Our new 1-metre telescope has a name – Lesedi

The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) has concluded the naming competition for its new 1-metre telescope; a recent addition to the many national and international telescopes on our observing plateau near Sutherland, in the Northern Cape.

Since the day we announced the competition (which ran 26 January – 31 March), we received an overwhelming response from enthusiastic learners countrywide. The suggested names were accompanied by thoughtful motivations, many of which highlighted the keen interest learners have in astronomy, and in the advancement of technology through the development of astronomy in South Africa. The judges had a very tough decision to make.

First Light image of Saturn, taken with a cell phone through the eyepiece.

Lesedi, a name put forward by Sam Mpho Mthombeni, a Grade 9 learner at Lentheng Middle School in North West Province, was chosen from the nine shortlisted names. Upon receiving the news, Sam had this to say, “I am very happy to be the winner. I am proud that my name, Lesedi, will be the name used for the telescope. I believe this will motivate other learners to also want to study science”, according to Dr. Ramotholo Sefako who made the call.

His motivation was “The new 1-metre telescope should be named Lesedi because it’s the first South African telescope that will be remotely operable and potentially robotic. The instrument will even help S.A. university students go places in their future visually and one cannot visualize in darkness.”  Lesedi means light in Sesotho.

In support of the telescope naming competition, the Department of Science and Technology has invited Sam Mpho Mthombeni and his parent to the DST budget debate in Parliament in Cape Town on 16 May. Thereafter, he and his parent will travel to the Sutherland Observing site for the dedication and unveiling ceremony. Later in the evening, Sam will have his very own 1-metre telescope for the night, with which to view the wonderful Sutherland night-sky.

Project scientist, Dr. Hannah Worters says, “This is the first new telescope for over forty years that is owned and operated solely by South Africa.  The next generation of astronomers will train with this telescope — and use it to make their own great discoveries — so it was important to ask our young people for a name that they can relate to, and that means something to them”.  She went on to say, “I have loved reading every one of the suggestions, and thank all the participants for their effort and creativity. The competition has truly been a highlight of this three-year project, and we are all extremely happy to go forth with Lesedi.”

Mr. Sivuyile Manxoyi, the outreach manager at SAAO thinks, “This new 1-metre telescope is a welcome addition to an already very important and interesting theme in the curriculum where learners from grade 6 learn about the historical and modern telescopes of South Africa. Learners will likely feel a stronger connection with Lesedi, especially when learning about modern telescopes because it was developed and built during their time.”

  • Dr. Hannah Worters – astronomer responsible for commissioning the new telescope: hannah@saao.ac.za or 023 100 0215
  • Dr. Ramotholo Sefako – Telescope operations manager: rrs@saao.ac.za or 021 460 9344