Outreach events at the South African Astronomical Observatory

the historic McClean telescope

the historic McClean telescope

Public outreach is a big part of the OAD’s vision. Infact, it is one of the three Task Forces. We  coordinate outreach projects with the help of our task force-3 members. So, it is not surprising that we take a keen interest in outreach events conducted on our own campus.

Like many observatories, the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) throws opens its doors to the public on certain nights. On the second and fourth saturday of the month, the public is invited to the ‘open night’. It consists of a public lecture for an hour, followed by a tour of the historic main building (now the library) and McClean telescope, and ends with a fun time spent star-gazing. Volunteers, mostly students from the local universities UCT and UWC, assist with the logistics.

Full house on Open Night @SAAO
Full house on Open Night @SAAO

Despite seemingly advanced topics, there are always plenty of eager people on open night. They range in all ages and come from all walks of life. And the lecturers always perform a swell job of getting the information across.

After the lecture, the audience are led first to the library, then to the McClean telescope. One of the biggest of its time, the refractor still functions, but the dome is not in perfect condition. The musuem housed within the dome building tells the tale of Astronomy in South Africa. The in-house astronomer acts as the guide, taking everyone through the history of the observatory. Some of the original instruments used in colonial times are on display. Once inside the dome, one can really appreciate the trule scale of this former giant.

The volunteers then set up telescopes outside the dome for star-gazing. On clear nights, the beautiful southern sky brings the wonders of the cosmos right to you.

If you want to join the open night next time  – http://www.saao.ac.za/public/open-nights/

(This post was written by Ramasamy Venugopal, a visiting fellow from India)