21 August 2015
Exploring the mysteries of the universe – and the awe we have for it – has been brought one step closer following the installation of a state-of-the-art telescope on North West University’s Mahikeng campus.
Professor Thebe Medupe, who is in charge of the Mahikeng Astronomical Observatory, said that while the telescope was only 40cm in diameter, it would not only benefit students at the university, but would also have a profound impact on the lives of South Africans.
The observatory was unveiled on August 1. There are four interesting things about this device:
• It will be used to create more interest in science and technology.
Medupe said it was critical that the telescope be used for community outreach. “We have a shortage of people in science. Given the fact that it is in a semi-rural area [in Mahikeng], the appeal of the telescope is very important in drawing people, and making them interested in science and technology.”
• Members of the public are able to gaze into the heavens.
Medupe said at least two sessions had already been held, at which people were able to get up close with the moon, as well as planets like Jupiter, Saturn and Venus, with the help of a guide. More sessions would be held.
• It helps to scratch humanity’s existential itch.
“It appeals to all members of the public. Looking through the telescope helps deal with questions that people ask themselves, like ‘where did we come from and where are we going’. Astronomy deals with those questions,” Medupe said.
• University students and school pupils will be able to look through it, from anywhere in the country, through a camera on the telescope.
“This is very innovative,” Medupe said. “Once it is fully set-up, with our permission, you will be able to steer the telescope remotely to observe what you want to observe.”
The observatory wanted to collaborate with schools around the country for sessions with the telescope, as well as to use it to assist physics students in institutions such as the University of Venda and the University of Zululand.