Sunset at SALT

It did not take us long to drive from our quaint little cottage at Rooikloof just to the south of Sutherland to the largest astronomical observation site in the southern hemisphere. It is run by the South African Astronomical Observatory, whose home base is in the suburb of Observatory (yes, indeed, it is named after the observatory). The SAAO is “the national centre for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa”.

The SAAO site in Sutherland is located on a high hilltop, some 15 km east of the town, and accessed via a large gate on the side of the road to Fraserburg. You can see the cluster of domed buildings ontop of the mountain from afar, with the sunlight glancing off the metal roofs. It is a strange, incongruous sight, here in the vast and empty Karoo. The golden rays of the setting sun painted the sky in warm pink and gold hues, and glittered off the large dome of the Southern African Large Telescope, just peering over the top of the hill behind me.

We followed the looping road up the hill to the visitors’ centre, where we signed in for our pre-booked tour. It is wise to pre-book these tours some weeks in advance (which we had done here), although there is no guarantee that the weather will play along on the day. You can check conditions beforehand, by looking at their live feeds. Unfortunately, there was too much cloud cover and thus too much moisture in the air; they cannot operate the telescopes in such conditions. Our night-time tour had thus been cancelled. But all was not lost – we got to watch a fascinating video about the Hubble space telescope instead.

And we were coming back the next morning for a day-time tour!


One thought on “Sunset at SALT

  1. Pingback: Full moon over Sutherland | Finding Frohsinn - Living Now

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