The original Observatory in Johannesburg was initially a meteorological institution. When it was later decided to diversify into astronomical observation, the then director, Robert Innes, acquired a telescope with the help of Dr Theodore Reunert. It was the Observatory’s first piece of astronomical equipment. Then known as the nine-inch telescope, the instrument was installed in 1907, opening up a whole new view of the Universe.
One of the first observations made through the telescope was the apparent disappearance of the rings of Saturn. Fortunately, all it took was a slight retouching of the objective lens by the manufacturer, and both the telescope (and the Universe) was returned to normal. The telescope was renamed the Reunert Telescope in 1924, in honour of Dr Reunert’s instrumentation.
Innes, who was also the founding director of the Observatory, was using the telescope in conjunction with a series of photographic plates when he discovered Proxima-centauri (the star closest to our Sun) in 1915. It is a tiny Red Dwarf star some 4,22 light years away from Earth, and the third member of the Alpha Centauri triple system. This was the first of many multi-star observations that Innes subsequently documented, along with his observations of the large satellites of Jupiter.
Although the Reunert Telescope is not the most convenient instrument to use for modern-day observational astronomy, it has a lot of historical significance. To this day, more than a century later, Proxima Centauri still holds the record as being Earth’s nearest stellar neighbour.
This Telescope was named after the founding director of the Johannesburg Observatory, Sir Robert Innes. A street leading to the Observatory site and an office building Innes used were also named after him. Innes used the Reunert Telescope to discover Proxima Centauri, which still holds the record as being Earth’s nearest stellar neighbour.
The Innes Telescope is a 26,5 inch refractor telescope, which has been refurbished by SAASTA and is still functional. The ASSA uses this telescope every second Wednesday of the month to observe the skies. It is also used by SAASTA for sky viewing together with members of public and schools.