Stargazing at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront: Saturday 05th of November 2016.

I do not know which of the following is applicable to our case “You cannot have your cake and eat it” or “What you gain on the swings you loose on the roundabouts”. On the one hand we had bright sunshine and a six day old waxing moon that was situated very nicely but, on the other hand, we had a brisk and fairly chilly South-Easter that pushed clumps of fluffy clouds across our field of view all afternoon and, to top it all, there were only two minuscule sunspots visible.

TOP: Getting onto the N1 from Brackenfell is a problem nowadays because of the road works between Brackenfell and the Panorama turn-off. Even on a Saturday morning the traffic is slow. The clouds over Table Mountain also did not look too promising. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Passing the Panorama turn-off it looked clear over the sea to the west of Cape Town. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Approaching the Giel Basson turnoff and the clouds seemed poised just east of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, ready to advance as soon as we have set-up. Go here (http://www.waterfront.co.za/ ) to read more about this premier tourist attraction in Cape Town. BOTTOM: The last lap on Marine Drive with a fluffy cloud peeking out from behind the road sign.
TOP: Getting onto the N1 from Brackenfell is a problem nowadays because of the road works between Brackenfell and the Panorama turn-off. Even on a Saturday morning the traffic is slow. The clouds over Table Mountain also did not look too promising. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Passing the Panorama turn-off it looked clear over the sea to the west of Cape Town. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Approaching the Giel Basson turnoff and the clouds seemed poised just east of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, ready to advance as soon as we have set-up. Go here to read more about this premier tourist attraction in Cape Town. BOTTOM: The last lap on Marine Drive with a fluffy cloud peeking out from behind the road sign.

Auke was already there and Eddy and Jannie arrived shortly after us with Dirk about 30 minutes after them. Alan and Rose weren’t there because Alan had to work and Wendy could also not make it as her husband was ill and had been hospitalized.

TOP: Dirk (in red) setting up while Eddy (in the white hat) and myself (in the blue shirt) talk to some of the first guests. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and his new Celestron with an interested member of the public. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The poster advertising the ASSA (go here to find out more about ASSA https://assa.saao.ac.za/ ) Sky Guide, published by Struik (find out more about Struik and their excellent publications here http://struik.bookslive.co.za/about/ and their nature publications here http://www.struiknatureclub.co.za/about-us.php ). This is the one book no self-respecting amateur astronomer in South Africa should be without. BOTTOM: Many people did not know one could see the Moon during daytime and were keen to view it through the telescope.
TOP: Dirk (in red) setting up while Eddy (in the white hat) and myself (in the blue shirt) talk to some of the first guests. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and his new Celestron with an interested member of the public. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The poster advertising the ASSA (go here to find out more about ASSA. Sky Guide, published by Struik (find out more about Struik and their excellent publications here  and their nature publications here). This is the one book no self-respecting amateur astronomer in South Africa should be without. BOTTOM: Many people did not know one could see the Moon during daytime and were keen to view it through the telescope.
TOP: Auke and his new Celestron helping some visitors look at the moon. MIDDLE: I nudge Lorenzo to keep it on the Moon while waiting for the next batch of viewers. BOTTOM: Quite a few people wanted to take photos of the Moon with their mobile phones, but that takes a steady hand and a bit of practice.
TOP: Auke and his new Celestron helping some visitors look at the moon. MIDDLE: I nudge Lorenzo to keep it on the Moon while waiting for the next batch of viewers. BOTTOM: Quite a few people wanted to take photos of the Moon with their mobile phones, but that takes a steady hand and a bit of practice.

The brisk South-Easter was quite cold and, as we had suspected the wind drove a never ending series of fluffy clouds across the face of the Moon limiting viewing to the intervening gaps between them. I decided not to even try the Sun as the two diminutive sunspots were really not worth the effort and concentrated on the Moon.

TOP: Eddy, the Chairperson of ASSA’s Cape Centre, entertains a group of visitors while Jannie (in red) keeps her eye on the telescope. Go here to find out more about ASSA’s Cape Centre (http://www.capecentre.org.za/ ). BOTTOM: Dirk looking pleased with himself. The white vessel visible directly behind Dirk’s telescope is Sikhululekile (Eng. Free or Set Free), the ill fated Robben Island ferry. Go here to read more about this expensive vessel and its equally expensive problems (http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/rocks-ruin-r26m-robben-island-ferry-1803068 ).
TOP: Eddy, the Chairperson of ASSA’s Cape Centre, entertains a group of visitors while Jannie (in red) keeps her eye on the telescope. Go here to find out more about ASSA’s Cape Centre. BOTTOM: Dirk looking pleased with himself. The white vessel visible directly behind Dirk’s telescope is Sikhululekile (Eng. Free or Set Free), the ill fated Robben Island ferry. Go here to read more about this expensive vessel and its equally expensive problems.
TOP: The Sky Guide advertisements (there were two) were clearly visible to all comers. BOTTOM: Myself and Lorenzo up front while Auke and Dirk consult in the background. In the foreground is our StarPeople poster with the two ASSA Merit Awards. One award was for our general outreach efforts and the other for organizing the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. Go here to read more about the awards (http://elfastronomy.com/2016/09/16/astronomical-society-of-southern-africa-merit-awards-2016/ ) and here to read about the the Southern Star Party that was held in February 2016 (http://elfastronomy.com/2016/02/15/the-autumn-2016-southern-star-party-night-sky-caravan-farm-05-to-07-february-2016/ ) or here to read about the Star party held in October 2016 (http://elfastronomy.com/2016/11/13/the-spring-2016-southern-star-party-night-sky-caravan-farm-26-to-30-october-2016/ ).
TOP: The Sky Guide advertisements (there were two) were clearly visible to all comers. BOTTOM: Myself and Lorenzo up front while Auke and Dirk consult in the background. In the foreground is our StarPeople poster with the two ASSA Merit Awards. One award was for our general outreach efforts and the other for organizing the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. Go here to read more about the awards and here to read about the Southern Star Party that was held in February 2016 or here to read about the Southern Star Party held in October 2016.

There were fewer people around and this seems to be the pattern when there is a bit of wind. I also think that in the wind people tend to bunch up more at the Swing Bridge and are less inclined to look around. There seems to be a greater sense of urgency to get across.  Also for the people coming from the other side they seem to move straight on and not fan out as they do on days when there is less wind.

TOP: Lorenzo and I showing the Moon to three eager viewers. MIDDLE: Three presenters in a row! I am in the foreground; Auke is in the middle and, in the background, is Eddy wearing the white hat. BOTTOM: The same sequence but now Jannie (in red) has joined Eddy.
TOP: Lorenzo and I showing the Moon to three eager viewers. MIDDLE: Three presenters in a row! I am in the foreground; Auke is in the middle and, in the background, is Eddy wearing the white hat. BOTTOM: The same sequence but now Jannie (in red) has joined Eddy.
TOP: Now and again one sees one of these huge container vessels coming in – very impressive. BOTTOM: Jannie on the left and Eddy with a International Observe the Moon Night information sheet, talking to two visitors with the red Clock Tower in the background (Go here to read more about this historic landmark in the V&A Waterfront dating back to 1883 http://www.cape-town-heritage.co.za/heritage-site/clock-tower.html ).
TOP: Now and again one sees one of these huge container vessels coming in – very impressive. BOTTOM: Jannie on the left and Eddy with a International Observe the Moon Night information sheet, talking to two visitors with the red Clock Tower in the background (Go here to read more about this historic landmark in the V&A Waterfront dating back to 1883.

There were fewer clouds as the afternoon wore on and by sunset we had almost uninterrupted views of the moon. I decided to give viewers a special treat and added a 3x Barlow to my 25 mm eyepiece.  That never fails to draw Wows, OMG’s, Awesome’s. Nooo’s and even a You Lie or two from the viewers. It takes a bit more nudging and shoving, but the effect on viewers is more than worth the trouble. In addition Lorenzo has the advantage of being more stable and less prone to wind induced vibrations than the smaller telescopes.

TOP: As the light dimmed the view of the Moon got better. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke on the left, Dirk in the middle, Jannie and Eddy on the right. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: With the amount of light pollution in the Waterfront it is amazing that one can see anything other than the Moon. BOTTOM: A young visitor eyeballs the six day old waxing Moon.
TOP: As the light dimmed the view of the Moon got better. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke on the left, Dirk in the middle, Jannie and Eddy on the right. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: With the amount of light pollution in the Waterfront it is amazing that one can see anything other than the Moon. BOTTOM: A young visitor eyeballs the six day old waxing Moon.
TOP: Auke interacting with a very interested young visitor. BOTTOM: Dirk discussing details of the Moon with some visitors. Jannie’s white top is just visible on the right.
TOP: Auke interacting with a very interested young visitor. BOTTOM: Dirk discussing details of the Moon with some visitors. Jannie’s white top is just visible on the right.

Once the Sun was down it became really chilly and one once again had to marvel at the fact that one could actually show people celestial objects from such a heavily light polluted site as the Pierhead. Unfortunately Venus and Saturn were not well placed for viewing from our position and the best position would have been under the coloured fairy lights on the quayside.

TOP: Jannie on the left looks on while Eddy explains some finer points. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke entertains some younger viewers. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lights, lights and more lights! Very pretty but also a major source of light pollution in Cape Town. BOTTOM: Dirk interacts with visitors and Jannie in the white top can be seen on the right.
TOP: Jannie on the left looks on while Eddy explains some finer points. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke entertains some younger viewers. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lights, lights and more lights! Very pretty but also a major source of light pollution in Cape Town. BOTTOM: Dirk interacts with visitors and Jannie in the white top can be seen on the right.

To top it all you can watch the entire afternoon and evening in one very fast You Tube video if you click here.

We started packing up at 21:00 and when Dirk Lynnette and I headed home Auke, Jannie and Eddy strolled over to Den Anker for a late night cup of coffee or two.

Stargazing at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront: Saturday 10th of September 2016.

We had bright sunshine and clear skies but on the way into Cape Town there was a suspicious looking cloud hanging around over the Eastern end of Table Mountain and the Devil’s Peak. I say suspicious because clouds like that, more often than not, are the forerunners of a South-Easter in Cape Town. This proved to be correct in this case although it did not develop into a full scale gale it was cold and a nuisance on the Pierhead.

TOP: There’s that ominous cloud crouching over Table Mountain. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan in action with the Solar Telescope. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Auke lends a hand with the waiting viewers. BOTTOM: Wendy and her brand new telescope. No more pushing and shoving because this little baby can find and track on its own.
TOP: There’s that ominous cloud crouching over Table Mountain. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan in action with the Solar Telescope. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Auke lends a hand with the waiting viewers. BOTTOM: Wendy and her brand new telescope. No more pushing and shoving because this little baby can find and track on its own.

By the time the Noon Day Gun (there is an informative piece on Wikipedia about this Cape Town icon) had sounded we were on site and setting up, followed shortly by Alan and Rose and then by Dirk. Auke and Wendy arrived a bit later. Wendy was just back from gallivanting around England and had brought het new telescope along for its inaugural session. The wind very quickly gave us to understand that today was not a day for banners, or A-frame poster displays. Later on it even toppled our trestles with the A2-framed posters and some of the gusts turned over tables and caused general mayhem. Dirk and Wendy’s smaller telescopes constantly had the jitters and even Alan’s eight inch Dobby and Lorenzo were not completely steady.

TOP: Dirk setting up to show the Moon on the small screen. MIDDLE: Wendy looking slightly perplexed. Did the visitors ask a tricky question? BOTTOM: Alan explaining sunspots.
TOP: Dirk setting up to show the Moon on the small screen. MIDDLE: Wendy looking slightly perplexed. Did the visitors ask a tricky question? BOTTOM: Alan explaining sunspots.
TOP: Alan lining up the telescope for a visitor. SECOND FROM THE TOP: The view from the Pierhead is a colourful one and there is always something going on. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island and the iconic red Clock Tower. BOTTOM: Dirk with one of the shorter visitors taking a look at the Moon.
TOP: Alan lining up the telescope for a visitor. SECOND FROM THE TOP: The view from the Pierhead is a colourful one and there is always something going on. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island and the iconic red Clock Tower. BOTTOM: Dirk with one of the shorter visitors taking a look at the Moon.

The moon was well up by 13:30 so Dirk could get his scope set on that as he does not have a solar filter for viewing the Sun. The Sun, by the way, was sporting a nice crop of sunspots unlike on our previous outing. I don’t know if it was the wind but the people were disinclined to look through the telescopes and needed quite a bit of coaxing. We eventually tallied up just under 600 visitors but felt that, with the sunshine, we should have had more.

TOP: Alan conducting serious discussions about the Sun and sunspots. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two of the vessels currently being used to ferry visitors to Robben Island. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Pilot Boat sets out to help one of the big vessels into the harbour. BOTTOM: Lorenzo and I showing off the Sun and its spots.
TOP: Alan conducting serious discussions about the Sun and sunspots. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two of the vessels currently being used to ferry visitors to Robben Island. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Pilot Boat sets out to help one of the big vessels into the harbour. BOTTOM: Lorenzo and I showing off the Sun and its spots.
TOP: A younger visitor gets special attention from Alan. MIDDLE: Lorenzo and I have a visitor interested in the Sun BOTTOM: Dirk helping Wendy sort out her new baby’s teething problems.
TOP: A younger visitor gets special attention from Alan. MIDDLE: Lorenzo and I have a visitor interested in the Sun BOTTOM: Dirk helping Wendy sort out her new baby’s teething problems.

The Chairperson of ASSA’s (Astronomical Society of Southern Africa) Cape Centre, Eddy Nijeboer also paid us a visit. Thanks Eddy it was nice to have somebody from the Cape Centre joining Wendy at the Pierhead. You can go here to find out more about ASSA and visit this page to find out more about the Cape Centre. If you are interested in astronomy please join ASSA or, if you live in Cape Town join the Cape Centre.

Venus was a nice early evening target for a short while and Saturn was well positioned for viewing. The Moon is always a good attraction and never fails to elicit exclamations of surprise, delight or amazement from even the apparently disinterested viewers. Despite what looked like clear skies, it soon became apparent the wind was driving moisture through the atmosphere somewhere above us, because the view through the telescope was just not as crisp as we would have wanted it to be. This wasn’t as visible when looking at the Moon but the effects were quite pronounced when looking at Saturn.

TOP: Alan (on the left) and me with Lorenzo (on the right) during a busy period. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Suddenly Alan and I were quite busy. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Wendy and her new baby with a visitor. BOTTOM: These visitors were very interested and it turns out that they visited our show at the Bonnievale Bonanza two years ago.
TOP: Alan (on the left) and me with Lorenzo (on the right) during a busy period. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Suddenly Alan and I were quite busy. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Wendy and her new baby with a visitor. BOTTOM: These visitors were very interested and it turns out that they visited our show at the Bonnievale Bonanza three years ago.
This gentleman was inebriated. Not staggeringly drunk but definitely surrounded by a naseliferometricaly detectable alcoholic aura and imbued with that characteristic, ethanol induced wisdom. He knew everything, questioned everything loudly and was not shy to advertise his superior knowledge to all and sundry within a radius of at least 25 metres. As if that wasn’t bad enough he then started questioning whatever we said on religious grounds, mocking us and all technology loudly based on his views. A very unpleasant experience indeed and one we could well have done without.
This gentleman was inebriated. Not staggeringly drunk but definitely surrounded by a naseliferometricaly detectable alcoholic aura and imbued with a characteristic, ethanol induced wisdom. He knew everything, questioned everything loudly and was not shy to advertise his superior knowledge to all and sundry within a radius of at least 25 metres. As if that wasn’t bad enough he then started questioning whatever we said on religious grounds, mocking us and all technology loudly based on his views. A very unpleasant experience indeed and one we could well have done without.

After the show we all had coffee at Den Anker served by our favourite waitron, Patrick, before heading home. Go here to find out more about this Belgian restaurant in the Waterfront.

Our future dates at the Waterfront can all be found by visiting (http://www.waterfront.co.za/events/Family/stargazing-at-the-waterfront).

MNASSA December 2015

The October 2015 edition of MNASSA (Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa) is available on line.  Below is the title page and list of contents.  You may, sickness however, go here, to download the full edition.

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Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa


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The Blaauwberg Meridian Expedition: 05 December 2015.

In support of the efforts currently underway to document the history of the Royal Observatory a lot of historic material has been made available in digitized form by Auke Slotegraaf. While attempting to work my way through this formidable volume of information I came across the following in Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, 1875 (iii).

“The “meridian mark” referred to in Table III, is on an undulation immediately to the east of the mountain called Blaauw Berg, and is situated some 13 miles north of the Observatory. It is a pillar built up to serve as a permanent meridian mark for the 10 feet Dolland’s Transit. The transit instrument is about 512 feet west of the meridian of the Transit-circle.  The azimuth of the mark from the meridian of the Transit-circle, assumed in the determination of the azimuthal errors given in Table III, has been 2’ 40” west. It would appear that the assumed azimuth is too great by about 1”.3, and that the true azimuth of the mark is nearly 2’ 38”.7 west. The azimuthal errors derived from the position of the mark have not been used in the reductions, except for the approximate determinations of the clock error for time-ball purposes. The mark can only be well seen near noon on rather cloudy days; on bright, clear days it can only be observed soon after sunrise and near the time of sunset. The value of the mark as an indication of changes in the position of the Transit-circle, is not so great as it would be were observations possible at any hour of the day.”

So where was this meridian marker? After several e-mails between Auke Slotegraaf, Dr Ian Glass and I, it soon became clear that this specific object had not been seen by any members of the astronomical fraternity for many, many years. Ian produced correspondence dating back to 2012, in which a Mr. Seymour Currie, verified that that the object was in fact on his farm. The correspondence was conducted via the staff of Cape Nature at the Blaauwberg Nature Conservancy, and no mention was made of the farm’s name. Not knowing the farm’s name becomes a crucial point as the story develops.

I sent an e-mail to Mr. Currie who promptly phoned back. He had no objections to us coming to view, measure and photograph the meridian mark and he agreed to phone back again with instructions on how to get to his farm and an evaluation of how difficult it would be for us to get right up to the meridian mark. By Saturday morning, the 05th of December I had heard nothing from Mr. Currie and all telephone calls were answered by the dreaded voice message, “The subscriber you have dialled is not available ……”.

On the 05th a party consisting of Auke Slotegraaf, Chris Vermeulen, Dr. Ian Glass, Chris de Coning, Johan Brink, Kechil Kirkham, Dirk Rossouw and I, assembled at the Observatory. We were confident that, thanks to previous efforts by Ian and the help of Google Earth, we had the position pinned down and it looked as if there were useable access roads, but we were all anxious to hear from Mr. Currie.

TOP: Chris Vermeulen enjoying the view from the Observatory’s roof while Ian and Auke plan the activities for the rest of the day. BOTTOM LEFT: Johan, Kechil and Dirk are all concentration on the stoep of the Auditorium. BOTTOM RIGHT: Auke, Chris Vermeulen, Ian and Chris de Coning look equally engrossed in the proceedings.
TOP: Chris Vermeulen enjoying the view from the Observatory’s roof while Ian and Auke plan the activities for the rest of the day. BOTTOM LEFT: Johan, Kechil and Dirk are all concentration on the stoep of the Auditorium. BOTTOM RIGHT: Auke, Chris Vermeulen, Ian and Chris de Coning look equally engrossed in the proceedings.

The first task though, was to get up onto the roof of the Observatory building and try and see the meridian mark from there. Unfortunately the Eucalyptus trees that had been planted over the years successfully cut of, not only any possible view of the marker, but of the entire Blaauwberg. I had still not been unable to raise Mr. Curry on the phone so we decided to go with Google Earth and Google Maps and the coordinates of the marker. The route seemed pretty straight forward but Dirk several times expressed concern that we were venturing well of the beaten track and he had prior experience of the fact that Google did not take cognisance of fences and assorted farm gates in out of the way areas like this. In the absence of any communication from Mr. Currie we had little choice but to set off, guided by Google.

TOP: Dirk, on the correct side of the gate at the intersection of Zonnekus and Frankdale roads, giving Chris V and Ian, on the wrong side, instructions on how to get to rectify the problem BOTTOM: Chris dC looking quite cheerful about being in the wrong place at the right time.
TOP: Dirk, on the correct side of the gate at the intersection of Zonnekus and Frankdale roads, giving Chris V and Ian, on the wrong side, instructions on how to get to rectify the problem BOTTOM: Chris dC looking quite cheerful about being in the wrong place at the right time.

One section of the party, Auke, Kechil and Johan would stay behind and find a spot near the bird hide, at the northern extremity of the Observatory property, from which they hoped to observe the other section’s arrival at the marker. Chris dC had to first make a delivery and would join us later guided by Google. Chris V and Ian took the lead followed by myself and behind me Dirk. Somewhere on the N1 I lost sight of Dirk behind me but it turned out he had made a detour into Century City to refuel. I also lost sight of Chris V and Ian ahead of me but I had the Google turnoff from the N7, Frankdale Road, memorized so I was confident I would not get lost. I found the turnoff and after 1.3 km the tarred surface gave way to a track which became progressively worse, slowing me down to walking pace for long stretches. About 4.2 km from the N7, Zonnekus Road links up with Frankdale Road at a T-junction. There is a large, imposing, locked gate and, much to my surprise, parked on the other side of the gate were Chris V and Ian. While I was explaining to them how to get to where I was, Dirk pitched up, on my side of the gate. Chris V and Ian headed back to the N7 and Dirk and I waited. While we were waiting Chris dC arrived, also on the wrong side of the gate! More explanations and he also retraced his steps. After Chris V, Ian and Chris dC joined us Dirk once more voiced his concern that, although we were headed in the right direction, we might run into the Blaauwberg Nature Conservancy fences before reaching our target. Our cell phone signal had faded on us shortly after leaving the N7, so we were unable to update Google maps or try Mr. Curry again.

TOP: Ian taking a long and sandy walk to find a higher vantage point from which to search for the illusive meridian mark. BOTTOM LEFT: Chris dC Dirk and Ian in front of the Blaauwbwerg Nature Conservancy’s Gate. In the background is the Blaauwberg and the meridian mark is somewhere to the right near the top of the photo but out of the image. BOTTOM RIGHT: Ian and Chris dC consoling themselves by taking a photograph of the view toward Table Mountain and the Observatory.
TOP: Ian taking a long and sandy walk to find a higher vantage point from which to search for the illusive meridian mark. BOTTOM LEFT: Chris dC Dirk and Ian in front of the Blaauwbwerg Nature Conservancy’s Gate. In the background is the Blaauwberg and the meridian mark is somewhere to the right near the top of the photo but out of the image. BOTTOM RIGHT: Ian and Chris dC consoling themselves by taking a photograph of the view toward Table Mountain and the Observatory.
In the grey square is the Meridian Mark, or what we assumed to be the Mark, as seen from the Blaauwberg Nature Conservancy's fence.
In the grey square is the Meridian Mark, or what we assumed to be the Mark, as seen from the Blaauwberg Nature Conservancy’s fence.

Off we went once again with Chris V and Ian in the lead, followed by Chris dC, then myself with Dirk bringing up the rear. Just over three km after leaving the gate, we encountered the gate and game fence of the Blaauwberg Nature Conservancy, as predicted by Dirk. Ian and I walked along the fence for quite a way trying to find higher ground on order to get a better view of the area where we thought the marker was and eventually we thought we had it. Unfortunately it was a case of so near and yet so far. After some debate we decided to call it a day and head home. I had to refuel as I did not have enough to get me home to Brackenfell and Chris dC very kindly offered to follow me to the filling station in Killarney in case I ran out of fuel completely. So we said our goodbyes and off we went.

TOP: The conditions were very hazy as this photograph, taken from behind the Blaauwberg Nature Conservancy’s fence in the general direction of the Observatory, shows. BOTTOM: The view from the position of the meridian mark was not really any better.
TOP: The conditions were very hazy as this photograph, taken from behind the Blaauwberg Nature Conservancy’s fence in the general direction of the Observatory, shows. BOTTOM: The view from the position of the meridian mark was not really any better.

After filling up in Killarney I parked the car and had a sandwich while going over the day’s events and checking that Mr. Currie had not tried to contact me. The more I thought about the day’s events the more I felt that Dirk had been right after all and we should have tackled this expedition from a farm called Blaauwberg on the northern slopes of the mountain. By now everyone else was well on their way back home or back to the Observatory, so I set of on my own.  On the farm Blaauwberg I found that the owner was none other than Mr. Curry! It turned out that he and Willem Steenkamp had been very busy out in the veldt that morning planning the Battle of Blaauwberg Commemoration scheduled for the 09th January 2016.

After coffee we set off to the marker. Mr Curry and his wife took a quad-bike and I followed in their 4×4 all the way up to the marker, accompanied by their two magnificent Ridgebacks, racing along with the vehicles. The first kilometre after one leaves the farmyard is fine and can be attempted in any vehicle but the next just over one kilometre is uphill, sandy and riddled with mole tunnels. I would not venture up there in anything but a 4×4 vehicle.

TOP: The inscription on the north face of the meridian mark. Ian decoded it as BL:RG NMM 2 which he translated as “BLaauwbeRG North Meridian Mark. The 2 has him stumped. BOTTOM LEFT: The North Meridian Mark viewed from a south-easterly direction. The bushes surrounding it are prickly, very prickly. BOTTOM RIGHT: This piece came off the top of the structure and we think it was added at a later stage an probably held on of this black contraptions with the four vanes, used by surveyors, in place.
TOP: The inscription on the north face of the meridian mark. Ian decoded it as BL:RG NMM 2 which he translated as “BLaauwbeRG North Meridian Mark. The 2 has him stumped. BOTTOM LEFT: The North Meridian Mark viewed from a south-easterly direction. The bushes surrounding it are prickly, very prickly. BOTTOM RIGHT: This piece came off the top of the structure and we think it was added at a later stage an probably held on of this black contraptions with the four vanes, used by surveyors, in place.

Anyway, there the marker was and, after my hosts departed, I set about measuring and photographing. Both tasks were complicated by the fact that three sides of the marker were overgrown with very thorny bushes reaching almost to chest height. A section, which I think was added at a much later date than the original construction, has come off the top of the marker. The reason I think it is a later addition is that the cement looks quite different from that used in the construction of the marker and also, the removal does not seem in any way to have damaged the top of the marker. The marker is not, as stated in the reference at the end of this post, 14 feet (that’s over four m) high.

Mr Curry reports that up to about 10 years ago the military actually come round once a year and cleared away the brush around the marker but that no longer happens, as I can testify. It was not only the surrounding bush that made photography difficult but also the fact that the sun was fairly low in the west, which caused all sorts of complications with shadows. After finishing up I drove back to the homestead, reluctantly handed back the 4×4, said my goodbyes and headed home.

The Curries say that during military exercises with helicopters, it appears as if they fly to a point directly over the marker and then change course. Perhaps somebody could investigate this because it would be interesting to know if the marker is in fact used as a beacon, why and since when.

Mr Seymour Currie’s residence on the farm Blaauwberg.
Mr Seymour Currie’s residence on the farm Blaauwberg.

Dr Glass has also tracked down two more references to the meridian marker which seem to pinpoint its construction to August 1841. The references are to be found in Verification and Extension of La Caille’s Arc of Meridian at the Cape Of Good Hope by Sir Thomas Maclear. Vol 1, Published by order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, 1866.

Page 403: “Having obtained permission on the 10th of August, 1841, from the trustees of Dirk Gysbert Kotze, to erect a pillar on the Blaauwberg estate, on a hill south-west of his dwelling house, in the meridian of the transit room of the Royal Observatory, a party was told off for this service shortly after the return from the measurement of the Base. The pillar is a truncated pyramid 14 feet high, constructed of stone and lime masonry, cased with Roman cement.

By observation of the consecutive transits of circumpolar stars in the winter season made with the 10-feet transit instrument, the azimuth of the centre of the pillar is 179° 59’.57”, reckoning from the south round by the west; and by triangulation its distance is 68415 feet, or nearly 13 miles north of the transit instrument.”

Page 444: “The position of the pillar is on the undulation, immediately to the east of the mountain named Blaauw Berg, distant nearly 13 miles north from the Royal Observatory. The pillar was built to serve as a permanent meridian mark for the 10-feet transit instrument; also for obtaining the azimuths, by direct angular measurement of the trigonometric points, that are visible from the Observatory.”

MNASSA October 2015

The October 2015 edition of MNASSA (Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa) is available on line.  Below is the title page and list of contents.  You may, viagra however, cialis go here, to download the full edition.

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Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa


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Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.

The main objective of the weekend was to try out the enclosure the owner of Leeuwenbosch, Johan Roux, had built for the use of astronomers visiting the farm. Barry Dumas had been there during the Solar eclipse in September and found it to be very satisfactory. We had invited the members of the Cape Centre as well as Auke, Martin, Leslie, Iain, Willem and Wendy along but only Leslie, Willem, Iain, Jennifer and Wendy could eventually make it.

Our trip got off to a good start in the sense that we did not spend the entire night packing, as we often do. We were also finished and ready to go about 20 minutes before our planned departure time of 10:00 on Friday. Then disaster struck because Snorre was nowhere to be found. So we waited and notified Joan at Leeuwenboschfontein and all other parties that we were delayed. We looked everywhere, then we looked everywhere for a second, third and eventually umpteenth time, but Snorre was missing and the clock was ticking. Should we leave without Snorre and let Lynnette’s sister, Petro, feed him until we returned after the weekend? Should we cancel the trip unload everything and continue searching for him? Should we unload all the perishables, put them back in the fridge and freezer and just wait until Snorre pitched up? We decided on the last course of action. So 12:00 came and went, followed by 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00 and with each passing hour the tension mounted. Finally at about 15:30 His Nibs, Woolly Britches appeared from heaven knows where, stretching and yawning as if nothing was wrong!

Action stations! Snorre was shoved, rather unceremoniously, into his carry cage to prevent him doing another duck and Lynnette and I got everything we had unloaded back into the Vito, phoned everyone to notify them that Snorre had been found and hit the road at 16:30; a mere six and a half hours late. By the time we exited the Huguenot tunnel Leslie was already at the first stop-and-go of the road works in the Hex River-valley. The rest of our trip went very smoothly and we arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein around 18:50 to find Leslie already set up. Jennifer, who had taken the scenic route via Robertson, Ashton, Montagu, the Keisie and the Koo to Leeuwenboschfontein, had also arrived and settled in. Iain and Willem were expected the following day on their way back from Victoria West and Wendy was only due to arrive on the Sunday.

Top Left: Brackenfell Boulevard just as the dreaded 5-O'clock traffic was starting to build up. Top Right: Finally on the N1 and headed North. Bottom Left : Today we are in a hurry so we go under the mountain and not over it. Bottom Right: The Huguenot Tunnel and just visible on the left the entrance to the spare tunnel which SANRAL claims they have, in 20 years not had the cash to develop.
Top Left: Brackenfell Boulevard just as the dreaded 5-O’clock traffic was starting to build up. Top Right: Finally on the N1 and headed North. Bottom Left: Today we are in a hurry so we go under the mountain and not over it. Bottom Right: The Huguenot Tunnel and just visible on the left the entrance to the spare tunnel which SANRAL claims they have, in 20 years not had the cash to develop.
Top Left: Not even properly summer yet and we have the first veld fire in Du Toit's Kloof. Top Right: Into the Brede River Vally with mountains behind Worcester full of shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. Bottom Left: Worcester straight ahead just below the mountains. Bottom Right: Beautiful sandstone cliffs of the Hex River Mountains west of De Doorns.
Top Left: Not even properly summer yet and we have the first veld fire in the northern section of Du Toit’s Kloof pass. Top Right: Into the Breede River Valley with the mountains behind Worcester full of shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. Bottom Left: Worcester straight ahead just below the mountains. Bottom Right: Beautiful sandstone cliffs in the Hex River Mountains west of De Doorns.
Top Left: The southern end of the Hex River Valley looking toward Orchard and Sandhills. Top Right: At last we leave the N1 and now it is another 25 km on the R318 and then about 12 km on gravel to our destination. Bottom Left: Almost at the turnoff and then it is 12 km on gravel down the Nougaskloof to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom Right: Nougaspoort is the narrow entrance to Nougaskloof, just in case you were wondering.
Top Left: The southern end of the Hex River Valley looking toward Orchard and Sandhills. Top Right: At last we leave the N1 and now it is another 25 km on the R318 and then about 12 km on gravel to our destination. Bottom Left: Almost at the turnoff and then it is 12 km on gravel down the Nougaskloof to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom Right: Nougaspoort is the narrow entrance to Nougaskloof, just in case you were wondering.

We unpacked, had supper and set up as fast as we could. It was dark but lights from the two ablution blocks were a problem especially for Leslie’s astrophotography. As fast as Leslie switched them off somebody would switch them on again! We did not see our way open to driving down to the enclosed astronomy area about a kilometre away in the dark and, as there was no power down there, the move would have been entirely counterproductive for Leslie. One camping family came along to see what we were up to so I did a basic what’s up tonight with them. They were, however, such nice people that I really did not mind spending the time doing that. It was dark, very, very much darker than at any site in or near Cape Town, but the seeing was not very good because of the windy conditions and corresponding turbulence in the atmosphere.

The large Magellanic Cloud taken from the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein. Camera: NIKON D5100 Lense: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G ISO 400 10s - f/1.8 Tripod mounted
The large Magellanic Cloud taken from the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein. Camera: NIKON D5100 Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G ISO 400 & 10s – f/1.8 – Tripod mounted

By midnight I was having problems with dew despite the fact that the wind had freshened quite considerably so Lynnette and I decided to call it a night and go to bed, leaving Leslie to brave the elements. Before going to bed I took a set of dark sky readings and also used the new Loss of the Night application on my cell phone as a comparison.

There are lots of birds (both in numbers and species) insects, and there are still plenty of flowers in the veld due to the good rains that fell during the winter.
There are lots of birds (both in numbers and species) insects, and there are still plenty of flowers in the veld due to the good rains that fell during the winter.

On Saturday we had a cold, blustery wind that had developed during the early hours of the morning, and a sky full of large fluffy clouds. Poor Leslie had spent a miserably cold night on his stretcher and his set-up and camp had been so vandalized by the wind that he decided to pack it in and head back to Cape Town. No amount of persuasion, offers of more and warmer bedding or the lure of better conditions later in the weekend, could change his mind. He did agree to let me show him the astronomy enclosure but he wasn’t all that impressed because there was no power, so his equipment would not be able to function. Iain and Willem arrived later in the day and by then the wind had abated considerably and the clouds had become a lot smaller with much, much larger gaps between them too. By Saturday evening the wind had all but died down, but the wandering clouds made constructive observing very difficult even though we had eventually convinced the remaining campers that the lights in the ablution blocks did not have to be on continuously.

Top Left: Lots of interesting cloud patterns. Top Right: Beautiful Earth shadow and Girdle of Venus. Bottom Left: Nice sunset (looking east though) with my shadow in the bottom left hand corner. Bottom Right: Sunset looking across the dam and the camp site.
Top Left: Lots of interesting cloud patterns. Top Right: Beautiful Earth shadow and Girdle of Venus. Bottom Left: Nice sunset (looking east though) with my shadow in the bottom right hand corner. Bottom Right: Sunset looking across the dam and the camp site.

On Sunday the weather was much better and by the time Wendy arrived it was looking very promising for the evening’s observing. We decided to try out the observing enclosure and found, to our satisfaction, that the Guest Farm’s lights were only visible if one stood right up against the eastern wall and looked west. The 1,8 m vibracrete walls also provided ample protection from the wind. The headlights of cars passing on the road, about one km away did catch the top slabs of the western wall. Although night traffic is infrequent this problem will be discussed with the Johan Roux’s (snr. & jnr.). Despite the very dark skies the seeing was at best fair to good but not excellent or exceptional, probably due to instability in the upper atmosphere caused by the approaching front. Wendy, Iain and Willem left at about 23:00 and Lynnette and I packed up just after midnight, when the dew got the better of us. We left our telescope, well wrapped, to keep Wendy’s company for the rest of the night. Being able to leave ones equipment in safety is another advantage of having the enclosure.

Top Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking south. Top Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. The door in the corner is the entrance. Bottom Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. Bottom Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking east. The door in the corner is the loo and the red windsock just visible behind the door measures gives an indication of the wind speed.
Top Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking south. Top Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. The door in the corner is the entrance. Bottom Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. Bottom Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking east. The door in the corner is the loo and the red windsock just visible behind the door gives an indication of the wind direction and speed.
Top: A view of the astro-compound from the outside looking south and standing on the airstrip. Bottom: the team applying chicken manure to the grass inside and preparing the area around the compound for planting aloes and other indigenous flowering plants.
Top: A view of the astro-compound from the outside looking south while standing on the airstrip. Bottom: The work detail applying chicken manure to the grass inside and preparing the area around the compound for planting aloes and other indigenous flowering plants.

Wendy headed home on Monday and as the camp was now empty, other than for Lynnette, myself, Ian and Willem we decided to observe from the camp as it would be possible to switch off all lights. When Lynnette and I went to fetch our telescope we found that the staff was applying liberal amounts of very smelly chicken manure to the grass in the enclosure in order to speed up its growth. Observing there would have been a very smelly activity. That evening Johan Roux (snr.) joined us for some star gazing. I was astounded when he admitted that he had never spent time outside at night to specifically look at the stars. He, on the other hand, was very surprised to see what a negative effect the exposed outside lights around the homestead and guest house had on ones night vision. We will in future be allowed to switch them off when doing stargazing at Leeuwenboschfontein. Shortly after Johan left us to go to bed a sheet of thin, high cloud rolled in and put an end to our stargazing. I got up after 01:00 to answer a call of nature and found that the clouds had departed, but I was too bloody lazy to get dressed and set up the telescope again.

No I am not going to a fancy dress party as a medieval knight. This is my latest discovery, an electric head warmer. Apparently Leslie also uses it as a Dewzapper.
No I am not going to a fancy dress party as a medieval knight. This is my latest discovery, an electric head warmer. Apparently Leslie also uses it as a Dewzapper on his telescope.

On Tuesday the weather was beautiful but in the afternoon the clouds came in again and stayed. Lynnette and I decided to stick it out until Wednesday, hoping the weather would clear but it actually got worse and by 21:00 on Wednesday night it was raining steadily with some distant thunder as appropriate background music. We both had our doubts about getting the Vito through the few sticky patches on the gravel road between Leeuwenboschfontein and the R318 but it did not rain enough to adversely affect the road and by Thursday morning it was clearing nicely.

Snorre, alias Mr, Walkabout and aka The Purring Houdini.
Snorre, alias Mr, Walkabout and aka The Purring Houdini.

As a precautionary measure Mr Wanderlust was put into his harness and his leash tied to a pole where one of us could always keep an eye on him. While I went of to wash the breakfast dishes Snorre attempted to pull off one of his Houdini-style escapes from the harness but Lynnette was too quick for him, I then shoved him into his carry cage. Needless to say, Snorre was not a happy cat having his freedom of movement curtailed like that.

Standing in the centre of the campsite I attempted to construct a panoramic view of the site. West is almost dead centre in this view.
Standing in the centre of the campsite I attempted to construct a panoramic view of the site. West is almost dead centre in this view.

So, what are the prospects for Leeuwenboschfontein as a stargazing venue? I think it has definite potential and here is my list of positives, in no particular order.

  1. The owners are very positive about hosting astronomers.
  2. The average annual rainfall is much lower than that in and around Cape Town.
  3. It is within easy driving distance of Cape Town.
  4. There is fairly priced accommodation available for all tastes.
  5. The availability of an astro-enclosure means that astronomy enthusiasts do not have to fight with campers about the lights in the camp or their smoky braai fires.
  6. Astronomers will not be pestered by campers wanting to look through their telescopes or discuss astronomy down at the astro-enclosure. If anyone feels the need to do outreach they just have stay in the camp and they will be inundated.
  7. We have the concession that the outside lights of the homestead and guest house can be switched off to further reduce any influence they might have on viewing from the enclosure.

Negative aspects are possibly the following:

  1. The horizons are not ideally low in all directions but from the astro-enclosure they are more than acceptable.
  2. For the astrophotographers the non-availability of power at the enclosure is a problem but, at least for the present, a large battery and an inverter will provide a solution.

Please go here to visit Leeuwenboschfontein’s website or you may view their Facebook page here.

In my opinion there is no other site that is safe, offers the same amenities and has the same astronomy potential within easy driving distance of Cape Town. Some amateur astronomers might have private access to comparable sites but, for the average amateur in Cape Town, I think Leeuwenboschfontein offers a viable solution to a long standing problem.

Top Left: Back on the R318 heading west to the N1. Top Right: Passing what used to be Matroosberg Station. Bottom Left: The N1 and we go left. In the background some of the buildings of what used to be Bergplaas, then became Karoo 1 and now goes by the name of Karoo Hotel Village. Bottom Right: The ship and its lone sailor on the Eastern slopes of the Matroosberg that, according to some, gave the mountain its name.
Top Left: Back on the R318 heading west to the N1. Top Right: Passing what used to be Matroosberg Station. Bottom Left: The N1 and we go left. In the background some of the buildings of what used to be Bergplaas, then became Karoo 1 and now goes by the name of Karoo Hotel Village. Bottom Right: The ship and its lone sailor on the Eastern slopes of the Matroosberg that, according to some, gave the mountain its name.
Top Left: A view of the Hex River Valley from the Hex River Pass at its northern end. The arrow marks the entrance to one of the railway tunnels in the pass. Top Right: Exiting the Hex River Valley with Snorre navigating. Bottom Left: Approaching Worcester from the north-east. Bottom Right: Into Du Toit's Kloof Pass heading south.
Top Left: A view of the Hex River Valley from the Hex River Pass at its northern end. The arrow marks the entrance to one of the railway tunnels in the pass. Top Right: Exiting the Hex River Valley with Snorre navigating. Bottom Left: Approaching Worcester from the north-east. Bottom Right: Into Du Toit’s Kloof Pass heading south.
Top Left: The northern entrance of the Huguenot Tunnel and the arrow marks the spare tunnel wich was dug at the same time as the one in use now. Top Right: Out of the tunnel and heading toward the toll gates. Bottom Left: Past Paarl and Klapmuts we get our first clear view of Table Mountain. Bottom Right: About to leave the N1 and then it is just a short drive home and after coffee the dreaded unpacking and putting away.
Top Left: The northern entrance of the Huguenot Tunnel and the arrow marks the spare tunnel which was dug at the same time as the one in use now. Top Right: Out of the tunnel and heading toward the toll gates. Bottom Left: Past Paarl and Klapmuts we get our first clear view of Table Mountain.
Bottom Right: About to leave the N1 and then it is just a short drive home and after coffee, the dreaded unpacking and putting away.

 

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

Musings on the Standard Length markers by of a would-be amateur astronomical digger.

There are five of these structures which I previously labelled North (N), medicine North+1 (N1), viagra North+2 (N2), purchase North+3 (N3) and North+4 (N4) going from the most northerly to the most southerly one. Auke and Evan very carefully measured the distances between these structures and found that, by using them in various combinations; it was possible to obtain very accurate lengths of between 10 to 100 English feet in any multiple of 10 feet.

We still, however, do not know what was mounted on these bases and it certainly appears as if, whatever that was, differed from mounting to mounting. This assumption is made purely on the basis of the current appearance of the remains of the Standard Length bases.

Below are images of the five objects in question.

NORTH SLM
NORTH SLM (N)
NORTH-2 SLM
NORTH-1 SLM (N-1)
NORTH-2 SLM
NORTH-2 SLM (N-2)
NORTH-3 SLM
NORTH-3 SLM (N-3)
NORTH-4 SLM
NORTH-4 SLM (N-4_

N and N-2 are similar in design but not in size. N-1 and N-4 have similar designs but their sizes differ slightly and the block with the hole in is situated to the north in N-1 and to the south in N-4. The odd one out is N-3, although it seems to have been similar to the plinth still present in N, N-2 and N-4 and presumed to have been present in N-1 judging by the markings and fragments present there. This plinth, therefore, appears to be common to all of the Standard Length bases.

N-1 and N-4 distinguish themselves from the others by the presence of the smaller block with the square hole in it and the two metal lugs on the north and south sides of that hole. In both of these structures the metal lugs seem to have been later additions.

However, closer inspection of N-1 and N-4 reveals another difference. The basic construction between the larger and smaller sections differs in both cases.  The smaller block seems, in both cases, to have a courser concrete foundation which also appears to be shallower in both cases.

I think that the smaller structure with the square hole and two metal lugs in N-1 and N-4 was added after the construction of the larger sections with the plinth. I also think that the two metal lugs were added after the construction of the base in a third operation. Something fitted into that hole which, based on the fragments found on site, was lined with wood but that something was not stable enough, so the metal lugs were added as anchor points.

If you want to read about the work leading up to this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV)

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Friday & Saturday 15/16 August 2015.

Auke has soldiered on without me, very competently assisted by Johan, Chris Vermeulen, Leslie and several other stalwarts.

The Ron Atkins Observatory (RAO) has been tidied up by Johan, the Moreas have flowered and Auke has started a programme to document everything on the site using photogrammetry techniques. It is really a fantastic technique but it means I will have to exhume the Standard Length Markers – for the third time.

More about these developments later but here are some of Auke’s photographs showing the progress in the meantime.

Chris Vermeulen and I studying the excellent publication on the history of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope by Dr Ian Glass
Chris Vermeulen and I studying the excellent publication on the history of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope by Dr Ian Glass. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
Me working on the final phase of cleaning up the RAO
Me working on the final phase of cleaning up the RAO. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
The ROA cleaned up and ready for visitors. Photo Auke Slotegraaf
The ROA cleaned up and ready for visitors. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
The RAo now has a proper access pathway constructed from all the bits of building rubble lying around, thanks to Johan Brink's hard work Photo Auke Slotegraaf
The RAo now has a proper access pathway constructed from all the bits of building rubble lying around, thanks to Johan Brink’s hard work. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

 

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Sunday 19 July 2015.

On Sunday the 19th of July a drop or two of rain was forecast for around 11:00. Auke, Evan, Johan and I decided to ignore that and carry on digging and measuring. Episode four covers my efforts to clean and measure the remains of the five Standard Length Markers (SLM). To do this I had to first exhume them, after having buried them as a protective measure, the previous week.

For my own reference I have, rather unimaginatively, called the most northerly one “North” and, working my southward, called the others “North+1”, “North+2”, “North+3” and “North+4”. I will abbreviate this even further and refer to the SLM as N, N1, N2, N3 & N4 so please remember that I am not referring to South Africa’s highway marking system. An important feature is that no two of these Standard Length Markers (SLM) are identical. They do, however, share certain features.

North (N):

The picture shows the entire North (N) SLM. Its longer dimension is orientated North-South

The picture shows the entire North (N) SLM. Its longer dimension is orientated North-South

This is a closer view of the pedestal forming the southern end of the SLM (N)
This is a closer view of the pedestal forming the southern end of the SLM (N)

This is 10,0 cm thick and seems to be common feature of all five SLMs. This seems to have been a base for a second layer, about 7,0 cm thick, but no remnants of this were found for N, although they do feature in other markers. The pedestals all seem to have had three metal pegs (P1, P2, P3 in the photo), 3,0 cm in diameter, about 8,0 cm long with a notch or groove in one end, presumably the top. The rust spots in the photo are not the remains of the actual pegs but show where they rested on this lower section. The upper section of the pedestal seems to have served the specific purpose of holding pegs in position. One such peg was found loose in the soil covering this marker.

The pedestals seem to have been encased in a wooden framework. In four of the five cases (N, N-1, N-2 & N-4) this was attached by a metal fixture on each of the pedestal’s four sides. These points are marked by a star and an arrow in the photograph. No wood or any parts of the actual metal fixture were found at N. The faint cross marked as the “Centre Point” is the point from which the distance between the markers was measured by Auke, Evan and the rest of the team.

N-1:

This is the second SLM from the northern end and, as can be seen it consis of two sections
This is the second SLM from the northern end and, as can be seen, it consists of two sections

The second SLM (N-1) consisted of two sections. The smaller, northern section had two metal fixtures on its northern and southern edges that looked as if they had been put in after the initial construction, In the centre of the northern section, centrally positioned between the two metal fixtures, is a square hole. The sides and base of the hole appear to have been lined with wood; remains of this lining were found in the hole.

 The southern portion originally had the pedestal mounted on it but all that is left is one piece of cement that might have been part of it
The southern portion originally had the pedestal mounted on it, but all that is left is one piece of cement that might have been part of it
One of the metal pegs, which we suppose were part of the pedestal, was found in the central hole of the northern section
One of the metal pegs showing the notch in what was most probably the top. This peg was found in the central hole of the northern section and we think it was one of three mounted in the pedestal
A second view of one of the peg found in the northern section of N-1
A second view of one of the peg found in the northern section of N-1
This picture shows the northern section of N-1 with the peg (A) and the two metal inserts B1 and B2
This picture shows the northern section of N-1 with the peg (A) and the two metal inserts B1 and B2
This picture shows the southern section of N-1. The scouring and chipping are common techniques used by masons when they have to add sections to existing surfaces
This picture shows the southern section of N-1. The scouring and chipping are common techniques used by masons when they have to add sections to existing surfaces
One of the two metal inserts which appear to have been an afterthought and which we assume were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
One of the two metal inserts (on the northern side of the square hole) which appear to have been an afterthought and which we assume were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
The metal inserts on the southern side of the square hole. These inserts appear to have been an afterthought and we assume they were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
The metal insert on the southern side of the square hole. These inserts appear to have been an afterthought and we assume they were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole

N-2:

This structure resembles the first marker but has a shorter north-south axis (125 cm as opposed to 183 cm)
This SLM-structure (N-2)  resembles the first SLM but has a shorter north-south axis (125 cm as opposed to 183 cm)
Here the remnants of the wooden frame, which appears to have been mounted around each pedestal, can be seen
Here the remnants of the wooden frame, which appears to have been mounted around each pedestal, can be seen
This picture of the pedestal clearly shows the positions of the metal pegs (P1, P2 & P3) and the positions of the metal fasteners which appear to have held the wooden frame in place (B1, B2, B3 & B4)
This picture of the pedestal clearly shows the positions of the metal pegs (P1, P2 & P3) and the positions of the metal fasteners which appear to have held the wooden frame in place (B1, B2, B3 & B4)
Here two pieces of the 7,0 cm thick slabs, which we think formed the top of each of the pedestals is shown. One of the metal pegs, referred to previously, can be seen in the photograph
Here two pieces of the 7,0 cm thick slabs, which we think formed the top of each of the pedestals are shown. One of the metal pegs, referred to previously, can be seen in the photograph
This is a view of N-2 from the eastern side and pieces of the decayed wooden frame and the position of the metal fastener on that side of the pedestal are visible
This is a view of N-2 from the eastern side and pieces of the decayed wooden frame and the position of the metal fastener on that side of the pedestal are visible
This is the eastern side of the pedestal on N-2. The remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
This is the eastern side of the pedestal on N-2. The remnants of the metal fasteners, that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position, are clearly visible
This is the southern side of the pedestal on N-2. Here to the remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
This is the southern side of the pedestal on N-2. Here to the remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
The metal peg found on the pedestal at N-2 and some of the pieces of rusted fixtures that once held the wooden frame in place
The metal peg found on the pedestal at N-2 and some of the pieces of rusted fixtures that once held the wooden frame in place
A closer view of the rusty remains of the fasteners at N-2
A closer view of the rusty remains of the fasteners at N-2

N-3:

This was the smallest of the five structures. The wooden frame around the pedestal was also constructed differently.

A general view of the N-3's pedestal as we uncovered it
A general view of N-3’s pedestal as we uncovered it
N-3's pedestal after we had cleaned it up
N-3’s pedestal after we had cleaned it up

One metal peg was still in place and one was found loose but both were very badly corroded. Two holes that once held pegs can also be seen on the top slab of the pedestal. On the right hand corner there is still one bracket in place and it appears that each corner had two brackets. There are no metal fasteners on the base section of the pedestal, as in the three SLMs to the north of this one.

This is the only bracket which was still in place on the wooden frame around N-3
This is the only bracket which was still in place on the wooden frame around N-3
Photograph of three brackets and the two pieces of a broken one recovered at N-3
Photograph of three brackets and the two pieces of a broken one recovered at N-3
 A closer view of one bracket at N-3 with measurements
A closer view of one bracket at N-3 with measurements

N-4:

The most southerly SLM had many characteristics in common with N-1.

N-4's structure before we cleaned it up
N-4’s structure before we cleaned it up
N-4's pedestal situated north of the section containing the square hole. This is the opposite of N-1.
N-4’s pedestal situated north of the section containing the square hole. This is the opposite of N-1.
This is teh southern part of N-4 clearly showing the square hole and the two metal fasteners/inserts
This is the southern part of N-4 clearly showing the square hole and the two metal fasteners/inserts

There was nothing left of the wooden frame although the same metal fasteners as in SLMs N, N-1 & N-2 seem to have been used. No trace was found of the top slab or of the pegs from the pedestal. Neither was there any sign of a wooden lining for the square hole, as in N-1. The two metal anchor inserts (B1 & B2) were also similar to those in N-1 and also appear to have been added after the initial construction.

A closer look at the northern metal insert.
A closer look at the northern metal insert.
The Southern metal insert and, as in N-1, it seems that both of these were put in place after the initial construction
The Southern metal insert and, as in N-1, it seems that both of these were put in place after the initial construction

We can only hope that somewhere there is a description of how these SLM’s were used and what was mounted on them. I doubt if we will be able to deduce too much more from what we have uncovered.

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

 

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV) 

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Sunday 12 July 2015

On Saturday 11th of July Auke, Evan and Johan braved the rain to expand the diggings. I had been too chicken to get wet on the Saturday so I only joined them on the Sunday. Ketchil also visited us on the Sunday, fresh from her recent overseas gallivanting and Leslie arrived later in the day. He had been delayed for three hours while becoming intimately acquainted with his new cell phone. The main digging objective was to uncover as much of the Franklin Adams Observatory (FAO) as possible.  At the same time we would take accurate measurements and photographs of everything we found.

We were also anxious to pinpoint some of the places from which photographs had been taken in the past. This was particularly tricky, because there are now trees where none had been before and there are trees on older photographs that are not there now. Buildings are also a problem because some have been demolished, or had bits added on, and other structures have sprung up where there were none on the older photographs. Evan and I were tasked with this activity and, after some deliberation we thought we had found the spot from which a specific photograph, showing the two piers and sections of the FAO, had been taken.

Wearing my archaeology uniform an suitably protected against the chilly Northwesterly wind
Wearing my archaeology uniform an suitably protected against the chilly Northwesterly wind
From left to right we have Evan, Auke, Kechil hidden behind Auke, Johan and Leslie down on his knees all on the site of the FAO
From left to right we have Evan, Auke, Kechil hidden behind Auke, Johan and Leslie down on his knees all on the site of the FAO

A Tecomaria hedge, which had not been on the photograph in question, now made it impossible to see the FAO from that point. To verify the correctness of our deductions we had to be able to see over the hedge. I climbed onto one of the Moonwatch Pillars (MWP) (number five from the northern end) on the western side of the hedge, while Evan climbed up a tree on the eastern side. Evan could see me but he could not see the position of the southern pier in the FAO. Evan stayed up the tree and I balanced a length of metal irrigation pipe against MWP number five and held a second section of pipe upright in the middle of the FAO’s southern pier. From Evan’s arboreal vantage point the two pipes lined up perfectly so we now knew exactly where the photographer had stood to take the photo. To provide hard evidence we found a rather rickety stepladder and, while I did my best to keep it steady and stop it toppling over while Evan balanced himself precariously on top of the ladder and took the photograph, clearly showing the two irrigation pipes in line. The farthest one (held in position by Auke and Johan) served as a substitute for the non-existent southern pier of the FAO.

That's me up on the MWP and Evan handing me an irrigation pipe before he runs around to the other side of the hedge to climb his tree
That’s me up on the MWP and Evan handing me an irrigation pipe before he runs around to the other side of the hedge to climb his tree

The rest of the morning was spent opening up as much of the FAO observatory as we could find and cleaning away soil from the bits we had already found, so that we could see the construction details and also take measurements.  Of note was the fact that the two piers had been constructed differently. The southern pier seems to have been a better construction, judging by the appearance of the concrete and the brickwork.  In the photographs the southern pier is also the larger (taller) of the two piers so maybe it required a bigger and sturdier base.

Auke demonstrating the latest in archaeological dance moves to Kechil
Auke demonstrating the latest in archaeological dance moves to Kechil, flanked by Leslie (left) and Johan (right) measuring and me fiddling around behind the Eucalyptus tree
Leslie seems dismayed by the fact that Auke wants him to dig down another two meters
Leslie seems dismayed by the fact that Auke wants him to dig down another two meters
The south pier of the FAO with the two additional mountings visible just left of the pier
The south pier of the FAO with the two additional mountings visible just left of the pier

We could find no trace of any foundations. Where the foundations should have been, we did find definite signs of filling in with stones, bits of brick and pieces of masonry. It appears as if trenches had been dug, filled in with pieces of stone and building rubble and probably stamped down firmly before the concrete sections were cast in boxes on top of the filling material. This observation ties in with the appearance of the beam on the site. It has three relatively smooth sides and one very uneven side with impressions that could well be from the stones in the foundation trenches. The FAO was a wooden construction so it would probably not have required conventional foundations.

Leslie and Johan hard at work clearing and cleaning the southern pier of the FAO and just in view on the left are two identical structures to those uncovered next to the southern pier
Leslie and Johan hard at work clearing and cleaning the southern pier of the FAO and just in view on the left are two identical structures to those uncovered next to the southern pier

While looking for foundations we found numerous pieces of glass, most of them in the north and north-eastern section. Most of them appear to be ordinary window glass but there was one piece of bottle, without any distinctive markings as well. In the south-eastern corner of the dig I found the base of a ceramic container which dates to the late 1800’s or very early 1900’s.  This fits in neatly with the FAO’s time frame.

Lunch on the stoep of the Auditorium
Lunch on the stoep of the Auditorium
Auke's raised hand and pointing finger say it's back to work we go!
Auke’s raised hand and pointing finger say it’s back to work we go!

After lunch there was more cleaning and measuring and then we set about trying to find the row of Standard Length Markers (SLM) between the FAO and the Ron Atkins Observatory (ROA). Evan did his thing with the tape measure after careful examining the 1911 Gill-survey. With the first prod with his garden fork he struck cement!  Some quick spade work followed to uncover the second marker from the southern end so that the cleanup and measuring team could swing into action. In short order we found the next three north of that one, and then zeroed in on the most southerly marker. Two of these markers still had the wooden frames, in which the concrete had been cast, in place.

The northern SLM, or at least as much of it as we found that day
The northern SLM, or at least as much of it as we found that day
The SLM second from the northern end and again as we thought this was all there was
The SLM second from the northern end and again as we thought this was all there was
The third SLM from the northern end but here to there was more to be uncovered
The third SLM from the northern end but here to there was more to be uncovered
Leslie working on the fourth SLM from the northern end.
Leslie working on the fourth SLM from the northern end.
The fifth and southernmost SLM which also had some hidden surprises waiting to be uncovered
The fifth and southernmost SLM which also had some hidden surprises waiting to be uncovered

There is still some uncertainty about exactly how these bases for the SLM were constructed or what had been mounted on them. They differ considerably in size and appearance and method of construction.  After the measuring had been done, we covered them in lightly to prevent them from being disturbed and marked their positions with sticks stuck into the ground. We wrapped candy tape around these sticks to make them clearly visible. While placing these sticks I discovered that there was another slab about 20 cm north of the most northerly marker, which we hadn’t detected, and this raised the question as to whether we had not perhaps missed similar sections at the other SLMs. The sun was already setting, so we decided that investigation would have to wait until the next dig.

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV) 

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)