The African Cultural Astronomy Project
Cultural astronomy focuses on the many ways that people and cultures interact with celestial bodies and celestial events. More familiar names for cultural astronomy are ethnoastronomy, indigenous, endogenous, traditional or folk astronomy. Like ancient people everywhere, Africans wondered at the sky and struggled to make sense of it.
The cultural astronomy of Africans is rich with mythical figures, cosmology and cosmogony, and divination methods that use observations of celestial bodies. African cultural astronomy entwines with religious beliefs and practices, agriculture, artistic mediums, folklore, and social hierarchies. Africans use celestial bodies for practical purposes. Africans use the positions of stars for navigating at night. They observe the Sun and Moon for timekeeping and creating an accurate calendar. African women study the phases of the moon to keep track of their menses and fertility cycles. Thus, while modern astronomy is quite new and unpopular in most parts of the continent, cultural astronomy has a long and rich tradition in Africa and a far more extensive cultural impact.
To unearth the body of cultural astronomy knowledge by peoples of the different ethnic groups of Africa.
To understand the ways and degrees through which this knowledge and beliefs shaped the lived realities of the people of Africa.
To re-interpret this body of knowledge in the light of modern/western astronomy.
To integrate the cultural astronomy of Africa into international science curriculum
To achieve the above objectives, the project would investigate various aspects of the culture and traditions of the diverse ethnic groups of Africa with special emphasis on:
Cosmogonies and creation myths;
Indigenous lore of celestial bodies, calendars, cycles, seasons and festivals;
Cultural representations of ethno-astronomy and archeo-astronomy;
Comparative studies on cultural astronomy.
Cultural astronomy is an interdisciplinary research field and provides a good opportunity for interaction and collaboration on astronomy, anthropology, African art, history, religion, geography, archeology, and science studies.
South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) is the national center for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa. It was established in 1972. The observatory is run by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. The facility’s function is to conduct research in astronomy and astrophysics. The primary telescopes are located in Sutherland, which is 370 kilometres (230 mi) from Observatory, Cape Town, which is where the headquarters is located.
The SAAO has international links worldwide that exchange scientific and technological collaboration. Contributions from the South African Astronomical Observatory to the science field include the development of a spherical aberration corrector and the Southern African Large Telescope, otherwise known as SALT.
The history of the SAAO began when the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope was founded in 1820, the first scientific institution in Africa. Construction of the main buildings were completed in 1829 at a cost of £30,000 (equivalent to £2.2 million in 2013). The post of Her Majesty’s astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope was awarded the Royal Medal on two occasions; the first to Thomas Maclear in 1869 for measurement of an arc of the meridian at the Cape of Good Hope and the second to David Gill in 1903 for researches in solar and stellar parallax, and his energetic direction of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope.
During the 1970s, the Republic Observatory in Johannesburg and the Radcliffe Observatory in Pretoria merged with the much older Royal Observatory to form the South African Astronomical Observatory.
SAAO was established in January 1972 as a result of a joint agreement by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of South Africa and Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) of United Kingdom. The headquarters are located on the grounds of the old Royal Observatory where the main building, offices, national library for astronomy and computer facilities are housed. Historic telescopes are also found at the headquarters in a number of domes and a small museum that displays scientific instruments. The South African Astronomical Observatory is administered as a National Facility under management of the National Research Foundation (NRF), now formerly Foundation for Research Development (FRD). In 1974, when the Radcliffe Observatory in Pretoria closed, the Royal Observatory and the Republic Observatory combined facilities. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) purchased the 1.9 Radcliffe telescope and transported it to Sutherland.
The observatory operates from the ground of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope that was established in 1820 in the suburb of Observatory, Cape Town.
The major observing facilities are however located near the town of Sutherland some 370 kilometres (230 mi) from Cape Town.
Telescopes (Cape Town)
McClean telescope buildings
Also known as the Victoria telescope, this telescope is fitted with a 24 inches (61 cm) photographic objective and a 18 inches (46 cm) visual objective. The telescope was built by Grubb and completed in 1897. It was officially opened on 10 September 1901 by Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson.
Phased Experimental Demonstrator (PED)
The PED was built by members of the Karoo Array Telescope team in order to gain experience in the construction of interferometric telescopes. It is located on the grounds of the SAAO Headoffice in Observatory, Cape Town and consists of six 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) and one 3.4 metres (11 ft) antennas suitable for work at 1.4 GHz.
The 0.5-m telescope in Sutherland
This 0.5 metres (20 in) reflector was originally built for the Republic Observatory in 1967, but was moved to the
Sutherland site in 1972.
A 0.75 metres (30 in) Grubb Parsons reflector.
Alan Cousins Telescope (ACT)
This 29.5 inches (75 cm) telescope was originally called the Automatic Photometric Telescope, but has been renamed the Alan Cousins Telescope in honour of Alan William James Cousins.
One of six telescopes in the Birmingham Solar Oscillations Network
This 40 inches (1.0 m) telescope was originally located at SAAO Headoffice in Observatory, Cape Town, but has since moved to the Sutherland site. This telescope participates in the PLANET network.
Infrared Survey Facility (IRSF)
The IRSF is a 140 centimetres (55 in) reflector fitted with a 3 colour Infrared Imager. Originally built as part of the Magellanic Clouds – A Thorough Study grant from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2000. Other studies the telescope participated in include:
The Indian Department of Space used this telescope for the Near Infrared Survey of the Nuclear Regions of the Milky Way in order to improve on data from the DENIS and 2MASS Astronomical surveys.
Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network
Three 1 metre (39 in) telescopes to form part of the LCOGT network are scheduled for installation in early 2013.
One of the two 1.20 metres (47 in) telescopes of the MOnitoring NEtwork of Telescopes Project is located at Sutherland, its twin can be found at the McDonald Observatory in Texas. The MONET telescopes are Robotic telescope controllable via the Internet and was constructed by the University of Göttingen. Remote Telescope Markup Language is used to control the telescopes remotely.
Not to be confused with the Radcliffe 18/24-inch Double Refractor at the University of London Observatory.
The 1.9 metres (75 in) Radcliffe Telescope was commissioned for the Radcliffe Observatory in Pretoria and was operated between 1948 and 1972. In 1972 it was moved to Sutherland. Between 1951 and 2004 it was the largest telescope in South Africa. The telescope was manufactured by Sir Howard Grubb, Parsons and Co
Two telescopes forming part of Project Solaris is located at the Sutherland site. Solaris-1 and Solaris-2 are both 0.5m f/15 Ritchey–Chrétien telescope. The aims of Project Solaris is to detect circumbinary planets around eclipsing binary stars and to characterise these binaries to improve stellar models.
Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)
Observatory Code: B31
Observations: (Near Earth Objects)
SALT was inaugurated in November 2005. It is the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, with a hexagonal mirror array 11 meters across. SALT shares similarities with the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) in Texas. The Southern African Large Telescope gathers twenty-five times as much light as any other existing African Telescope. With this larger mirror array, SALT can record distant stars, galaxies and quasars.
The Wide Angle Search for Planets consists of two robotic telescopes, the one located at SAAO Sutherland and the other at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma in the Canaries. WASP-17b, the first exoplanet known to have a retrograde orbit was discovered in 2009 using this array.
KELT-South (Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope – South) is a small robotic telescope that is designed to detect transiting extrasolar planets. The telescope is owned and operated by Vanderbilt University and was based on the design of KELT-North, which was conceived and designed at the Ohio State University, Department of Astronomy. The KELT-South telescope will serve as a counterpart to its northern twin, surveying the southern sky for transiting planets over the next few years.
Yonsei Survey Telescopes for Astronomical Research (YSTAR)
Observatory Code: A60
Observations: (Near Earth Objects)
Used for the monitoring of variable stars and other transient events. This telescope is a joint project between SAAO and the Yonsei University, Korea.
South African Geodynamic Observatory Sutherland (SAGOS)
The GeoForschungsZentrum, Potsdam in cooperation with the National Research Foundation of South Africa constructed the SAGOS between 1998 and 2000. SAGOS consist of a 1 Hz permanent GPS station, a superconducting gravimeter, meteorological sensors, and a tri-axial magnetometer. The GPS station is also used in support of the CHAllenging Minisatellite Payload (CHAMP) and Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) space missions.
The SUR station forms part of the International Deployment of Accelerometers Project and the Global Seismographic Network of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology