The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) is a national facility of the National Research Foundation (NRF), which in turn operates under the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). Approximately 181 staff members are employed at SAAO since 2019, while around 32 students are being supervised by astronomers on site. SAAO is the national centre for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa. Its primary function is to conduct fundamental research in astronomy and astrophysics, while also promoting astronomy and astrophysics in Southern Africa.

The headquarters of SAAO’s is located in the suburb of Observatory in Cape Town. Its history dates back to 1820 when the main building was constructed, making it one of the oldest permanent structures in Cape Town. Owing to light and air pollution in the city, research observations take place at SAAO’s Sutherland site in the Karoo semi-desert region. Nevertheless, some of the historical telescopes in Cape Town are still used for outreach and public events. Open nights are held every second and fourth Saturday each month and comprise a public lecture, a tour of the SAAO Museum and a stargazing session. The Cape Town site is also one of the last remaining places close to the city centre where the original ecology of the area is preserved. Its low-lying portions are subject to occasional flooding and support a wide range of bird and animal life as well as a variety of flowering bulbous plants. The grounds mark the northern limit of the Western Leopard Toad (Amietophrynus pantherinus), an endangered species, and it is the only remaining habitat of the rare iris Moraea Aristata.

The Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD, hosted by SAAO) is a joint project of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the NRF with the support of the DSI. Since 2013, the OAD has granted over €700 000 to more than 140 astronomy-for-development projects across the globe. The OAD leverages astronomy, in all its aspects, and is guided by the United Nations ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ to work towards a vision of “astronomy for a better world”.

SAAO’s main research telescopes (the Southern African Large Telescope included) are located at the observing site 15 km from the small Karoo town of Sutherland in the Northern Cape, a 4-hour drive from Cape Town. On a hill-top, 1800 metres above sea level and far from Cape Town’s city lights, stand 24 telescopes of various sizes and form, some owned by SAAO and some hosted for international research institutes. These telescopes give astronomers in South Africa and all over the world access to our exceptionally dark skies. The site is ideally placed in longitude between the other large optical observatories of the southern hemisphere (in Chile and Australia) and allows continuous coverage for time-critical observations.

Visa requirements

The IATA offers an interactive page with visa and passport requirements. Please make sure that your passport is valid (doesn’t expire too soon) and has sufficiently many empty pages. We urge potential applicants of the school to apply for a passport as soon as possible.

Kindly note that the above is for information only and does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you double-check requirements with your travel agent or a South African embassy. Please see the Department of Home Affairs’ website for more details

Upon notification of the successful applicants, we will request a copy of your passport after which we will supply you with all the neccesary documentation needed for the visa application (i.e. letter of invitation, flight ticket, travel insurance and proof of accommodation).

Yellow Fever Certificate

A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for travellers coming from – or who are in airport transit for more than 12 hours within – a country with risk of Yellow Fever transmission. The certificate only becomes valid 10 days after vaccination, and stays valid for the duration of the life of the person vaccinated. If you’ve travelled in a yellow fever region, in the six days before you wish to visit South Africa, you’ll have to show your yellow fever certificate when you enter the country.

Transport and Accommodation

Transport will be provided from and to the airport.

The accommodation is paid for by the ISYA and will be located close to the SAAO but transport will be provided to and from the venue. The accomodation is still being arranged and will be announced soon. Rooms will be assigned randomly and some of the rooms will be shared. Accommodation and transport will also be provided for the Sutherland portion of the school.

Weekend Activities

We will arrange rest and recreational activities in and aroud Cape Town to take place on the weekends. These activities will be weather depended. We will strive to make these activities as inclusive as possible. Potential places we aim to visit are listed below: