Southern African Astronomical Observatory Telescopes hit the Road: February 2015

The 0.5m and 0.75m telescopes will soon be leaving Sutherland for Durban (University of KwaZulu Natal) and Boyden (University of Free State) respectively.

The 0.5m was constructed by Boller & Chivens of Pasadena, California, for the Republic Observatory in Johannesburg at the end of 1968. Boller & Chivens collaborated with Perkin-Elmer during the 1950’s to develop and manufacture the Baker-Nunn satellite tracking camera for the United States Vanguard satellite tracking program. Eventually, the company was taken over by Perkin-Elmer in 1965. The telescope’s main function at the Republic Observatory was photometry and planetary photography and was, in fact, the only telescope ready for use in June 1972 at the new Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) location in Sutherland. Initially, it was used with the Texas designed UCT high-speed photometer connected to a Nova minicomputer with software by R.E. Nather. Later the “People’s Photometer”, designed by Richard Bingham and built at the Greenwich Observatory, became the main instrument deployed with this telescope. A considerable number of publications about rapid variables such as dwarf novae originated from data produced by the 0.5m telescope.

The mounting of the 0.75m was originally located at the SAAO site in Cape Town. Its old home is currently the IT building. While there, from 1964 onward, it was officially known as the Multiple Refractor Mount (MRM) because it carried three refractors and the largest of the three produced around 7000 photographic plates between 1964 and 1970. These plates were part of the extensive Southern Reference Star Programme. The 0.75m telescope itself was a reflector telescope and was specially built for installation in Sutherland by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in 1974. Grubb Parsons was officially Sir Howard Grubb, Parsons and Co. Ltd. The company was originally founded in Dublin by Thomas Grubb as the Grubb Telescope Company in 1833. He was joined by his son Howard in 1864. In 1925 Sir Charles Parsons bought the company and renamed it. The company had an illustrious career as a builder of formidable telescopes until it ceased to trade in 1985. A list is provided at the end of this post. The 0.75m telescope also had an impressive career at Sutherland where it was used for many important infrared and visible light studies of stars, including the supernova that exploded in 1987 in one of our neighbouring galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

According to Dr. Ramotholo Sefako, head of Telescope Operations at the SAAO says the domes of the 0.5m and 0.75m telescopes will be modified after the telescopes have been moved. Both domes will eventually house new robotic telescopes. One of these telescopes is the 0.65m MeerLICHT that will be used to simultaneously observe the same part of the sky at night as the MeerKAT radio telescope outside Carnarvon. It will provide a real-time optical view of the radio transient sky as observed on MeerKAT. MeerLICHT is jointly owned by the University of Cape Town, SAAO, the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NOW), and University of Oxford. The second dome will house the new SAAO 1.0m wide-field telescope with modern instrumentation. Currently, none of the SAAO telescopes have a wide field so this creates a new dimension in the SAAO’s research capabilities. This telescope will be installed late in 2015 or early in 2016.

You can visit the SAAO site to see pictures and read more about this exciting development if you go here.

Some telescopes produced by the Grubb Telescope Company and Grubb Parsons of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The “Great Melbourne Telescope” – a 48-inch-diameter (122cm) reflecting telescope with a speculum primary mirror (1868).
The 27-inch (68cm) refractor for the Vienna Observatory (1878).
The 10-inch (25cm) refractor at Armagh Observatory (1882).
Seven 13 inch (33cm) refracting telescopes for the Carte du Ciel international photographic star catalogue project (1887).
The 28-inch (71cm) refractor at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (1893).
The 10-inch (25cm) refractor at Coats Observatory, Paisley (1898).
After 1925 they built the optical components for the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the UK Infrared Telescope, the Isaac Newton Telescope and the William Herschel Telescope.