Protection of SAAO observing site against light and dust pollution

South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) observing station near Sutherland, Northern Cape, is one of the darkest sites for optical and IR astronomy in the world. The SAAO hosts and operates several optical and IR telescopes, including the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and a number of international robotic telescopes, most of which were attracted by the good night sky conditions for optical astronomy at SAAO. To ensure that the conditions remain optimal for astronomy and our night skies are protected against light and dust pollution, a legislation called the Astronomy Geographic Advantage (AGA) Act, of 2007, was enacted. The Act empowers the South African minister of Science and Technology to regulate things that could pose a threat to both radio and/or optical astronomy in areas that are declared Astronomy Advantage Areas (or AAAs) in South Africa. For optical astronomy, the main challenges are those that are likely to be posed by light and dust pollution as result of wind energy developments, and petroleum gas and oil exploration and exploitation in the area. We give an update and current status of possible threats to the quality of the night skies at SAAO and the challenges relating to the AGA Act implementation and enforcement. We discuss measures that are put in place to protect the Observatory, including relevant studies using a planned wind energy facility to quantify the severity of the threats posed by light pollution from these and similar facilities.

Ramotholo Sefako

AUTHORS/INSTITUTIONS: R. Sefako, P. Vaisanen, South African Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town, Western Cape, SOUTH AFRICA


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