SAAO - South African Astronomical Observatory

Summary of Activities: April 2007 to March2008


  • International Year of Astronomy 2009: SCBP has played a major role internationally (specifically in Africa) in what has led to a UN declaration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. We continue to be principal drivers of various IYA efforts both in South Africa and across Africa. Currently serving on the Executive Committee Working Group for IYA and chairing one of the 11 IYA Global Cornerstone Projects entitled “Developing Astronomy Globally”
  • Developing astronomy education and outreach in Africa: What started out as a plan for action for IYA2009 in Africa has evolved into us playing a major role in general astronomy education and outreach development in Africa. With the SAAO being the “giants” in astronomy in Africa, we have decided to share all our resources and experience in education and outreach with all who wish to use it.
  • Contributions to the IAU Decadal Plan: SCBP activities regarding astronomy education and outreach in Africa as well as our role in the International Year of Astronomy has resulted in our invitation to contribute to the IAU decadal plan. First meeting in Paris, January 2008.
  • Development of UNAWE International: The voice of SCBP is heard on the International Steering Committee of the Universe Awareness (UNAWE) Programme and brings the experience from UNAWE implementation in the Northern Cape province of South Africa to develop the programme internationally (our focus being Africa)


Education (Events):

  • Scifest 2007: Annual National Science Festival held in Grahamstown and attended by tens of thousands of learners – SCBP runs learner and educator workshops as well as stargazing for the public.
  • Sasol TechnoX: Annual science outreach festival in Sasolburg (Free State) that sees tens of thousands of learners pass through
  • Science Unlimited: Annual science outreach festival in Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg. SCBP participated in the Pietermaritzburg event.
  • National Science Week 2007: Annual event on the science outreach calendar – activities carried out in Cape Town and Sutherland promoting science awareness with a focus on astronomy.
  • Astronomy Month 2007: Another annual event celebrated nationally – our main contribution this year was a career brochure distributed widely.
  • Space Week 2007: Linked to the international “World Space Week” we teamed up with Peter Martinez for a space camp for learners from across the country.
  • Astronomy Quiz 2007: Second annual event involving 4 rounds of quizzes for Grade 6 learners from across the country. SCBP co-ordinated both the Western Cape and Northern Cape quizzes.
  • Women’s Day 2007: SAASTA sponsored activities targeted at role modeling for girl learners
  • UCT, PSP, SUN Educator Workshops: Educator development workshops aimed at equipping them with the skills to teach astronomy in the classroom.
  • SABC Careers Fair: SCBP participated in the Cape Town leg of this exhibition on behalf of the astronomy community in SA – materials were sent to us from other astronomy facilities for exhibition.
  • Astronomy Art Competition 2007: Targeted at very young learners and reaching out mainly to schools in the Northern Cape.
  • Rutgers educators visit: Annual visit by student educators from Rutgers University.
  • Lunar Eclipse 2008: Event held at Lynedoch Primary School where learners were given a talk/demo on eclipses in the afternoon and a group slept over to see the eclipse in the early morning. Video links across the world for UNAWE programme.
  • SALT Board to King Shaka High School: Organised as a side event to the SALT Board meeting in Durban in October 2007, a major activity for the school and community in Umlazi, a township just outside of Durban.

Education (Ongoing):

  • Workshadow: Learners are given the opportunity to “shadow” SAAO staff from a variety of career fields.
  • Science Clubs: National effort to establish and network science clubs across the country.
  • Resource Development: Constant improvement and development of astronomy resources for use by educators and in schools in general
  • Outreach: Schools and community visits to demonstrate the use of telescopes and the basics of astronomy and SALT (either ad hoc or by request)
  • UNAWE: Astronomy outreach targeted at very young children especially in rural areas. This has been focused so far on the children aged 3 and older in the Northern Cape (involves games, demonstrations, videos, etc)
  • Scholarships: School level and university level scholarships awarded to deserving students in the field of astronomy.

Public Outreach (Events):

  • Astronomical Events (Eclipse, comet): Lunar eclipse and comets (McNaught, Holmes) were used to bring astronomy to people’s attention.
  • Full Moon on Lion’s Head: Telescopes taken to the top of Lion’s Head in Cape Town – hundreds of people exposed to astronomy.
  • Stargazing: Specific events held especially in the Northern Cape where the community is invited to look through telescopes (events held in Sutherland, Fraserburg, Williston and Calvinia)
  • Kirstenbosch Star Walks: Organised by ASSA, SAAO took telescopes to help with stargazing in Kirstenbosch.
  • Moonstruck: Stargazing at the Moonstruck Beach concert in Clifton Beach, Cape Town. Organised by ASSA, SAAO brought telescopes and personnel.
  • Hobby X: Partnership with the Cape Centre of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa to exhibit SAAO/SALT information at this annual exhibition.
  • Press Releases: Specific to events that occur such as comets and eclipses or interesting discoveries.
  • Namakwa Festival: Annual festival held in Springbok – attended by large number of public – SCBP provides an exhibition and telescopes for night sky viewing.
  • Lesotho Astronomy: To kick off astronomy education and outreach in Lesotho, a delegation was hosted in Cape Town and Sutherland sharing our knowledge, experience and resources with them.


Public Outreach (Ongoing):

  • Free community tours: The people of the town of Sutherland are offered free tours to the SAAO facility on a regular basis.
  • Open Nights: Second Saturday of every month is “open night” – astronomers from SAAO are assigned for open night duty.
  • What's up: Monthly description of the night skies produced by Dave Laney
  • Tour programme: Extensive day and night tour programme in Sutherland and an ad hoc tour programme (by appointment) in Cape Town.
  • Indigenous Astronomy: Activity to collect and document indigenous stories and myths about the African skies. Partnership with Iziko Planetarium and Unizul Science Centre.
  • Resource Development: Public resources such as posters and souvenirs are constantly being developed.
  • Visitor Centre Developments: Constant improvement to exhibits and display on a minimal budget.


Socio-Economic Development (Events):

  • Community Meetings: In partnership with the municipality, regular meetings were held during 2007 to constantly keep the community informed about SALT developments and to explore ways of SALT to play a role in the socio-economic development of the community.
  • DVD Evenings: Targeted mainly at the youth, a “home made bioscope” aimed at keeping young people away from the taverns. Usually preceded by a talk on astronomy or social issues such as AIDS.
  • Heritage Weekend Festival: Planned during the community meetings this festival was aimed at celebrating the Karoo heritage during the Heritage Weekend in September. SCBP provided the telescopes and activities for celebrating the astronomical heritage and clear skies.
  • Indaba expo: In partnership with the Karoo-Hoogland Municipality
  • Christmas, New Year events: Separate events for very young children and the youth (teenagers) respectively during Christmas and New Year. All events have strong astronomy themes and include stargazing, talks on astronomy and videos. Also music and dancing when the attention to astronomy wanes.
  • Youth Day events: Held in the towns of Fraserburg and Sutherland and included screening of the popular youth day movie “Sarafina” as well as stargazing and astronomy Q&A sessions.
  • Wall Painting: Only implemented in the town of Williston so far, this project entailed young and old being provided with paint to express themselves on a long empty wall. SCBP involvement was registered in the form of drawings of SALT and starlore images.


Socio-Economic Development (Ongoing): 

  • Community Tour guides: Young unemployed people from Sutherland trained to escort visitors up to the telescopes and around the town.
  • Tarring of roads: Various proposals, motivations and recommendations made (in partnership with the municipality) to the provincial government for the tarring of the roads between Sutherland, Fraserburg and Williston.
  • Protection of Paleo Surface: Proposals have been drawn up in conjunction with the municipality over the protection of a rock surface in Fraserburg that is of paleontological interest.
  • Arts and Crafts programme: Joint proposals with the municipality to the Department of Arts and Crafts for funding of an Arts and Crafts Programme. Goods are marketed at the SAAO in Sutherland.