*** CORONA VIRUS UPDATE *** http://www.sacoronavirus.co.za

Only FIVE more days until the SAAO 200 Virtual Symposium!

If you haven’t registered yet you can still do so – just visit the registration site here. Remember, the Virtual Symposium, with more than three days of world-class presentations, is free to attend.

We kick off the SAAO 200 Virtual Symposium next Tuesday with the unveiling of the SAAO as a National Heritage Site. You can read the citation here. This honour puts the SAAO in the storied company of sites such as Robben Island, the Bushmanskloof Rock Painting Landscape, the Cradle of Humankind, and the Castle of Good Hope. How proud we are to join this exclusive membership, and to have African astronomy recognised in such a way.

Watch the live unveiling from 10:00 AM on Tuesday, 20 October at www.saao.ac.za/saao200.

Thereafter, our scientific programme is literally a three-day celebration of African astronomy, going right back to its very origins. Do join us. Who knows, one of the speakers might one day be a Nobel Prize winner.

Please read on for more about some of the excellent speakers that will be contributing to the programme.

Take care, stay safe, and “see” you soon,
The SAAO Virtual Symposium Team

Due to the generous support of the Department of Science and Innovation we are able to offer free attendance at the SAAO Virtual Symposium. Nearly 400 astronomers, astrophysicists, researchers, cosmologists, historians, educators, stargazers, and more have signed up to attend. Have you?

If you haven’t signed up yet, don’t worry, there’s still time! Register soon, and why not remind a colleague by forwarding this newsletter.

The Symposium’s virtual platform is the Socio app – you can choose the mobile app to use on your mobile device or the web app to use on your laptop in a browser. Better yet – use both and choose the mobile app for interacting and discussing with fellow attendees and the web app to watch the sessions on a bigger screen.

It’s quick and easy to download and set up the mobile app and the web app to work in concert. Then you’ll watch the sessions from the comfort of your home or office and interact with other attendees on the Social Wall or in the Discussion Forum, and even ask questions of the speakers in the Q&A sessions. If you have any questions or concerns about virtual, just reach out to us on saao200@africanagenda.com and we’ll be happy to put your mind at ease.

The South African Astronomical Observatory is well known for the excellence in research that it supports and produces. With the additional generous support of the DSI for the Symposium, we have developed an outstanding scientific programme. In fact, the virtual platform allows us to offer even more expertise and a wider range of perspectives.

Mr Anthony Mietas is from a small community in the Northern Cape, currently employed by the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Sutherland as the Manager for the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) Collateral Benefits program, focussing on education, public awareness, and outreach. Mr Mietas’ presentation, entitled “Socio-Economic Impact of SAAO and SALT”, will highlight what the NRF and SAAO have been doing in partnership with various stakeholders to make a meaningful impact to address the socio-economic challenges in Sutherland.

Professor Emma Bunce is Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester, and President of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). Serendipitously, the South African Astronomical Observatory and the RAS are sharing their Bicentenary in 2020. Professor Bunce’s talk will introduce a brief history of the RAS, the evolution of both its science and its methods of support for its community of Fellows, and highlight key current activities of the RAS as it celebrates 200 years of supporting and promoting the study of astronomy and geophysics.

Dr Rob Adam was appointed Director of the South African Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Radio Telescope project in 2016 and became Managing Director of the SA Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) in 2017. Dr Adam’s presentation, entitled “An update on MeerKAT and progress towards the SKA”, will cover the current status of the MeerKAT observing programme and data processing systems as well as progress towards the construction of SKA-1.


Dr Moses Mogotsi is a SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) astronomer, which involves observing at SALT and taking part in other aspects of telescope operations. He is also involved in the development of the SALT near-infrared IFU instrument. Give him something to do with star formation and the interstellar medium and he’ll probably be interested in it! Dr Mogotsi’s presentation, entitled “Multiwavelength Views of Feedback and the Baryon Cycle”, will discuss some of the major questions regarding the baryon cycle and star formation feedback and how they affect galaxy evolution, and will illustrate how multi-wavelength observations from facilities and instruments such as SALT, ALMA, WiFeS, MUSE, and MeerKAT are being used in these studies.

Dr Rosalind Skelton is based at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) where she is a support astronomer for the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) with a research focus on galaxy formation and evolution. Her group investigates galaxy formation processes and interactions in different environments, from the formation of low surface brightness galaxies to the most massive galaxies and large-scale structures in the universe. Dr Skelton’s presentation, entitled “The effects of environment on galaxy evolution”, will present the results of SAAO’s recent work looking at how galaxies are affected by their environments. She will discuss how the SALT is contributing to this field, complemented by other multi-wavelength facilities such as MeerKAT, the AdvancedACT survey, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE

by Kos Coronaios

This comet is a long period comet with a near-parabolic orbit discovered on March 27, 2020, by astronomers during the NEOWISE mission of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer space telescope.

At that time, it was an 18th-magnitude object, located 2 AU (300 million km; 190 million mi) away from the Sun and 1.7 AU (250 million km) away from Earth.

NEOWISE is known for being the brightest comet in the northern hemisphere since Comet Hale–Bopp in 1997. It was widely photographed by professional and amateur observers and was even spotted by people living near city centers and areas with light pollution. While it was too close to the Sun to be observed at perihelion (03 July 2020), it emerged from perihelion around magnitude 0.5 to 1, making it bright enough to be visible to the naked eye. Under dark skies, it could be seen with the naked eye and remained visible to the naked eye throughout July 2020. By July 30, the comet was about magnitude 5, but binoculars were required near urban areas to locate the comet.

For observers in the southern hemisphere, the comet was visible from around the 26th July a couple of degrees above the northern horizon after sunset. At around magnitude +5 it was never going to be visible with the naked eye due to it’s proximity to the horizon shortly after sunset, but it was a reasonably easy target for binoculars as well as small telescopes by the first week in August. Currently at around magnitude +7 it is in the constellation of Virgo, moving into Libra by the end of September 2020.

Nightfall V 4 # 1 – June 2020

Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) – by Kos Coronaios

Comet C/2020 F8 (SWAN) was discovered in images taken by the SWAN camera on March 25th 2020, aboard the Solar Heliospheric Observer (SOHO), I was fortunate to have a number of imaging/observing sessions before the comet moved to close to the horizon in the early hours of the morning to be visible from my location in Pearly Beach, Western Cape. These started from the middle of April, with the last session on the 5th May when proximity to the horizon as well as the Moon became problematic.

Analyzing the images from SWAN, Michael Mattiazzo, (Swan Hill, Australia), realized that they showed a new comet in outburst. The comet increased in brightness becoming a naked eye apparition towards the end of April. While Southern hemisphere observers have had the best seats from around mid April to early May, the comet is rapidly moving northwards and if the comet’s brightness increases or at least remains as is for the next few weeks, northern hemisphere observers and astrophotographers are in for a treat. Comet SWAN will make its closest approach to Earth on May 12 and reach perihelion on May 27.

Stargazing in SA National Parks

South African National Parks (SANParks) recognised the need to diversify and expand their current tourist activities to provide meaningful experiences to its visitors.

Astro-tourism has been identified as a potential activity with minimal environmental impact, while providing visitors with the opportunity to experience the natural environment in a unique way.

The primary objective of this study is to determine the feasibility of stargazing activities in SANParks. Participation in the research process is voluntary and all information will remain confidential and anonymous.  Your contribution to the study is important and its success depends on the number of respondents who complete the survey. For more information, contact Amélia Wassenaar at starsandparks@gmail.com

Click here to start the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/83FGGXR

Sky Guide 2020 now available

Posted 2019 November 26

A Bit of Sky Guide History

The first edition of this Sky Guide was published in 1946 and was known as the Astronomical Handbook for Southern Africa. It consisted of 12 pages and was available for 1/6 from Juta and Co., Darling Street, Cape Town. Dr Richard Hugh Stoy of the Royal Observatory carried out most of the calculations, assisted by Mr Reginald de Kock, Dr Alan Cousins and other members of staff. In 1957 the book was redesigned and most of the calculations were performed by the Transvaal Centre’s Computing Section. In 1962 the Handbook was sold for 25 cents, and the Royal Observatory was again responsible for generating the data. In 1974, Dr Tony Fairall at the UCT Astronomy Department took over as editor. The next 13 issues were edited by Mr Rupert Hurly until Ms Pat Booth took over in 1990. During 2003, a committee consisting of Auke Slotegraaf, Maciej Soltynski and Cliff Turk, assisted by many helpers, redesigned the Handbook. After much deliberation the name was changed to the Sky Guide.

Big 5 of the African Sky

Published 2017 June 23
The Big 5 of the African Sky – the five best deep-sky objects – are beautifully placed at this time of year for observing.

Find out more about the Big 5 and how to observe them and also how to qualify for this beautiful personalized mug!