We went with a group of Popular Mechanics readers to visit the South African Astronomical Observatory and the main focus was to see SALT. What an interesting experience.
As we were a large group, we were split in half and we first had a lecture, video and tour of their museum. Afterwards we were taken up on the hill to see both the Radcliffe and SALT telescopes. I had not been aware that there were so many different facilities up there. About sixteen different telescopes, many used robotically by other countries and universities. The latest is Korean. The reason they are all here is that it is generally free of noise and light pollution and facing the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy.
After that we were taken to view the night skies through a Meade and Celestron telescopes. They are computerised insofar as you are able to put in coordinates and then it adjusts to that position. We saw Venus like a shining crescent with most of it behind its cloud; nebulae; pulsars; Mars; a surprising view of Saturn vertically and many more.
It was icy cold and luckily for us a clear clear night. The astronomer working on the Radcliffe told us it would be -16 degrees. I was geared for this and wore four layers, most of which were thermal. Over and above that were hats, scarves, gloves, ski boots and a ski jacket. I did look like the michelin man but could comfortably stand outside and view a magnificent sky. My husband was entranced with watching the satellites flitting across the sky with no visual aids.
We loved it and if this is up your alley - you have to go!
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