Cape of Good Hope Royal Observatory is founded


Cape of Good Hope Royal ObservatoryCape of Good Hope Royal Observatory. Source:

Friday, 20 October 1820

On 20 October, 1820, South Africa’s first permanent modern observatory was erected at the Cape of Good Hope (now known as Cape Town) byFearon Fallows, a British astronomer. During the 1830s astronomers at the Observatory were already making significant contributions.  Some of their contributions included the most accurate measurement of Moon's distance from the Earth and the first observations from which the distance of a star (Alpha Centauri) could be measured.

Initially, the Cape observatory was expected to provide accurate time, especially for the ships in Table Bay. In 1865, a system was devised where an electrical signal would drop time balls at the Observatory, in Simons Town and Port Elizabeth. These days the Observatory in Cape Town houses the headquarters of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). The main telescopes used for research are at the SAAO facility near Sutherland in the Northern Cape.


  1. Laney, C.D. (2011). ‘History of the South African Astronomical Observatory’ from South African Astronomical Observatory[online] Available at [Accessed 13 September 2011]
  2. Steuerwald, D. (31 May 2006). ‘Star gazing moves south’fromNature, Vol. 441 [online] Available at [Accessed 13 September 2011]

Last updated : 20-Oct-2014

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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