On most Saturday evenings (weather permitting) the observatory opens its doors to members of the public to come and enjoy what the observatory has to offer. The observatory is not staffed on full moon weekends. When the moon is full, one cannot see much else as the moon is too bright. All other weekends a short slide show is followed by some viewing through a telescope or two. A variety of objects will be viewed for example, planets, comets, nebulae, open clusters, globular clusters, planetary nebulae and of course any galaxies that may be visible. What is viewed will depend on what is visible in the night sky for that time of year and also the phase of the moon as well as weather conditions. These public viewing evenings introduce members of the public to the wonders of the night sky as well as serving as the main source of income for the observatory to develop further.
Although entrance is free there is the expectation that a donation be deposited into the donations box.
Please note that all this takes place outdoors at night and it is advisable to dress appropriately to keep warm, especially in the winter months.
What you can see
Although many of the northern constellations can be seen low on the northern horizon (Andromeda, Cassiopeia), the observatory prides itself on the views of the southern skies. It is for these views that many northern hemisphere visitors visit the observatory. The Southern Cross is always a favourite followed by objects like the Large & Small Magellenic clouds, Centaurus A, Tuc47, Herschel's Jewel Box, Omega Centauri, Eta Carinae and of course our close neighbour Alpha Centauri. We look at various nebulae like the great nebula in Orion, the lagoon nebula, eta carina nebula, Triffid nebula, Tarantula nebula. Planetary nebulae include the Ghost of Saturn and the Helix nebula. Some galaxies that can be seen are the Sombrero, NGC253, the great galaxy in Andromeda and Centaurus A
Although the planets may change from year to year the stellar objects available to see in each season do not. In summer we explore around the Orion hunting scene – Taurus (Pleiades, Crab Nebula) – Orion (Orion Nebula) – Canis Minor & Canis Major (Sirius). In the autumn Orion sets in the early evening while Scorpius makes an appearance later in the evening. Leo is then high in the sky. In the winter we have our winter constellation of Scorpius high in the night sky and we look to the center of our Milky Way Galaxy – Sagittarius. In spring we have Scorpius setting in the evening sky with Orion making an appearance later in the evening.
The ‘Sky Guide Africa South’ is published annually and is an essential resource for finding out what is visible throughout the year. It is published by the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa and is available at most book shops and Cape Union Mart stores. Another useful publication is Wayne Mitchell’s Star Gazer’s Deep Space Atlas.