So I’m looking forward to going observing at some point in the near future. There was a trip to La Palma in the pipeline, but unfortunately that fell through. The upside to that is that I’ll likely be going to South Africa instead. Which is rather exciting for a multitude of reasons. For a start, there are some very interesting things in the skies of the southern hemisphere. For another, apparently the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) are rather keen on outreach lately. I seem to be building something of a track record myself, in that respect. This could be rather convenient. If there’s the potential for me to get involved while I’m there, giving an outreach talk while in South Africa would likely be an amazing experience!
The SAAO is based in Cape Town. In fact, it’s based in a suburb of Cape Town known as Observatory! As you might gather, it got it’s name by being the former site of an actual observatory. South Africa’s first Royal Observatory, to be precise. The same site is still home to the SAAO’s headquarters, but the actual telescopes have moved to a better location. They’re located on a mountaintop near Sutherland. Home to some of the darkest skies on the planet, and just over 1500 metres above sea level, the majority of people who go to Sutherland fall into three categories. Sheep farmers, tourists and astronomers.
The SAAO is home to a multitude of telescopes, but the most notable one has to be SALT (which, fingers crossed, I might get to use). An abbreviation for South African Large Telescope, SALT is currently about the 5th largest optical telescope in the world and hosts some of the worlds best astronomical spectroscopic tools. It also holds the accolade that when it was built, particular concern was given to internet connectivity. As a result, the telescope has a 1.5 Mbit internet connection for downloading and uploading data. If I remember rightly, it also has full Wi Fi connectivity (although I could be mistaken about that part).
All the same, even if I don’t get to use SALT and have to use the 1.9m Radcliffe Telescope instead, I’m not going to complain. I’m still eagerly looking forward to South Africa and some truly dark night skies. And although English is the language of choice in academic circles, the country actually has 11 official languages. Perhaps I should learn some Xhosa or Afrikaans…