Astronomy at UKZN

2015-02-09 00:00

THE University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville campus will be receiving its first telescope as the campus takes steps to introduce astronomy to ­students.

Donated by the South African ­Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), the 0,75 metre telescope was hoisted into place last week after an official handover in Sutherland, Northern Cape.

UKZN, along with the University of Free State, were the two universities chosen among various applicants to receive a telescope each.

The SAAO’s clearly laid out requirements of ensuring that the telescopes would be used for student training, advancing scientific research and public engagement, were met by the two tertiary institutions.

UKZN’s Dr Matt Hilton ­represented the university in ­Sutherland and said they plan to start UKZN’s first astronomy module in 2016 after a housing installation is built for the telescope.

According to Hilton, the “0,75” ­refers to the diameter of the ­telescope’s mirror.

“The bigger the mirror, the more light can be let in. UKZN has never before had a telescope or an astronomy module. There is a lot of investment in the field currently so we need to train students to conduct scientific investigations,” Hilton said.

Once operational, the telescope is expected to also be open to the ­public.

“This is a major undertaking that is the first for the province,” Hilton said.

The 0,75 m telescope that will be coming to UZKN was previously used for various infrared and visible light studies of stars, including the supernova that exploded in 1987 in our nearest neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Head of Telescope Operations at SAAO, Dr Ramotholo Sefako, said that once the 0,5 m — which is ­heading to UFS — and 0,75 m telescopes are moved to their future homes, the domes in Sutherland will be modified to accommodate two new robotic telescopes.

• amil.umraw@witness.co.za

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