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History of Astronomy in South Africa: The Late Modern Period

A Focus Meeting to be held at the XXXII IAU General Assembly in Cape Town, South Africa, on August 7-8, 2024

Preliminary Programme

Day 1 : Observatories, specific instruments, sky surveys, archives, plate collections.


Table bay, Cape of Good Hope (1869). From "The Midnight Sky"; by Edwin Dunkin.

• Introduction to the meeting (Piet van der Kruit)

• The fascinating story of the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung involving the different personalities of David Gill and Jacobus Kapteyn (John Hearnshaw)
• Harvard's Boyden Station in Bloemfontein (Sara Schechner)
• The Astronomical Plate Archive of Leiden Observatory: the logbooks as a treasure trove of information on service observing by local staff (Christiaan Sterken and Arnout van Genderen)
• The Carte du Ciel project and the crucial role played by the Cape Observatory (Ileana Chinnici)
• The South African Observatories and technological change (Ian Glass)
• Shanghai Sheshan Observatory’s contribution to the Carte du Ciel project (Zheng-Hong Tang, Yong Yu, Mei-Ting Yang, Liang-Liang Wang & Jing Yang)
• Digital revival of the Southern Sky Patrol plates in the APPLAUSE data publication (Taavi Tuvikene, Harry Enke, Ulrich Heber, Heinz Edelmann and Detlef Groote)
Rescue Archiving: Lessons learnt at Boyden Observatory and elsewhere in South Africa (Auke Slotegraaf)
• A quest to preserve Bloemfontein’s astronomical heritage: the development of the Boyden Observatory Museum (Dawid Van Jaarsveldt)

Day 2 : Scientists and their impact on South African society & Native Peoples


Thomas Maclear's baseline. Drawing by Charles Piazzi Smyth. Source: Warner, B. (1979) Astronomers at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Cape Town: Balkema.

• Hardships of the Geodetic Survey of South Africa: from Lacaille to Maclear (Christiaan Sterken)
• The Herschel Family and Astronomy in South Africa (Alina Eremeeva, Nikolai Samus)
• The contribution of the early surveyors to professional and technical surveying education in South Africa (Mulemwa Akombelwa, Koos Landman & Angus Forbes)
• The Toppieshoek Restoration  Project (Jane Carruthers)

• Expanding the Universe from South and Southern Africa (Virginia Trimble)
• From Thomas Henderson's dismal swamp to SAAO (David Laney)
• Economic considerations direct Robert Innes's collaboration during World War I, using Sydney data for blinking proper motions, supplied by Ernest Cooke. (Ian Tasker)
• The challenging legacy of A.W. Roberts, South African variable star observer (Keith Snedegar)
• Uncovering hidden logbooks of cometary observations: the case of comets Halley and Donati (Hong-Jin Yang, Hyojun Lee & Hyung Mok Lee)

• Closing of the meeting (John Hearnshaw)


See the Timetable