The history of astronomy in Southern Africa.

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.

Worldwide Events.

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

Zacharias Janssen.

30 ya: In 1980 the Very Large Array radio telescope became fully


20 ya: On 24 April 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched.

Celestial Events:

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.

Space programs:

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

Observatory (1950-1976).

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.

Professional observatories

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

Open Nights.

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

[] 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

appointment only.

Contact: Prof. P J Meintjes Tel: 051 401 2191

[] or Prof. M J H Hoffman

Tel : 051 401 2924 [] 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: [] Website: [

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:

[] Website:

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

radio astronomy.

Contact: Kim de Boer []

Website: 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: []

Website: [http://www.astronomyafrica.coml

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 [] 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

general public.

Contact: Paul Ludick or Marhalda Botha Tel: +27 (0)78 009 9032

E-mail [] 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

913 4200.

E-mail: [] 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: []


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:


SAAO-ASSA Scholarship

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

the SAAO

--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.

Historical Section

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: []


ASSA Scholars

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 Queries may be

addressed by e-mail to [] 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


Southern Station

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