For those of you who have never been to ScopeX or even considered going or, worse still, never heard of it, you really need to do something about it. On 16 September, the 16th annual ScopeX event will be held at the Military History Museum in Johannesburg.
This is ASSA’s premier outreach event, so please remind all friends, family, colleagues, etc. who may be interested, to not only come but to also pass on the news within their sphere of influence. Full details can be found on the website: – PDF flyers and posters can be downloaded from the front page.
There is a full programme of interesting lectures, exhibits, and activities, suitable for people of all ages. The museum is great for a family outing, as are the Zoo next door and the Zoo Lake park around the corner. The evening star party (weather permitting) is also very popular.
To all the amateur telescope makers, astrophotographers and observers, please bring examples of your work to display. Even if you have shown the stuff before, remember that there are always newcomers who have not seen it, and others would like to see it again. Work in progress, no matter how humble, is just as valuable to exhibit as a finely finished product, so that people can understand the process and get ideas. You may even win a prize for your efforts!
Check out the excellent range of items to be won in the raffles. Given the limited number of tickets, your chances are really good.
Auke arranged the Stargazing for MENSA with Yvonne, the Winelands Mensan-In-Chief. He had already presented talks to them on two previous occasions but roped Lynnette and I in for this event because more people were expected and it made sense to have more telescopes available.
The show was to take place at Stellenzicht Winery and the weather did not look good as lots of clouds and even rain was forecast. When we arrived there were lots of clouds spilling over the Helderberg, Haelkop and Stellenbosch Mountain and being driven along by a fairly strong and decidedly chilly southerly wind. We had decided to opt for the two Celestron telescopes “Little Martin” and the “One armed Bandit” partially for space reasons in the cars with the Vito temporarily out of commission and partially to benefit from their automatic finding and tracking ability. I found that in the very windy conditions Lorenzo the 10” Dobsonian would have been a more stable option.
As soon as it was reasonably dark I gave a short talk and a brief what’s up before we got round to showing various objects and talking. The tall oaks to the east kept the moon out of sight till almost closing time which was a pity because the light spill from the winery lights reduced the number of objects we could realistically see quite drastically.
The evening was a reasonable success and thanks go to Yvonne for organising the evening and also for the hospitality and the red wine to keep the chill away. We did not have rain as predicted and the clouds were confined to the mountains and their immediate surroundings but we certainly had wind in abundance. Better luck next time.
Auke got the request and, although it followed hard on the heels of the Helderberg expedition on Saturday we agreed to do the outing, mainly because it was only to be a small group of learners but also because we were curious about the Daniel Academy. Anyway, on Monday evening we set off nice and early from Auke’s place to find the Academy which is situated on Sir Lowry Road between Gordon’s Bay and the N2, but closer to the N2.
We arrived well ahead of the organisers but once they arrived we were directed to a nice open area with no serious obstructions and we set up. Auke did the what’s up and then we set about doing some astronomy by showing the moon and a variety of celestial objects. The site is actually darker than expected so we had more on offer than one normally has in the urbanised Hottentots’ Holland basin.
I had some interesting discussions with a few of the teachers and especially with the “Headmaster”. I won’t go into those discussions here but recommend you the website given earlier in this post to find out more. We left fairly early as the wind turned chilly and not everyone was prepared for the downturn in the temperature.
The first Southern Star party held at Leeuwenboschfontein was a success. So, any suspicions about unlucky 13 were neatly sidestepped or perhaps the jinx only applies to people who suffer from triskaidekaphobia.
Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived on Wednesday the 22nd, downloaded our stuff at Dalzicht and set about getting the shed converted into a lecture area with a display section. Fortunately, their spacious kitchen made organising the coffee area very easy.
Jim Adams (speaker), Jonathan Balladon, Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Steyn Botha, Samuel Botha, Dominique Brink, Johan Brink, Nellie Brink, Anja Bruton, Alan Cassells, Rose Cassells, Pamela Cooper, Chris de Coning, Micah de Villiers, Pierre de Villiers, Barry Dumas, Miemie Dumas, Clair Engelbrecht, Dwayne Engelbrecht, Arné Esterhuizen, Iain Finlay, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Louis Fourie, Maureen Helman, Cheyenne Kersting, Christine Kersting, Harald Kersting, Jamie Kersting, Evan Knox-Davies, Dianne Nxumalo-Kohler, Robin Kohler, Bennie Kotze, Paul Kruger, Lia Labuschagne, Eddy Nijeboer, Jannie Nijeboer, Lorenzo Raynard (speaker), Kim Reitz, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Rogan Roth, Johan Roux (Jnr), (Johan Jnr’s wife), (Johan Jnr’s eldest son), (Johan Jnr’s 2nd son), Alecia Roux, Henda Scott, Barry Shipman, Auke Slotegraaf, Corne van Dyk, and Chris Vermeulen, Alex Wright.
Some of the keen people pitched on Thursday and among them were Deon and Ronelle Begeman. Deon had, as promised at the previous SSP in Bonnievale, constructed two magnificent binocular viewing tripods for Auke and myself. This is really quite an ingenious device with many improvements over what is currently on the market and it is very reasonably priced too when compared to its competitors. I will do a separate post with pictures about it at a later stage.
On Thursday evening Paul and I went up Swartberg in his 4×4. It was a whole lot easier than walking up but also considerably more taxing on one’s nerves and I am not implying that Paul drove recklessly; quite the contrary. It is just that the vehicle adopts a wide variety of very unusual angles during both the ascent and descent and one has to trust the driver a whole lot more than when driving down a normal road.
TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.
Arne and Alex had their vehicle expire on the R318 while on the way to the SSP, but they were picked up by Evan and brought to Leeuwenboschfontein. The two seemed pretty laid back about leaving the car at the side of the road until Monday when they would set about sorting it out from Cape Town.
The beginner’s session at the telescopes was quite successful on Friday as was the beginners talk on Saturday morning.
Jonathan had to leave suddenly on Saturday morning as he was needed to fly a plane somewhere. He promised he would flash his landing lights if his route took him over Leeuwenboschfontein which it apparently didn’t.
During my beginners’ session on Saturday morning, Jim Adams, retired Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA and Anja Bruton Science Engagement Coordinator at the SKA arrived. The problem was that Lorenzo Raynard Communications Manager at the SKA, who was due to give the first talk had not pitched and all efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. Jim, hearing of our predicament, very kindly agreed to give the talk he was scheduled to give that afternoon in Lorenzo’s slot. So we started off with “Spinoff: How investing in astronomy and space science changes life on Earth”. Jim proved to be every bit as good a speaker as Anja had said he was; relaxed, knowledgeable and very good at fielding questions too.
In the meantime, Lynnette and Anja were frantically trying to trace Lorenzo.
Martin Lyons and his wife Pat flew in (literally) especially for the social braai in the lapa at the campsite during lunchtime on Saturday. They stayed until after lunch and then flew home again. According to Paul and Louis, the takeoff was actually quite tense but Martin, during subsequent discussions, downplayed any suggestion of problems.
Just before the braai the Vito was attacked by a vicious tree and lost its back window.
By now Lorenzo had been traced and was on his way but would not make it in time for his time slot. We, or at least Anja, talked Jim into giving a second talk in Lorenzo’s slot. This talk “Robots in Space and Space Exploration; Past, Present and Future” went down very well with the audience. Lorenzo finally pitched later on Saturday afternoon. As his talk would cut into observing time we decided to rather have him give his talk on Sunday morning.
After Jim’s talk and the lively question session we took the usual group photograph and, as is usual, some people did not pitch up. People who were absent were Jonathan Balladon, Steyn & Samuel Botha, Dominique & Nellie Brink and Lorenzo Raynard.
The group photograph was followed by the Pub Quiz which, this year, was orchestrated the usual degree of malevolence and cunning by Auke. After several gruelling rounds the overall winner, by a very large margin was Alex. Well done Alex, you left several past winners staggering around in your slipstream’s dust.
The number of beginners at the telescopes on Saturday evening was disappointing but I am hoping it was the sudden drop in temperature that convinced them to stay indoors.
Lorenzo’s talk on Sunday morning. “The public face of SKA in South Africa” was reasonably well attended and, after some discussion, the great dispersal began and the site emptied fairly rapidly. This year, though, more people stayed on to observe the partial solar eclipse on Sunday afternoon.
Dwayne and Claire, who got engaged during the 11th SSP at Night Sky Caravan Farm, missed the 12th SSP because they were getting married. Now, while attending the 13th SSP, Mr and Mrs Engelbrecht announced they were expecting their first child. I suppose it will be too much to expect them to call the baby SSP, but it would be nice if they would.
On Monday morning we packed up and after Calla had very professionally helped close of and dust proof the gaping hole where the Vito’s rear window had been, Lynnette, Snorre and I also left for home.
This outing started on the 10th of September when we were setup on the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront (this link will take you to a page where you can read more about our monthly outings there). Gert van Lill an educator and Head of Department at Labiance Primary School (this is the school’s web page) was visiting the Waterfront and asked us if we could do something at the school as well. After hours activities would be difficult, so we settled on solar viewing and a small poster display. He undertook to discuss the arrangements with the school and we would then settle on a date. We have had this same enthusiasm many, many times before, only to have it dissipate over time as it became entangled in logistics and imagined difficulties, so we did not let our expectations get out of hand. Gert, however, was serious and before long we had a date, the logistics were sorted out and we had identified the display and viewing area at the school.
So on Friday the 23rd of September Lynnette and I saddled up the Vito and headed for the school just after 07:00. The traffic on the R300 northbound was very heavy but quite reasonable southbound until we got the Van Riebeek Road turnoff when it became bumper to bumper stuff and stayed that way on the R102 all the way to the College Road intersection. Once at the school we parked the Vito and Gert took us in to introduce us to the staff and show us where the essential amenities were. Then out we went and started unloading and setting up. Gert explained that we would be getting all the learners from grades five to seven in batches from about 08:30 through to 13:00. So we would have just over four hours to do our stuff with just over 400 learners (431 to be exact) and their educators but bear in mind we would be out in the full sun for the entire period. It was clearly going to a long hot morning but then solar viewing exercises are always hot stuff.
The hospitality at the school was fantastic. Mrs Mfika brought us coffee shortly after our arrival and later in the morning Mrs Thebus brought is soft drinks, pies, samosas and two chocolate bars. The educators were all very friendly and interested. The school is neat and very well run. The educators that accompanied the various groups of learners were always in control and I was impressed by the general quality of the question the learners asked and also by their general knowledge. The security is top notch and we never ever had the slightest qualms about our belongings possibly being relocated. We have been to a fair number of schools over the course of the last eight years and Labiance really stands out. The school deserves a pat on the back and a good round of applause because it is doing a great job. Congratulations to all concerned and we look forward to a return visit, possibly even an evening session with the Moon and the stars.
Last but not least a very big thank you to Gert van Lill for his initiative, the invitation and the very well organized and smoothly run event.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
August in the Western Cape is known for wet, blustery and cold conditions so we were mentally prepared for the worst during National Science Week 2016. However, the weather was uncharacteristically fine except for the last two days. Fortunately for us the Iziko South African Museum (go here to find out more about this exciting venue) allowed us to move inside and use the large open area adjacent to the now non-existent cafe. Thank you Elsabé and Theo for all your efforts on our behalf.
National Science Week had to be move forward by one week due to the local elections. That also caused some problems because we had already started making arrangements and the change meant changing other things as well. The run-up to National Science Week was a also unsettling because our sponsors had organizational problems, which meant that both the funding and the display material were very, very late. Late funding meant that we had to postpone all purchases and rentals until the very last minute which resulted in a lot of frantic rushing around with panic levels going off the scale every now and again. Scary stuff but we made it in one piece although it was really touch and go with some plans having to be partially shelved due to a lack of time to implement them properly.
Our setup this year shared the amphitheater with the impressive DNA model of the Past All from One Exhibition. Please go here to read more about this interesting exhibition sponsored by Standard Bank.
We had many visitors from overseas and also many visitors from other African countries. Despite the rather nerve racking preparation phase everything actually went off quite well. We definitely had more dubious characters hanging around this year than in 2014. Special thanks to the Iziko security staff who were very efficient and here Benjamin stands out and, quite honestly deserves a medal for his efforts. Despite their surveillance we had items “disappear”, among others Lynnette’s phone and that loss is still having repercussions almost a month later.
But, by and large it was a successful week with lots of sunshine making it easy to demonstrate and discuss renewable energy. The solar cooker, solar oven, and various solar power driven devices were all put to good use and other equipment was used to demonstrate the existence of energy at other wavelengths in the solar spectrum. We also used the telescopes equipped with special filters to good effect so that people could take a look at the sun, the source of all this free energy.
Our poster about solar energy depicted the photo-voltaic plant about 6 km outside the town of De Aar in the Northern Cape Province (go here to read more about this development). The other three projects we mentioned and discussed were Concentrating Solar Plants also situated in the Northern Cape Province. !Ka Xu is located about 40 km from the town of Pofadder (go here to read more about this innovative development). Close-by and just off the R358 Onseepkans road lies a similar development Xina (read more about this by going here).. Equally interesting is the !Khi Solar one project which is being constructed close to the town of Upington (go here to read more about this development).
Many of the South African visitors were totally oblivious of the efforts currently underway in South Africa to harness wind and solar energy. It is indeed a great pity that the handout material was so totally unrelated to the topic of Renewable Energy because people looked for something tangible to take away with them after visiting us and were noticeably disappointed when they discovered that the handouts were not related to the topic.
The late arrival of the handouts and posters also meant that we had to improvise in order to organize our usual displays at the three largest public in our area. Fortunately some of the librarians were very resourceful and able to contribute very good ideas.
It is also a pity that we did not get to see a member of the official inspectorate as we felt that we had a very good setup. As luck would have it an official photographer did turn up on one of the days when rain had forced us indoors. Our indoor display was not nearly as impressive as the outdoor one and, of course, the photographer turned up when we had a very quiet period and only a trickle of visitors.
Our total number of visitors was well over the 4 000 and at the three Libraries we supplied material to, we reached another 12 000 to 15 000. The circulation figure of the newspapers we advertised in was over one and a half million, so the exposure for National Science Week this year, was quite substantial. The NRF/SAASTA should be well satisfied with the number of people reached for the money they spent.
We can only hope that we have very good weather again next year and a smoother, less stressful run-up to the event.
We had bright sunshine and clear skies which was nice but there were no sunspots and also no moon before almost 21:00. So why on earth did we choose Saturday the 20th to set up in the waterfront? Actually we didn’t exactly choose it, it was chosen for us by circumstances. Our scheduled date was Saturday the 13th of August but, let me go right back to the beginning and explain what happened.
We had to decide whether to cancel our Waterfront date on the 13th or to move it one week on. We opted for the latter choice, knowing that the moon would only be out later but still hoping for some sunspots. We didn’t have sunspots, but the change of date wasn’t all negative because the weather was overcast and rainy on the 13th so we would not have been able to set up in the Waterfront in any case.
So, there we were with no sunspots and a late moon but beautiful weather and lots of enthusiastic people (680 visited us) all eager to get to know more about astronomy. Auke also had a table set up with some of the material and demonstrations on renewable energy that we had used during National Science Week. This also attracted quite a lot of attention.
The lack of sunspots gave us the opportunity to talk about other aspects of astronomy and space exploration, after allowing people to view the sun through our specially protected telescopes. Our display about space junk attracted a lot of attention as well. The fact that outer space was a mere 100 km away compared to all the other places on the Pierhead signpost left many of our visitors a bit shell shocked too.
Dirk was not quite his normal chirpy self and still had a cough and sore ribs after his recent indisposition, so he left pretty sharply at 21:00 to get out of the cold night air. Alan and Rose also opted to get home and get some well earned rest while Auke, Lynnette and I decided to have coffee at Den Anker (click here to find out more about this delightful restaurant), where Patrick was delighted to see Lynnette and I again.
Also on the positive side I should mention that we had very little dew, so our equipment and other material was put away dry. This meant Lynnette and I could pack everything away without first unpacking all the stuff and laying it out in the sun to dry. What a joy and also a huge saving in time and effort for the two of us.
“Third time lucky” is an expression one often hears and it certainly applied to or stargazing efforts at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront. After poor weather in May and worse weather in June we had fantastic open skies this time. Unfortunately the Sun wasn’t as well endowed with sunspots as we would have like it to be, which immediately brings to mind the hackneyed expression “What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts”.
Lynnette and I made had to first drop John-Henry off in Mowbray but we were still first on the scene followed by Alan and Rose, then Dirk and lastly Auke and the birthday girl, Wendy. It soon became clear that the fine weather had lured the visitors out in force and there were many more people in the Waterfront than on either of our previous visits. We were soon very busy.
Alan and Rosemary had their eight-inch Dobsonian set up close to the water’s edge. I suppose you can take a man out of the Navy but you can’t really take the sea out of a naval man, Alan? Dirk set up his Celestron close to the two red poodles, probably because he missed his Yorkies, while Auke and Wendy set up Maphefu, Auke’s eight-inch Dobsonian, an outreach veteran, next to the signpost.
Auke had his very nifty demonstration of how to use a simple pinhole to calculate the size of the Sun set up there as well. Lynnette and I set up Lorenzo our workhorse 10-inch Dobsonian, also a veteran of many outreach events, a short distance away from Auke and Wendy.
I was surprised by the large number of foreigners but should not really have been, because the V&A is known to be a magnet for foreign tourists. One Spanish family, on seeing the name Lorenzo on our telescope, came up with the following interesting piece of information.
It was a warm sunny day with very few sunspots but lots of interested and interesting people. The 30% illuminated waxing moon had risen shortly after 11:00, so it was well positioned for Alan and Dirk who do not have solar filters for their telescopes. My, soon to be patented, (Bob) Marley 40 mm Solar-finder worked very well and the erudite Mr Cassells even complimented me by saying it looked “very professional”.
Once the Sun went down it quickly became chilly but the sky was clear and we were able to show the Moon in high definition as well as Jupiter, Mars and Saturn to a host of visitors. I used a 9 mm eyepiece on Lorenzo, which gave visitors a quite spectacular view of the Moon and the other objects but also meant that I was kept busy making corrections to keep the objects in the field of vision.
We packed up at 21:00 just as the dew was beginning to become problematic. At that stage there were still quite a few people around but with a tally of 1622 visitors on our counters we felt that enough was enough. After packing up we handed over Wendy’s birthday present and went our various ways homeward.
On outings like this one always encounters people with odd requests and non-mainstream views and Saturday was no exception. There was one small group that insisted I show them the planet Nibiru and all my diplomatic attempts to convince them of its non-existence came to naught. I eventually resorted to verbal force majeure to get rid of them when they became abusive about my inability to show it to them. This by the way was all in broad daylight! Another gentleman insisted that the telescope was an instrument of the anti-Christ and that Saturn was, in fact, Satan’s seat of power. He eventually wandered of proclaiming to all and sundry that science was actually the anti-Christ not just poor Lorenzo. Lorenzo was relieved.
On Sunday it was all about unpacking and putting all the stuff out to dry before packing everything away again.
When Lynnette and I left Brackenfell the conditions were not all that good for viewing the Sun and we hoped that they would improve during the course of the afternoon and evening. The clouds were thin and patchy so there was some hope.
We had hardly stopped at the Pierhead in the Waterfront when Alan and Rose arrived followed very shortly by Auke and Wendy. Dirk had been delayed and only arrived quite a bit after the rest of us. We set up quickly and got Lorenzo and Maphefu onto the Sun. The high level clouds blurred the image and made it difficult to see the two large sunspots but when the Sun got into a fairly clear patch the image was good. The conditions were not all that pleasant and the cold wind probably reduced the numbers of visitors to the Waterfront because there were definitely fewer passersby than on our previous visit.
While Wendy and I kept the visitors busy on Lorenzo and Maphefu, Dirk was setting up and Auke and Alan were measuring out the size of the Sun in comparison to the inflatable Earth globes we had brought along. They also used chalk to draw the relative sizes of the planets around the signpost on the Pierhead.
Lynnette had packed some delicious sandwiches for the two of us, which went down really well. She had also bought a variety of very nice muffins which she shared out to the rest of the crew to have with their coffee. Lynnette also did her usual with the visitors lists when the telescope operators were tied up and operated Lorenzo when I had to do something else. Her skill at finding the Sun with the Dobsonians also came in very handy when Auke, Wendy or I struggled to find it.
The gusty conditions blew the cover off Lorenzo and sent it spinning over the edge of the pier. Fortunately it lodged in a position where Alan could retrieve it. We had two disasters with our inflatable Earth globes. In one case a boy decided to practice his soccer kick on one and broke the tag to which the string for holding it is attached. To the boy’s mother I would like to say that grabbing his hand and hustling him away as if nothing had happened, sets a very bad example to him and shows a regrettable lack of responsibility on your behalf. The same comment applies to the three youths who forcibly dislodged the other Earth globe and then had the temerity to chirp Alan when he went chasing after it to prevent it being blown into the water.
As time passed the clouds became thicker until we could no longer see the Sun at all and George also lost sight of the Moon. By 17:00 it looked as if we were fighting a losing battle and I had Lorenzo fixed on Lion’s Head giving visitors a clear view of the people sitting and walking around up there. Shortly after 17:30 we decided the weather was not going to clear so we packed up and headed for home.
The only consolation was that there had been no dew so Lynnette and I did not have to unpack and dry everything before packing it all away. However, despite the unfavourable conditions we managed to service just under 300 visitors during the course of the afternoon.
We can only hope that the 09th of July, which is when we are scheduled to set up on the Pierhead again, provides us with better viewing conditions.