + 28 01.8 - 26 11.2