The South African Astronomical Observatory has been upgrading parts of its two venues, and these upgrades are going to mean exciting changes for visitors.
South Africa (03 August 2022) – The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) is undergoing some makeovers and changes at both the Observatory and Sutherland venues. These exciting changes are going to add to the experience for visitors.
According to the website, the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) was founded in 1820 and is the national centre for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa. Its primary role is to conduct fundamental research in astronomy and astrophysics by providing a world-class facility to scientists. The SAAO also promotes astronomy and astrophysics in Southern Africa by sharing research findings and discoveries and participating in outreach activities to enthuse citizens about physics and astronomy.
The first exciting change is the addition of a new 1.8m telescope at the Sutherland Plateau, which is called the PRIME.
“PRime focus Infrared Microlensing Experiment (PRIME) is a 1.8-m telescope that was installed in July 2022 on the western side of the Sutherland plateau in South Africa. It is used primarily to detect gravitational microlensing events at infrared wavelengths, in a bid to discover exoplanets, particularly Earth-mass systems.
PRIME represents a great advance in infrared capabilities at the SAAO. The telescope will open a whole new horizon for the survey and time-domain studies in the infrared and is a unique southern hemisphere facility, with the potential to work synergistically with InfraRed Survey Facility (IRSF) and the new infrared spectrograph on SALT.”
Back in March 2021, SAAO started construction on the Visitors’ Centre in Observatory. The building will house several new exhibits showcasing the science and technology used by the observatory. There will also be a gallery featuring artworks, and animations based on traditional Khoi and San starlore.
“The solar and spectroscopy display includes a heliostat. This is an instrument which tracks the Sun throughout the day and projects a large live image of the Sun and a solar spectrum into the room below. It was initially due to be housed in Sutherland but will be located in the coal storeroom of the old Pump House and incorporated into the Visitors’ Centre building design.”