Mahikeng Astronomical Observatory of the North-West University (MAO)

The Physics department of the North West University owns a new observatory in its Mafikeng campus. The new building observatory was completed in June 2018 and will be officially launched later in 2018. Part of the funding of the Dome was provided by the Department of Science and Technology through the National Research Foundation.

The main telescope of MAO is the Meade LX200GPS ACF 16inch (called the MAT) which was purchased in 2015. Attached to the telescope is the SBIG ST 8300M ccd camera with Johnson UBVRI filters in a filterwheel. Smaller telescopes include the 8inch Celestron and a 80mm Williams Optics refractor.

The main programme at the MAO is the research on bright pulsating stars. The telescope is capable of detecting milli-magnitude changes in brightness of stars. The MAT is also used for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in the physics department. In 2018, the MAT was used as a teaching tool during the NASSP (National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme) Winter School in Cape Town. About 40 % of the telescope time is dedicated to outreach programme, where schools are invited to visit the observatory. The telescope can also be operated in a remote mode via the internet. To access the MAT in the remote mode you need to register with us, and seek permission.

For further information contact us on 018389 2374 /2606.

The MAO observing site

The telescope is located on the Mafikeng campus of the North West University, to the west of the Soccer Institute building. The best period for observations is winter time (April to early September) although dust can be a challenge. In summer the main challenge is the humidity and clouds. There are efforts to quantify the observing conditions at MAO.

The best seeing achieved so far is about 3 arc seconds.


The MAT is a modern 40 cm telescope that is computer controlled and capable of very accurate pointing. Stars brighter than 13 magnitude can easily be studied photometrically. Plans to purchase a spectrograph are at an advanced stage of planning.  This will enable us to measure radial velocity of bright pulsating stars. The control PC is a mac pro powerful server, and the software is THESKYX programme of software Bisque.

The MAT is housed in a fibreglass dome that was manufactured outside Durban and motorised and completed at the Instrument-makers of the North West University at Potchefstroom campus. We make use of astroimagej software for our data reduction.



The Mahikeng Astronomical Telescope            (the MAT) inside its recently installed    dome.                                                            The SBIG ccd camera can be seen    attached to it lower down.

The MAT dome was constructed by a fibreglass company outside Durban, and completed and motorised by the      Instrument-makers of the North-West University. It is a clamshell dome. The MAT dome is placed on roof of the control room. Here are two postgraduate students monitoring a pulsating star.         One computer screen shows the control    software with the image of the starfield,      the other shows the autoguiding system. The filterwheel with Johnson filters on. 


The MAT with the sbig ccd camera and the williams optics refactor piggybagging on it. This picture was taken before the new telescope building was constructed. Then the MAT was housed in a metal shack.


School children learning to move the MAT before the dome was installed.  


This graph is the lightcurve of a recently discovered pulsating pre-main                                sequence star taken with the MAT.  This graph shows the Fourier Transform of the lightcurve, indicating that this pulsating star has the main frequency of nearly 64 cycles per day. This frequency comes from seismic waves inside this star. The seismic waves are valuable in allowing us to determine the physics of the interior of stars.