As most people probably know by now, 2009 has been designated the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first celestial observations using a telescope. IYA2009 has been endorsed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the U.N. General Assembly.
On 3 October 2008 the 26m HartRAO antenna at Hartebeesthoek suffered a failure of its major bearing at the southern end of the main polar drive shaft. Fortunately, the antenna was pointing near the zenith at the time and could be driven slowly to the (zenith) safe stow position, where it has remained. No other structural damage occurred.
This object's discovery route was quite convoluted, including some controversy: two groups claimed credit for it, one at Caltech and the other in Spain. Although its temporary designation was (136108) 2003 EL61, based on the date of an archived Spanish discovery image, it was only announced after the Caltech group's published online abstract - see the wiki-page for the full story.
Back in 2004, the coronagraph in the High Resolution Camera on Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys produced the first-ever resolved visible light image of a large dust belt, similar to the Kuiper Belt in our Solar System, surrounding Fomalhaut (alpha Piscis Austrini), 25 light years distant from us. It clearly showed that this structure is in fact a ring of protoplanetary debris approximately 34.5 billion kilometres across with a sharp inner edge. At the time a few bright sources in the image were noted as possible planet candidates.
The start of the International Year of Astronomy was effectively delayed by one second due to the introduction of a positive leap second at midnight on 31 December 2008. True to astronomical precision, this leap second was actually taken into account at the IYA2009 all-night new-year starparty in Sutherland.
On 1 January 1972, after South Africa had re-assessed its policy on astronomical research, it merged the existing establishments at Cape Town and Johannesburg to form the South African Astronomical Observatory and decided to base the observational centre in the Karoo, near the town of Sutherland.
The Research Directorate of Unisa set up its first (and thus far only) Centre of Excellence within the university. The CoE is in Computational Relativity, Astrophysics & Cosmology (CRAC) and consists of Profs N. Bishop, W. Lesame (who was the HoD) and D. Smits and Dr B. Cunow. Funding has been provided for research visits, equipment and to top up student bursaries.
During 2007, Prof Feast, Prof Whitelock and Dr Menzies (SAAO) together with their colleagues in the USA and the UK published their work on the revision of Classical Cepheid distance scale based on trigonometrical parallaxes measured with the HST and in the revised Hipparcos catalogue.
The constellation of Taurus, the celestial Bull, one of the oldest to have been designated, is easily recognisable against the northern night sky during the southern hemisphere summer. The Germans call this constellation 'der Stier'. It was also known for being rich in maidens, referring to the Hyades and Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas. As an ancient zodiacal constellation it was also referred to as the Cock, or Hen, recalling the Hen and Chickens of the Pleiades.
On only the third night of 2009, while doing a routine observation using the 74-inch Radcliff telescope in Sutherland, Dr Chris Koen from UWC (University of the Western Cape), discovered this very odd-looking object on a CCD image. Although, at first glance it resembled a comet, on closer inspection it lacked the visual tell-tale clues which normally identifies a comet - the nucleus is not fuzzy and the tail fans in the wrong way.
After momentary imagining ''Comet Koen'' in the printed media, sanity soon returned to the 74-inch control room and, through a process of elimination, Chris investigated the possibility of a reflection caused by the 6-day old Moon.