SAAO donates 0.5 m and 0.75 m telescopes to UFS Boyden Observatory and UKZN

2 February 2015
SAAO donates 0.5 m and 0.75 m telescopes to UFS Boyden Observatory and UKZN

South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Sutherland will be abuzz with excitement and celebration on February 4-5 as SAAO hands over the 0.5 and 0.75 metre telescopes to their proud new owners, the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) and the University of Free State (UFS), Boyden Observatory, respectively chosen by the SAAO as having provided the best motivations for why the telescopes should be donated to them. After sending out a letter inviting bid proposals to all South African institutions and interested parties who would be keen in utilising the two telescopes for research, SAAO received several motivations expressing enthusiasm in accepting the donation. However, the donation could only be awarded to institutions whose proposals incorporated SAAO’s clearly laid out requirements of ensuring that the telescopes would be used for student training, advancing scientific research and public engagement, of which the two chosen institutions met. Representatives from both (UFS) Boyden Observatory and UKZN will be in Sutherland to witness the lifting off of the telescopes from their domes.

The 0.5m and 0.75m telescopes were among the instruments that were erected in Sutherland after the merger of the Royal Observatory in Cape Town and Republic Observatory in Johannesburg to form what is now known as, the South African Astronomical Observatory.

The mounting part of the 0.75m was located from 1964 in Cape Town in what is currently the IT building, where it was called the Multiple Refractor Mount (MRM) because it carried three refractors or lens telescopes. According to Ian Glass, a retired SAAO astronomer with a keen interest in preserving and documenting the history of the Observatory; from 1964 to 1970 some 7000 photographic plates were taken with the largest of these refractors for the Southern Reference Star Programme. The 0.75m telescope itself, a reflector (or mirror) telescope, was specially built for installation in Sutherland by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle on Tyne, England, in 1974. It was used for many important infrared and visible light studies of stars, including the supernova that exploded in 1987 in our nearest neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

The 0.5m was constructed by Boller & Chivens of Pasadena, California, for the Republic Observatory in Johannesburg at the end of 1968. Its main function while at the Republic Observatory was photometry and planetary photography. It was the only telescope ready for use around June 1972 at the Sutherland location. At first, it was used with the Texas designed UCT high-speed photometer connected to a Nova minicomputer with software by R.E. Nather. The “People’s Photometer” designed by Richard Bingham, built at the Greenwich Observatory, later became the main instrument used with this telescope. Many papers about rapid variables such as dwarf novae resulted from this telescope.

Dr. Ramotholo Sefako, head of Telescope Operations at SAAO says, “Once the 0.5m and 0.75m telescopes are moved to their future homes, the domes will be modified to accommodate two new robotic telescopes. One of these telescopes is the 0.65m MeerLICHT that will be used to simultaneously observe the same part of the sky at night as the MeerKAT, to provide real time optical view of the radio transient sky as observed on MeerKAT. MeerLICHT is jointly owned by the University of Cape Town (UCT, South Africa), SAAO (South Africa), the Radboud University Nijmegen (RU, The Netherlands), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO, The Netherlands) and University of Oxford (United Kingdom).The second dome will house the new SAAO 1.0m telescope with modern instrumentation that will have an added advantage of a wide field, which none of the current SAAO telescopes have. It is expected to be installed later this year or early 2016.”


(1) The 0.5 m telescope in Sutherland. (Image credit: Willie Koorts)
(2) The dome of the 0.5 m telescope in Sutherland. (Image credit: Willie Koorts)
(3) The 0.75 m telescope in Sutherland. (Image credit: Willie Koorts)
(4) The dome of the 0.75 m telescope in Sutherland. (Image credit: Willie Koorts)
(5) Nameplate of the 0.5 m telescope (Image credit: Willie Koorts)


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