Tuesday, April 21, 2009

South African Astronomical Observatory

Checking out the satellite dishes at the Observatory.
Today we visited the South African Astronomical Observatory. It is the national facility for optical astronomy in South Africa and is part of the National Research Foundation. Research in astronomy and astrophysics is conducted at this world class facility.
Its history began in 182o with the founding of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope . It was the first scientific institute in Sub-Saharan Africa, and was established to map the southern skies for maritime navigation. Our guide told us that in those days, there was a clear view from the site to the harbour. A pistol would be fired to signal the noon , and ships in the harbour could see the smoke . Today the view is blocked by many buildings and the noon day gun is fired at precisely midday from Signal Hill.
By mid 20Th century, light and air pollution in Cape Town made it difficult to do astronomical work from this facility and the search for a darker, clearer site commenced.
Today one can visit the Observatory and enjoy a guided tour . Every second Saturday there are night tours and one can enjoy observing the stars with their telescopes. (Something we plan to do on a clear night soon!)The museum is fascinating and the guides are passionate about sharing their knowledge.
The massive telescope.

The Observatory.
The roof can be moved around to see different portions of the night sky and the floor can also be raised and lowered.The kids loved that!

The children had hands on fun making their own telescopes and binoculars.

It is well worth a visit! We were handed packs of information as well as night sky maps. We had great fun looking at the sky this evening and plan to be up early tomorrow to see the old crescent moon, Venus and Mars as they form a triangle in the early morning sky.

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