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This Observatory in Cape Town has Shaped How We Look at the Stars

The South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town is the oldest permanent observatory in the southern hemisphere: it turned 200 in 2020. The Royal Observatory, Cape Town of Good Hope (today the South African Astronomical Observatory) was established in 1820. It became – and remained for 150 years – the most important source of star positions in the southern hemisphere sky. This was in terms of both accuracy and the number of measurements made. In the years that followed its foundation, the observatory’s laborious work led to important scientific discoveries. Cape astronomers were responsible for, among other things, the first measurement of the distance to a star; the first photographic sky survey and the accurate measurement of the distance to the sun. They were at the forefront of developments in stellar spectroscopy.