Outreach by StarPeople for SKA-Africa during National Science Week 2017 at the Iziko South African Museum: Thursday 17th August 2017

Thursday required an early start to beat the infamous N1-traffic and have breakfast at the Rcafe in Long Street (go here to find out more) before starting our day. We left Brackenfell at 05:17, which was actually later than our original ITD of 05:00. ITD? My shorthand for Intended Time of Departure. We were parked in front of Rcafe by 05:45 which meant that the trip had taken us a mere 28 minutes. As soon as the doors opened at 06:00 Lynnette and I went inside to order two much needed Americano’s to start the day properly. What really amazed us was that the owner and staff recognized us the moment we walked in the door and it was a few days more than a year since we’d last been there! Auke arrived shortly after us and ordered his cappuccino. After breakfast, we headed for the Iziko South African Museum (click here for more information) where Benjamin was waiting to unlock the gates for us and set out the traffic cones to prevent vehicles entering our display and observing space in the amphitheatre. The weather was clear but blustery. The wind was, in fact, such a nuisance that I eventually took down and put away the posters, as the frames were being badly scratched every time they toppled over onto the brick paving. Anyway, by 08:00 we were ready to roll and all we needed was a visitor or two, which we soon got.

TOP LEFT: 05:20 and on our way to Cape Town for an early breakfast with Auke at the Rcafe in Long Street. CENTRE LEFT: View from the Gardens with the posters up, telescopes aligned, solar filters taped and waiting for the people. BOTTOM LEFT: View from the Museum with Auke making last minute adjustments. TOP RIGHT: I quite honestly do not know what on Earth I was doing here. Perhaps trying to get an upside down view of our Universe on the poster? BOTTOM RIGHT: This group was from Germany and apparently unable to speak English so the guide worked through a translator. The guide was not wearing a badge and when Lynnette asked him why not, he put his finger to his lips, refused to sign our register and disappeared very quickly with his group.
TOP LEFT: This huge group of highly mobile, extremely vociferous, perpetual motion entities were disguised as pre-school children but I wasn’t fooled. TOP RIGHT: Looking through the telescope seemed to limit them to a single location for a very short period of time before they shot off again at high speed exercising their vocal cords to maximum effect. BOTTOM LEFT: Edward talking to Jay van den Berg, one-time archaeologist and now Karoo Palaeontologist at the Iziko South African Museum, after having been poached by Dr Roger Smith. Nice meeting you Jay. BOTTOM RIGHT: Interspersed among the myriad of short people were teachers and a few parents who seemed to create small islands of order and stability around themselves as they moved around.

Thursday’s are popular school days at Iziko and we had three groups that we managed to convince that they should take a peek at the Sun. There were several other school groups whose teachers waved us away when we invited them to view the Sun. Being a weekday many of our visitors were from outside the country’s borders as most South Africans were hard at work earning an income. Many of the tour guides with the groups declined to let their tourists take a look at the Sun. Their reason was mostly that they had a schedule to keep to and did not have the time. Nevertheless, we had groups from Gabon, Thailand, Hong Kong, France, Netherlands, Israel, and Germany.

TOP LEFT: Auke showing a group the Sun and discussing Solar Physics. TOP RIGHT: An attentive group waiting their turn to look at the Sun with Auke. BOTTOM LEFT: This local couple was far more clued up about things like Space Weather than the average visitor. Always pleasant to talk to people that know enough to ask some testing questions. BOTTOM RIGHT: This visitor conveniently helped himself to a view of the Sun while Edward answered questions in the background.
TOP LEFT: Edward and a group of younger visitors accompanied by a watchful parent. TOP RIGHT: This very well organised primary school visited us with their teachers. It was lovely having such an orderly group. BOTTOM LEFT: A teacher keeping an eye (and ear) on Auke as he talks to a group of learners. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette, with a young person, who was so eager to look at the Sun that he couldn’t wait for the ladder, but stood on the tips of his toes to reach the eyepiece.

It was also nice to have the research staff from the backrooms of Iziko pay us a visit. I was especially pleased to make the acquaintance of Jay van den Berg a palaeontologist on Dr Roger Smith’s staff and Clair Browning the newly appointed Curator of the Karoo Collection.

TOP: Auke with some members of a group that came through in the morning. BOTTOM: Packing up. It never ceases to amaze me that, despite careful planning, there are always things that don’t seem to fit where they were when one unpacked them.

The problem of getting people to sign our visitor’s book was highlighted for the umpteenth time. Many people who viewed the Sun through our telescopes flatly refused to sign the list and some actually became quite agitated when asked to do so. This problem is exasperated when one is busy and you simply do not have time to chase after people and ask them to sign. So, once again, our signature total (288) and counter tally (597) do not agree. I am more convinced than ever that the answer lies in devising a means to automatically count the number of people who look into each telescope’s eyepiece.

Because the Sun appears as a very bland and uninteresting white ball as a result of of the solar filter fitted to Lorenzo, many viewers say it looks like the Moon. So I decided to do some experimenting with filters to make the image more “exciting”. The images were all taken with my mobile and I am afraid that I do not have the world’s steadiest hand, so the photos are not of the best quality.

TOP: The Sun viewed through a 25mm eyepiece on Lorenzo, the 10”Dobsonian. Lorenzo was fitted with a solar filter constructed with Baader AstroSolar™ Safety Film. I think the focus is reasonable for a mobile phone. CENTRE: The same setup as in the first photo but with a Baader Solar Continuum Filter (CWL 540nm) added to the eyepiece and I am clearly struggling more with the focus than in the first photo. BOTTOM: The same setup as in the first photo but with a Meade Series 4000 Filter No 23A added to the eyepiece and here my focus is much better. NOTE: All photos were taken with my Samsung A5 mobile at the eyepiece.
TOP: This is the image of the sunspots for the day as provided by the Solar Dynamics Team with the Earth to give one perspective. I am afraid that between Lorenzo and I we cannot quite manage this. BOTTOM: This is an enlarged view of the sunspots on the bottom image of the previous group of photos. I have flipped the photo so that the layout matches that of the top photo.

 

Outreach by StarPeople for SKA-Africa during National Science Week 2017 at the Iziko South African Museum: Sunday 13th August 2017

Sunday was an almost perfect day for an outreach event in the amphitheater of the Iziko South African Museum (click here for more information) in Cape Town.  Lynnette and I, unfortunately, got there a bit later than we had intended. Auke had almost finished setting up by the time we arrived and we just managed to get Lorenzo setup before the first visitors put in an appearance.

TOP LEFT: All packed up in the new workhorse, courtesy of SKA-Africa (Click here for more information). TOP RIGHT: Snorre putting on his pissed-off-to-be-left-behind act. BOTTOM LEFT: The start of a table cloth on Table Mountain had me a tad worried because once the South-Easter gets going you do not want to be in the amphitheater in front of the Iziko South African Museum with telescopes, banners, and posters. BOTTOM RIGHT: The first group in were Dutch tourists, here gathered around Auke with Lynnette lending a hand.
TOP LEFT: Lynnette and Auke showing a small group the almost spotless sun through Lorenzo the 10” Dobby. TOP RIGHT: Edward, who actually remembered the ladder this time, helping a brightly dressed young lady to look at the sun. BOTTOM LEFT: Rose’s Egyptian geese and this year’s batch of young ones on a morning stroll. In 2009 they were officially declared a pest in the United Kingdom. (Click here for more information) BOTTOM RIGHT: Auke in a serious discussion with a small group of visitors.

While we were setting up, Benjamin, the museum security guard, came round to say hello and put out the traffic cones thereby preventing people from attempting to park among the telescopes. Throughout the rest of the day, he appeared every now and again, keeping a watchful eye on the ever present idlers and strollers who often have less than honest intentions.

In the background are our banners; the SKA banner is partially hidden on the left, with the striking StarPeople banner in the middle and the impressive Sun banner on the right. In the foreground, three guests try out the solar viewing glasses.
TOP LEFT: Three guests heading for the museum after Lynnette showed them the sun and Auke taking a break in the background. TOP RIGHT: Auke and a small group of tourists at the telescope. BOTTOM LEFT: Edward, Lorenzo and a young astronomy enthusiast. BOTTOM RIGHT: The museum building reflected in our new 4×4 vehicle supplied by the SKA.
TOP LEFT: The very striking StarPeople poster designed by Auke and beautifully framed thanks to Dirk’s donation of the frame. TOP RIGHT: Edward in conversation with a group that eventually showed interest in attending the next Southern Star Party too. BOTTOM LEFT: Late afternoon visitors and you can see the shadows of the trees encroaching on our viewing territory. BOTTOM RIGHT: A bee that seemed to have trouble flying for more than a short distance at a time was rescued after almost being stepped on.

We had a steady stream of visitors throughout the day. However, every time a tour group passed through the activity around the telescopes peaked and required all hands on deck. It was really a pity that, other than one lone sunspot (2670) which was about to disappear over the rim of the sun, there was no activity to be seen. I found the overseas visitors far more aware of astronomical matters than the South Africans. Having said that though, Lynnette had one local three-year old who knew the names of all the planets and, when quizzed, also knew which planet was the smallest and which was the largest!

TOP LEFT: Lynnette and I would love to take this vehicle out on the back roads up in the Northern Cape. TOP RIGHT: Auke pointing out matters of astronomical interest on some of our A3 posters mounted on hardboard. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Lorenzo and a couple of enthusiastic visitors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette urging a family to buy the Sky Guide (go here to find out more) and become clued up amateur astronomers.

All in all, it was a very pleasant day with the wind dying down by mid-morning and the few clouds that there were never really posing a serious threat to our solar observing. One of the problems, that occurs every year, with this kind of event is the effort to get people to sign our visitor’s register. Some people just refuse point blank and others again refuse to give contact details. During periods of high activity, when everyone is manning a telescope, we also lose signatures because there is nobody available to monitor if visitors sign the register or not. Our counters, as is usual, gave far higher figures than the number of signatures but, because one is busy with visitors, one probably also misses visitors with the counters. Maybe we should get some inventive person to install a counter at the eyepiece that counts when people look into it.

TOP: Everything cleared up and packed away as we prepare to head for home. BOTTOM: The Tygerberg against a clear blue sky and the unusual treat of having the N1 relatively traffic free.

 

Outreach by StarPeople for SKA-Africa during National Science Week 2017 at the Brackenfell Public Library: Thursday 10th August 2017.

Thursday was a very different kettle of fish at the Brackenfell Public Library compared to Tuesday. No sun, lots of low gray clouds and a cold, blustery north-westerly wind. We implemented plan-B and moved inside, as discussed previously with the library staff.  Amanda helped us get organized in the library hall and pointed out the spots in the foyer we could use for posters and A-frames.

Despite putting up notices inviting people to come and flummox us with their astronomy queries we had the grand total of two visitors the entire morning. Those two were actually old friends, Billy and Halcyone Brits who had heard that we would be there and come specially to see us.

TOP LEFT: The entrance to the Brackenfell Public Library against a cloudy background. TOP RIGHT: One of our signs attempting to entice interested persons into our Astronomical clutches. BOTTOM LEFT: Edward and the small group of learners at the start of the afternoon’s talk. BOTTOM RIGHT: Auke holding the attention of some learners.

The afternoon wasn’t much better as the cold weather seemed to have thinned out the number of learners quite drastically too. Following Lynnette’s suggestion, we gave a talk to the small group that was there.  This talk was one we had previously compiled with input from the staff at Boesmansrivier Primary School for use with their learners. The talk was quite enthusiastically received by the learners present. Their enthusiasm was, in fact, at times more than just a bit rowdy!

TOP LEFT: One of the slides in the talk which Edward uses to emphasize the negative effects of light pollution. TOP RIGHT: The age-spread of the learners in the group was quite large. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke discussing an issue with a small group of the learners. BOTTOM RIGHT: The talk actually held the attention of the learners remarkably well.

Murphy saved his final trick for the end of the day. When we tried to start the Vito and leave for home it refused point blank. Not too much of a problem as I had a spare battery at home.  We phoned a friend who nipped round, picked me up and dropped me at home. I picked up the spare battery, popped it into the boot of the Polo, and headed back to the Library where Lynnette was waiting.

Murphy now played his next trick. The new battery was about one millimeter too large to fit into the battery compartment of the Vito and the battery leads were too short to reach the battery in any other place outside the battery compartment, where we would be able to shut the door. Lynnette and I quickly ran through plans C to Y before I hit on plan-Z. I connected the spare battery and, while I was holding it, Lynnette started the Vito. Lynnette then kept the engine running quite fast and I disconnected the spare battery, connected the old battery, and slid that into the battery compartment. It all worked perfectly without any shocks, sparks or short-circuits. I was very careful not to throw a clearly crestfallen Murphy the middle finger as he has a very long memory.

Lynnette drove the Polo home and I followed in the Vito, finally bringing the day to a close.

Outreach by StarPeople for SKA-Africa during National Science Week 2017 at the Brackenfell Public Library: Tuesday 08th August 2017.

We set up just outside the entrance to the Brackenfell Public Library. The forecast said it would be a sunny day so we also put up our gazebo and decorated that with some of our banners. The banners look nice, provide added wind protection, make the gazebo sturdier and also help prevent uncontrolled access. Sunelle, Lötter and her staff used the material we gave them, predominantly from our own stocks, to put up displays in the entrance foyer and several other parts of the library

The Vito all loaded and ready to go.
LEFT: The cover of the mission MeerKAT booklets received from SKA-Africa. RIGHT: Part of the static display set up inside the library by the very helpful library staff.
TOP LEFT: Our setup as seen from the parking area by visitors approaching the front door of the library.  TOP RIGHT: Our setup as seen from a different angle in the parking area. BOTTOM LEFT: Lorenzo and I getting our dose of Cape Winter sunshine. Other than the learners we also had many people bringing young children to the library show interest. BOTTOM RIGHT: The flow of viewers fluctuated quite a lot during the morning but during the afternoon had much more activity and in a fairly steady stream.

As we have experienced in the past it takes a lot of effort to get the public to come and take a look, despite the fact that the telescope was very visible, as were our A-frames and pull-up banners. One has to resort to accosting people, as they approach the entrance and begging them to come and take a peek at the Sun and its lonely sunspot.

TOP LEFT: An enthusiastic group around Lynnette’s table.  TOP RIGHT: Some of the younger learners had the usual problem of not knowing which eye to shut when looking into the eyepiece. BOTTOM LEFT: Edward getting the sun into the eyepiece for the next viewer. BOTTOM RIGHT: Some of the older learners asked questions and while many of the others looked and did not show much interest.

This all changed dramatically during the afternoon when the schools closed; we were almost inundated!  The Library serves as a focal point for learners whose parents are at work as they also use the library hall to do their homework. The youngsters from the apartments across the road from the library simply use the library and environs as an entertainment area. For the latter group, our presence was a welcome added attraction to their normal routine.

TOP: The morning was generally slow with older adults coming in ones and twos.  BOTTOM: Edward taking a break during a quieter period in the afternoon.

Thanks to the sunny weather and the eager learners it was eventually quite a pleasant and productive outing.

Our spot, all cleared up in the late afternoon sun and waiting for our return on Thursday.

 

Outreach & Guiding for a National Science and Technology Forum group (NSTF Brilliants) to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT): Friday 23rd to Monday 26th June 2017.

Anja Bruton, the Science Promotions Coordinator at SKA Africa, approached StarPeople to accompany the NSTF Brilliants group (http://www.nstf.org.za/youth/brilliants-programme/) on the tour to the SKA and SALT and we jumped at the opportunity. Anja and Dimpho would fly to Kimberly to meet up with Jansie Niehaus and Wilna Eksteen from the NSTF (http://www.nstf.org.za/) and a group of students, chosen for their exceptional performance in the 2016 Matriculation exams; specifically in the Science paper. This group would fly down from Gauteng and, after a day’s sightseeing in Kimberley, they would tackle the long journey to Carnarvon in two Quantums on Saturday the 24th. They would also be accompanied by two photographers who were tasked with documenting the trip.

Lynnette, Auke, Snorre and I would leave Cape Town for Carnarvon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnarvon,_Northern_Cape) early on Thursday the 23rd and book in at the Lord Carnarvon Guest House. Anja and the rest of the group were scheduled to arrive shortly after lunch on Saturday and on Saturday evening StarPeople were to present a stargazing session at Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base about 15 km outside Carnarvon. On Sunday morning the group would visit the SKA site itself and after that, e would depart for Sutherland. On Sunday evening there was to be stargazing session at the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre and on Monday morning we would tour the SAAO facilities on the hill before heading for Cape Town.

However, as Robert Burns once said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” First of all, Auke had to pull out because of domestic complications. Then the car hire company notified us that the vehicle we required could only be delivered on Friday morning and not on Thursday afternoon as requested. This, of course, scuppered our 05:00 departure plan, but Lynnette and I made sure that we had everything packed and ready to load by 08:00 when the vehicle was scheduled to arrive. However, it only arrived at about 08:30 and, when it did arrive, it was petrol and not diesel driven as had been requested. Disaster! Petrol-driven vehicles are not allowed access to the SKA site because their spark plugs generate interference for the radio telescope. It is more than 600 km to Carnarvon and we had to be there before dark. We also still had to load the vehicle so, if we sent it back and insisted on a diesel driven one, there was no chance of reaching Carnarvon before dark. We signed for the vehicle, finished loading in record time and at 09:40 we set off for Carnarvon.

TOP: The hired Hyundai H1 with the StarPeople door magnets.  CENTRE: Entering Malmesbury.  BOTTOM: Passing Moorreesburg on the N7.

The journey was long but uneventful. We stopped for petrol and Lynnette’s packed lunch in Vanrhynsdorp (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanrhynsdorp) after 290 km. We then stopped halfway up the spectacular Vanrhyns Pass to take pictures. The original pass was constructed in 1880 by Thomas Bain and climbs almost 600 m from the Knersvlakte to its summit, situated at just over 800 m, which is about the same as the top of Du Toitskloof pass. The pass has an average gradient of 1:15 with the steepest section being 1:12.

TOP: Looking West from Piekenierskloof Pass toward the northern end of the Piketberg.  CENTRE: Citrusdal in the distance against the backdrop of the Cederberg with Cederberg Sneeukop just left of centre.  BOTTOM: The turn-off to Clanwilliam and this rebuilt section of the N7 is a pleasure to drive.
TOP: Stop and Go delay due to the reconstruction of the bridge across the Olifants River.  CENTRE: The light coloured patches on the hill in the background are called Heuweltjies and their origin is a much-debated topic. Go to any one of the following links to read up on them. (1. https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Heuweltjie) (2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuweltjie#cite_note-7) (3. http://www.sajs.co.za/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/SAJS%20112_1-2_Cramer_Research%20Article.pdf) (4. https://www.infona.pl/resource/bwmeta1.element.elsevier-ab969e23-2c87-36b0-a144-1c5ed9ebd6af) BOTTOM: Vanrhynsdorp and the cliffs of the Matzikamma mountain range. Maskam lies at the eastern end while Gifberg is on the western edge. These mountains form the western boundary of the Great Escarpment.
TOP: Approaching the Knersvlakte on the R27 and in the distance the edge of the Great Escarpment.  2nd FROM TOP: Vanrhyns Pass which takes the R27 up to the top of the Great Escarpment is visible in the distance.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: The R27 begins the ascent of the pass.  BOTTOM: Up we go around one of the many fairly sharp bends in the road up the pass.

Shortly after Vanrhyns Pass, we passed the turnoff to the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve (here is a Wikipedia link http://www.footprint.co.za/oorlogskloof.htm ) with its spectacular glacial floor, but there was no time to visit that on this trip. The reserve is situated just west of Nieuwoudtville (http://www.nieuwoudtville.com/the-treasure/). Next was Calvinia the main town of the Hantam region (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinia) with its extra outsize red post-box and, 230 km after Vanrhynsdorp, we reached Williston (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williston,_Northern_Cape), where we made a brief stop for another light snack and to answer a call of nature, before tackling the last 125 km to Carnarvon. Time constraints had prevented us from visiting the Langbaken cheese farm (http://karoospace.co.za/cheesemakers-upper-karoo/) south of Williston, but we will save that for another day.

TOP: View back over the Knersvlakte toward the West Coast and the distant South Atlantic Ocean.  2nd FROM TOP: View southeast past a mass of protruding sandstone in the direction of the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Steep cliffs of Table Mountain sandstone group rise above the road.  BOTTOM: A very large red flower post-box in Calvinia.
TOP: The R63 stretches out ahead of us as we approach Williston.  2nd FROM TOP: The shadow of the Earth and the pink layer of the Venus Girdle over Carnarvon as we approach on the R63.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Entering the outskirts of Carnarvon.  BOTTOM: Our destination the Lord Carnarvon Guest House in Carnarvon.

On the last stretch, we had to push it a bit and reached Carnarvon in the gathering dusk at 17:45, where we reported to Pieter Hoffman at the Lord Carnarvon guest house in Daniel Street (https://www.carnarvon.co.za/lcindex.htm). This building was the Officer’s Mess during the Anglo-South African War and he has done a magnificent job of restoring it. We unloaded, got Snorre settled in, and walked round to Lord’s Kitchen in Victoria Street (https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Restaurant_Review-g4226745-d8743616-Reviews-Lord_s-Carnarvon_Northern_Cape.html), also run by Pieter, for supper. After supper, we walked back to the Lord Carnarvon and had the amusing experience of being escorted by a police vehicle because “nobody walks around Carnarvon in the dark”.  This remark struck us a rather odd considering the fact that there were quite a few other local people in the streets.

TOP: Our very well appointed accommodation in the Lord Carnarvon Guest House.  2nd FROM TOP: Snorre making himself at home on his red blanket which we always put over the bed wherever we stay. Although he never, or hardly ever, sleeps on our bed at home, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to do so when we are away from home.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Interior of the front section in Lord’s Kitchen.  BOTTOM: Outside view of our room in the guest house.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast at the Lord Carnarvon, Lynnette, Snorre and I took to the streets to do some house hunting in case we should decide to move to Carnarvon. The results of this expedition were rather disappointing as we soon discovered that, like many small country towns in South Africa, the homeowners wanted lots of cash for the property that was, in our opinion, worth a lot less. The other aspect which surprised us, even though Anja had warned us about it, was the negative sentiment toward the SKA project and the amount of disinformation circulating in the town. This varied from stories that farmers were being chased off their farms without compensation or that farms were being confiscated in order to distribute the land to previously disadvantaged persons, and even that townsfolk were to be evicted so that four blocks of houses could be knocked down to build a college. We also came across an openly hostile sign in a back yard in Kidd Street. Most obvious was the fact that almost everyone we spoke to had no bloody clue what the SKA was, or what it was about.

TOP: Snorre enjoying our slow exploration of Carnarvon.  2nd FROM TOP: Some locals on the outskirts of Carnarvon.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Victoria Street and Lord’s Kitchen with the Adjacent Lord Carnarvon Hotel.  BOTTOM: Sign in the back yard of a house in Kidd Street which we found to be indicative of the attitude of many Carnarvon residents we spoke to.

Shortly before 16:00 Anja let us know they had arrived and were having a late lunch at Lord’s Kitchen. We popped around and Anja introduced us to the group. After the meal the group dispersed to their various rooms and Anja, Dimpho, Lynnette and I set off for Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base, to set up Lorenzo for the stargazing later that evening. Mission accomplished we headed back to town to collect all our warm gear and have supper. After supper, the five vehicle cavalcade made its way back to Klerefontein. On a hill southeast of where we were situated was the large 7,6 m dish of the C-BASS radio telescope (https://www.ska.ac.za/science-engineering/c-bass/) catching the last rays of the setting sun as it patiently toiled away sweeping back and forth to map the radio sky in the 4,5-5,5 MHz frequency range. The C-BASS dish, recently moved from Hartebeeshoek (http://www.hartrao.ac.za/) to Klerefontein, is the southern component (the other telescope is in California) of a project to produce a microwave (short-wavelength radio) radiation map similar to the one produced by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_(spacecraft)), but at longer wavelengths than Planck. C-BASS will also measure the polarization of the radiation.

Anja split the students into two groups for the planned activities. One group stayed with Lynnette, Lorenzo and I to do some stargazing. The other group went inside to participate in Skype Q&A session with Jim Adams, Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA (https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/people/adamsj).The Milky Way was magnificent and drew many Ooh’s and Aah’s from the group. I did a basic what’s-up-tonight and then kept talking while Lynnette operated Lorenzo. There was no Moon but fortunately, Jupiter and Saturn were nicely placed and we could also show them a selection of the other well-known objects. After about an hour the groups changed around and Lynnette, Lorenzo and I repeated our earlier performance. Once we had done with the second group, it was packing up time and then back to town for a hot shower and some much-needed sleep.

Sunday morning at 06:15 it was breakfast time at Lord’s Kitchen and, after collecting our packed lunches, it was all aboard for the trip out to Klerefontein where Anja gave us a Health and Safety briefing and had us all fill in indemnity forms. During the briefing, the emphasis was placed on the mayhem electronic devices caused for the radio telescopes. Mobile phones, which all had to be switched off, were a prime source and even my hearing aid’s hands-free device, that uses Blue Tooth, had to be switched off. After all, this had been sorted out, our motorcade tackled the more than 70 or so kilometers out to the actual SKA site. Large sections have already been tarred, but there are still fairly long sections that are very rough and dusty. Lynnette and I had to leave our petrol driven vehicle with Snorre in it just inside the checkpoint at what used to be the Meysdam farmhouse and continue with Anja and Dimpho in their vehicle. Snorre was quite safe, with enough fresh air, water and food to keep him busy till we get back. We made sure that the vehicle would be in the deep shade while we were away too.

TOP LEFT: Coffee was clearly a priority for most of the group.  TOP RIGHT: They came in by drips and drabs.  BOTTOM LEFT: André, one of the drivers, looking most inquisitive.  BOTTOM RIGHT: Leftovers tell the tale of what was popular and what wasn’t.
TOP: A quiet Victoria Street at 07:20.  CENTRE: Entering Klerefontein with the C-BASS dish on the hill in the distance.  BOTTOM: A dusty section of the road out to the SKA site.

Our first stop was the very impressive, half underground, Karoo Array Processor Building. Placing the centre below ground level was essential to minimize the amount of interference from the computers. In addition to being below ground level, the whole installation is housed inside a huge Faraday cage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage). It is ironic that a radio telescope, which cannot function without massive computer support, also experiences its most annoying interference from computers. It was while touring the Processor Building point that I realized that, if I had simply put my phone on Airplane Mode, I could have brought it with me and taken photographs. Some mothers are just unfortunate to have very dense children! Our next stop was the huge, hanger-sized building where the MeerKAT dishes are assembled. It is only when one stands next to one of these huge constructions lying flat on the floor that one really gets an idea of their overwhelming size. Needless to say, at this point, I mentally administered several more resounding kicks to my posterior for not having anything to take pictures with. After completing this part of the tour it was back into the vehicles for the drive out to the telescopes.

The first stop was the KAT-7 dishes (http://www.ska.ac.za/) where all but one pointed south, collecting data on some unseen object light years away in a distant part of the Universe. KAT-7 was a precursor engineering test bed for the larger MeerKAT array and also served as a demonstration of South Africa’s technological ability when the bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was submitted. However, KAT-7, the first radio telescope ever to be built with a dish consisting of composite material, is also a science instrument in its own right. Each 12-meter dish is fitted with a prime focus receiver and a Stirling pump cooling unit that supplies the cryogenic cooling to keep the electronics at 75 K. The total collecting area of the seven dishes is about 2000 m2 and they function in the 3 to 30 cm wavelength range at frequencies between 1 200 and 1 950 MHz. KAT-7’s minimum baseline (shortest distance between two dishes) is 26 m and the maximum baseline (longest distance between two dishes) is 185 m. These seven dishes will eventually be decommissioned as science instruments when their successors, the MeerKat Array, comes online and be made available for serious amateurs.

Then we were off to find a MeerKAT dish (http://www.ska.ac.za/) that was positioned in such a way that it would be easy to photograph, which wasn’t easy because, despite the fact that they were lots of them, they were all facing in different directions. It really is an impressive sight, seeing these dishes scattered across the Karoo veldt against the backdrop of the low, dolerite topped hills that surround the area, with the dolerite providing a natural radio screen for the telescopes. Considering that only half of the MeerKAT dishes have been erected so far, one can only imagine what a spectacle it will be when all 64 MeerKAT dishes have been completed. The final Karoo Array Telescope or KAT will definitely be a must-see destination and a breathtaking spectacle for all who visit it. MeerKAT will eventually form the core of the KAT radio telescope array. These 13,5m dishes differ from those of KAT-7 in that they use an offset Gregorian configuration for the placing of the secondary dish and the receivers. Each dish is equipped with three receivers; 0,58 – 1,015 GHz, 1 – 1,75 GHz and 8 – 14,5 GHz. The MeerKAT minimum baseline is 29 m and the maximum baseline is 8 km.

Both KAT-7 and MeerKAT are entirely South African conceived, funded and built enterprises and, even after the construction of the KAT, which has multiple international partners, these two installations will remain entirely South African.

Our next stop was the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) (http://www.ska.ac.za/) which is the simplest construction imaginable and is the successor to the Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization (PAPER). PAPER has 128 antennae situated at the SKA site and 32 antennae situated in West Virginia in the USA. HERA is an American, British and South African collaboration that will eventually have 331 antennae of 14 m each at the SKA site. The existing PAPER installation will be moved to a location slightly west of the HERA installation and eventually decommissioned when HERA is fully operational. Whereas KAT-7, MeerKAT, and KAT are multipurpose installations HERA has only one fixed goal; it is going to probe back into time to try and find that moment when the very first stars switched on to light up in the Universe. In the process, it will produce a three-dimensional map of the universe during that specific period using radio waves in the 100-200 MHz frequency range. This project is the radio astronomy equivalent of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and when they succeed, this project could very well be in line for a Nobel Prize. The antennae are fixed in one position, pointing straight up at the sky and have no moving parts, which greatly reduces the cost of the installation. What makes this project remarkable is that it is constructed with materials bought off the shelf in a local hardware store by people from the local community of Carnarvon who have been trained by SKA scientists. The big dishes of KAT-7 and the even bigger dishes of MeerKAT look like science instruments. HERA, however, looks like an inverted chicken coop or perhaps some sort of landscape art and not very scientific at all.

We went back to the Processor Building to enjoy our packed lunches and, while there Lynnette noticed that one of the Quantums had a flat tyre, necessitating a wheel change. After lunch, Anja and Dimpho dropped Lynnette and I off at Meysdam to pick up our vehicle and then we all traipsed back to Klerefontein where Anja and Dimpho changed vehicles before we all drove back to Carnarvon to refuel. Lynnette and I had done that the previous evening so we just hung around until the whole convoy was ready to start the long journey to Sutherland, which Anja had elected to do via Loxton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loxton,_Northern_Cape). The just under 70 km from Carnarvon to Loxton was a breeze on a nice tarred road but then came the long 100 km grind on the R356 gravel road to Fraserburg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraserburg). We had been contemplating a visit to the palaeosurface at Gansefontein, just outside Fraserburg, but time was against as; seriously against us. We had hardly left Fraserburg when the sun set and, as it got darker, driving became more and more difficult. The 110 km stretch to Sutherland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutherland,_Northern_Cape) was going to take much, much longer than planned and our stargazing appointment at the SAAO site (http://www.saao.ac.za/about/visting/sutherland/) outside Sutherland had to be canceled. Because Lynnette and I were the last car in the convoy, we collected all the dust from the four vehicles ahead of us. This forced us to fall back more than a kilometer behind the fourth vehicle before we had a clear view of the road ahead.

We all made it safely to Sutherland and, while the majority of the group was booking into the Sutherland Hotel (http://www.sutherlandhotel.co.za/accommodation.php), Lynnette, Snorre, Anja and I as well as the two drivers of the Quantums, booked into Kambro Kind Guest House, where we were welcomed by Juanita Hutchings. Once booked in we went back to the Hotel where we had a typical Karoo supper consisting of meat, meat and more meat with a few vegetables right at the end of the buffet table.  It is just a pity that the hotel did not think of having a nice fire going in the dining area on such a cold evening.

After supper Lynnette and I, Lorenzo, Anja, the photographers and several students drove out to Middelfontein to do some stargazing (http://www.roomsforafrica.com/establishment.do?id=13879&gclid=Cj0KCQjws-LKBRDCARIsAAOTNd6cUH9fdKlh5bbYksnV0F5D-BQPK4kMRrO8IdxP7D_a6uSOZX_UQX8aAoUUEALw_wcB). The photographers were spending the night on Middelfontein, but the rest of us would have to drive back to town to get some sleep. The right side sliding door on our vehicle, which had been playing up since the previous day went on strike when we started unloading. It first refused to open and then, when we forced it to open, it refused to shut without the use of considerable force and, once shut, it refused to open again so we left it shut. Then the courtesy light inside the door which was supposed to only go on when the door was open, decided it wanted to be on even when the door was shut. A resounding thump on the outside of the door convinced the light to go off and stay off. Once that was sorted out we could get round to the stargazing which was a presented in the same format as on Saturday evening at Klerefontein and, once again, worked very well. So well, in fact, that Anja had to chase us all off to bed around midnight.

On Monday morning Lynnette and I packed up before breakfast and, true to Sutherland’s reputation of being very cold, the windscreen of our vehicle was thickly frosted over and the fishpond had a layer of ice over it, thick enough to walk on. After breakfast at Kambro Kind, everyone gathered at the Hotel before departing for the SAAO site where the group spent some time examining the displays in the Visitor’s Centre before Anthony Mitas took us under his very capable wing and shepherded us up the hill to start our tour at the Southern African Large Telescope or SALT (http://www.saao.ac.za/science/facilities/telescopes/salt/). SALT is an international collaboration between South Africa and several overseas partners and is operated as a separate research entity on the SAO site.

TOP LEFT: In Sutherland, you can stand on your fishpond – sometimes.  CENTRE LEFT: The group gets kinky necks as Anthony points up.  BOTTOM LEFT: The SALT mirror.  RIGHT: A section of the beautiful quilt in the foyer of the Visitor’s Centre.
LEFT: SALT all the way to the dome.  RIGHT: SALT against the backdrop of the blue Karoo sky and some wispy clouds.

Anthony presented a most comprehensive and informative talk to the group and, to everyone’s delight, arranged to have the 32-ton behemoth raised on its air cushions and rotated for us. After SALT we went to the 1,9-meter telescope. This is the second largest optical telescope in South Africa and, as the Radcliffe Telescope, it used to be housed in Pretoria but uncontrolled light pollution chased it south in the mid-1970’s (http://assa.saao.ac.za/sections/history/observatories/radcliffe_obs/). It has since acquired new instrumentation designed and built by SAAO-staff and still has many years of valuable scientific life ahead of it. At the telescope, we were met by Dr. Potter, a senior astronomer on the SAAO staff. Dr. Potter talked most informatively about the telescope and his own work as well as the other projects being conducted on the telescope. He also demonstrated how easy it was to operate the telescope, especially after the installation of modern electronic control systems, and showed the group around the control room as well.

After saying goodbye to Dr. Potter and Anthony, we stopped off in Sutherland to refuel and then made a beeline for Cape Town where the group had an 18:00 appointment at the SAAO headquarters in Observatory. We made one stop at the Veldskoen Farm Stall and said our final goodbyes before splitting up.

TOP: Salpeterkop the extinct 65 million-year-old volcano. The container on the left is the Property of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and was recently opened along with the German Aerospace Centre’s dome (DLR) (http://www.sansa.org.za/spacescience/resource-centre/news/1622-another-eye-towards-the-sky-unveiling-south-africa-s-optical-space-research-laboratory?platform=hootsuite). The white pillar on the right used to carry a German site testing telescope – I think! CENTRE: A very bored traveling cat called Snorre.  BOTTOM: Descending the Hex Pass.

My only regret is that with the group split over several vehicles it was impossible to do any guiding while en route. Although we considered stopping the vehicles at points of interest, it would not have been practical from a safety point of view. Time constraints, which played an important role during the trip, virtually canceled the possibility of additional stops even if safety had not been an important consideration.

TOP: A scene north of the R27 as one approaches Calvinia.  2nd FROM TOP: Those five crumbed mushrooms were quite good, but they cost R9 each at Lord’s Kitchen!.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: The two crumbed pork chops served by Lord’s kitchen were probably the largest I have ever been served in a restaurant and they were also probably the most tender and juicy ones too..  BOTTOM: It’s a good thing we didn’t stay too much longer in SALT or there would have been some very stiff necks the next day.

I will post more photos at a later stage as they become available from other people who were on the trip as well as the two official photographers.

Astronomy Outreach & Guiding Course/Workshop, SAAO Sutherland: Friday 21st to Saturday 22nd April 2017.

When the subject of this course came up both Auke and I immediately asked “Why didn’t we finish this thing long ago” and he was right we should have done it when we first talked about it three or more years ago. Well, it was too late for tears now and we had to get stuck in and get it done.  We discovered that we had actually done a lot of the spade word back then and produced a very good basic framework. What we now needed to do was to put flesh on the bare bones and tweak a few things here and there.

That is exactly what we did and on the 20th of April we set off in the Vito for Sutherland. Lynnette and Snore stayed at home because there is a “no pets” rule in the hostel at the SAAO in Sutherland so Snorre would not have been able to come with us.  Lynnette, very unwillingly, accepted the role of a cat sitter.

We arrived latish on Thursday the 20th at the hostel. After greeting Cedric, Sivuyile and Thembela in the dining room we transferred all our stuff from the Vito into our rooms and then went outside with coffee to appreciate the dark skies. I took a set of darks sky readings about which I will give some feedback later.

TOP: A dead tree silhouetted against the red glow of the setting sun in the west. CENTRE: In the east, the night approaches across the Karoo landscape. BOTTOM: Auke, taking pictures of the standing stones.
TOP: A dead tree silhouetted against the red glow of the setting sun in the west. CENTRE: In the east, the night approaches across the Karoo landscape. BOTTOM: Auke, taking pictures of the standing stones.

Next morning it was breakfast at 07:30 and shortly after 08:00 we were at the Visitors Centre to set up in the library. The group for the course/workshop was:
Anthony Mitas (SAAO, Sutherland)
Cedric Jacobs (SAAO, Cape Town)
Claudine Vernooi (SAAO, Sutherland)
Francois Klein (SAAO, Sutherland)
Jeremy Stuurman (SAAO, Sutherland)
Sivuyile Manxoyi   (SAAO, Cape Town)
Thembela Mantungwa (SAAO, Cape Town)
Willem Prins (SAAO, Sutherland)

I am not going to give a blow by blow account of the course content or the progress in the class.  That will be done in official reports. None of the attendees were entirely inexperienced except perhaps Francois and he made up for that in enthusiasm. People like Cedric, Sivuyile and Willem all had a great deal of experience and the others all had varying degrees of experience.

TOP: The prominent dark blue earth shadow receding in the west accompanied by the pink of the Venus Girdle ahead of the approaching daylight. CENTRE: Morning sunlight flooding across the hills casting deep shadows in the valleys. BOTTOM: SALT, done for the night and the contrails of a passing plane catching the sunlight.
TOP: The prominent dark blue earth shadow receding in the west accompanied by the pink of the Venus Girdle ahead of the approaching daylight. CENTRE: Morning sunlight flooding across the hills casting deep shadows in the valleys. BOTTOM: SALT, done for the night and the contrails of a passing plane catching the sunlight.

Our approach was that this was a workshop during which we would all learn from each other and we encouraged everyone to share experiences right from the word go.  Everyone did exactly that throughout the two days and the result was a very positive learning experience for all concerned.

As far as outreach was concerned it quickly became apparent that there were too few people on the ground to handle the number of schools and the vast number of learners that had to be reached.  As far as the essential follow-up of visits it was very clear that there was simply no chance of doing this at the frequency required to make it effective.  In the Northern Cape, the numbers problem was further complicated by the distances between towns and the condition of the roads.

Taken all together the group had a large combined pool of experience. One of the energetically debated points was the problems experienced during outreach and stargazing sessions. Some of these problems originated from the belief systems people adhere to while others are the result of misrepresentations by science quacks and a small percentage can be attributed to genuine ignorance. Although some of these situations can be amusing all of them require tact to resolve as they all have the potential to damage science and our reputations as presenters. The bottom line was that as outreach practitioners we are all also at the forefront of science education to the public at large and to learners.

On the both the Friday and Saturday evenings we had practical sessions.  Friday evening we did not use telescopes but rather concentrated on constellations and easy activities like finding satellites as predicted by appropriate software applications.

TOP: Me talking with Sivuyile and Thembela listening against the backdrop of one of the shelves in the SAAO library in Sutherland. Out of the picture are Anthony, Francois, Cedric, Claudine, Jeremey and Willem. CENTRE: The group around the Lorenzo, our workhorse 10”Dobsonian, with the SALT dome in the distance and bright Arcturus also making it into the field of view. BOTTOM: Auke’s longer exposure showing short star trails and a flurry of activity around the telescope.
TOP: Me talking with Sivuyile and Thembela listening against the backdrop of one of the shelves in the SAAO library in Sutherland. Out of the picture are Anthony, Francois, Cedric, Claudine, Jeremey and Willem. CENTRE: The group around the Lorenzo, our workhorse 10”Dobsonian, with the SALT dome in the distance and bright Arcturus also making it into the field of view. BOTTOM: Auke’s longer exposure showing short star trails and a flurry of activity around the telescope.

The Saturday session at the telescopes was quite an eye opener for us. There was so much enthusiasm and an incredible participatory spirit.  It sounded more like a party than a stargazing practical. Make no mistake there was a lot of serious astronomy and learning taking place at the same time but in such a good spirit and everyone wanted to contribute or help wherever necessary.

The Ghost of Venus took the longest to find but eventually, that was also laid to rest.  Willem’s attempts to keep everyone going till Sagittarius rose into the sky were eventually thwarted by a combination of a dropping temperature and overall fatigue.

What a pleasure to work with a group like this and a big thank-you to each and every one of you.

On Sunday Morning Auke and I talked Willie into showing us around the new 1-meter Telescope and giving us a brief overview of what was new up on the hill.  Thanks, Willie! After that Auke and I hit the road considerably later than we had planned but we still had one stop to make.

TOP LEFT: The 1-metre telescopes pedigree. I am very curious to see which name the SAAO will select from the many entries that they received. TOP CENTRE: View from the “front”. TOP RIGHT: View from the “back” and Auke can be seen in the lower right of the photograph photographing something in the basement. BOTTOM LEFT: The secondary mirror. BOTTOM CENTRE: Willie Koorts took this photograph of me looking up at the secondary. BOTTOM RIGHT: Willie looking very relaxed against the backdrop of the dome.
TOP LEFT: The 1-metre telescopes pedigree. I am very curious to see which name the SAAO will select from the many entries that they received. TOP CENTRE: View from the “front”. TOP RIGHT: View from the “back” and Auke can be seen in the lower right of the photograph photographing something in the basement. BOTTOM LEFT: The secondary mirror. BOTTOM CENTRE: Willie Koorts took this photograph of me looking up at the secondary. BOTTOM RIGHT: Willie looking very relaxed against the backdrop of the dome.
TOP: The 1.9 meter on the right and on the left the 11 meter SALT, CENTRE: Auke’s very artistic photograph of the telescopes at the SAAO site as seen through the protective dome of the all-sky measuring equipment. BOTTOM: In the centre of the photograph is the dome (apparently there will be a second one) of a private (French) enterprise on Klipkraal just west of the SAAO.
TOP: The 1.9 meter on the right and on the left the 11 meter SALT. CENTRE: Auke’s very artistic photograph of the telescopes at the SAAO site as seen through the protective dome of the all-sky measuring equipment. BOTTOM: In the centre of the photograph is the dome (apparently there will be a second one) of a private (French) enterprise on Klipkraal just west of the SAAO.

In the Verlatenkloof Pass, the old Toll House has been bought by a long time resident of Paarl, Tjol Herbst. No not Lategan, he was the rugby player. This Tjol moved to the Karoo after his retirement on the advice of his doctor because of his asthma. We stopped off there for a very interesting chat and a cold beer. Pay the man a visit, it is quite an education.

TOP: The old Tollhouse in Verlatenkloof Pass now belongs to this gentleman, Tjol Herbst. 2nd FROM TOP: In the background the old stables of the Tollhouse and in the foreground the caravans that constitute Tjol’s living space. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: Myself and Tjol on the stoep of his unique pub with the partially finished ablution block in the background. BOTTOM: Tjol behind his bar counter in the tiny but very welcoming bar.
TOP: The old Tollhouse in Verlatenkloof Pass now belongs to this gentleman, Tjol Herbst. 2nd FROM TOP: In the background the old stables of the Tollhouse and in the foreground the caravans that constitute Tjol’s living space. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: Myself and Tjol on the stoep of his unique pub with the partially finished ablution block in the background. BOTTOM: Tjol behind his bar counter in the tiny but very welcoming bar.

After visiting Tjol we were finally on our way home which was uneventful except for two stops to buy fruit. The one at Veldskoen was a disappointment because their grapes were sold out so we stopped at the Seekoeipadstal, which had ample stock. After dropping Auke off in Somerset West I finally got to Brackenfell.

National Science Week at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town: Saturday 06th to Saturday 13th of August 2016.

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.

TOP: The boxes of handouts have started to arrive – rather late but at least they have arrived. MIDDLE: Certainly u useful handout but only for teachers. BOTTOM: this was a nice piece to handout but people were quick to spot the fact that it was intended for the 2015 theme.
TOP: The boxes of handouts have started to arrive – rather late but at least they have arrived. MIDDLE: Certainly u useful handout but only for teachers. BOTTOM: this was a nice piece to handout but people were quick to spot the fact that it was intended for the 2015 theme.
TOP: The courier parked in our back yard sorting out our stuff from among the mass of other deliveries. MIDDLE: Very useful handouts and certainly applicable in the South African and indeed Southern African context but the connection with renewable energy was not clear. BOTTOM: Useful information to hand out but difficult to connect to the 2016 theme of renewable energy.
TOP: The courier parked in our back yard sorting out our stuff from among the mass of other deliveries. MIDDLE: Very useful handouts and certainly applicable in the South African and indeed Southern African context but the connection with renewable energy was not clear. BOTTOM: Useful information to hand out but difficult to connect to the 2016 theme of renewable energy.
TOP: Interesting light effects caused by the moisture in the air while on the way to Cape Town. MIDDLE: Getting our setup sorted out against the backdrop of teh very impressive DNA model which formed the basis of the Past All From One Exhibition sponsored by the Standard Bank. It was in the Iziko’s amphitheatre but is on an extended tour of Southern Africa and indeed of Africa. BOTTOM: Banners are going up and telescopes are coming out as we get the show on the road.
TOP: Interesting light effects caused by the moisture in the air while on the way to Cape Town. MIDDLE: Getting our setup sorted out against the backdrop of the very impressive DNA model which formed the basis of the Past All From One Exhibition sponsored by the Standard Bank. It was in the Iziko’s amphitheater but is on an extended tour of Southern Africa and indeed of Africa. BOTTOM: Banners are going up and telescopes are coming out as we get the show on the road.
TOP: Almost ready as a small cloud of mist drifts across the face of Table Mountain. MIDDLE: Johan and Auke sort out the details of the central display table. BOTTOM: The early morning guests start arriving and Alan is ready and waiting at the special Solar Telescope.
TOP: Almost ready as a small cloud of mist drifts across the face of Table Mountain. MIDDLE: Johan and Auke sort out the details of the central display table. BOTTOM: The early morning guests start arriving and Alan is ready and waiting at the special Solar Telescope.

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.

TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo fitted with a special Solar Filter service an early guest as Auke gathers his material for distribution on Twitter. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan explains the finer details of the Sun’s role in supplying clean energy. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan demonstrating the use of solar energy. BOTTOM: Johan and Auke in conversation with a group of visitors.
TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo fitted with a special Solar Filter service an early guest as Auke gathers his material for distribution on Twitter. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan explains the finer details of the Sun’s role in supplying clean energy. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan demonstrating the use of solar energy. BOTTOM: Johan and Auke in conversation with a group of visitors.
TOP: A constant stream of visitors keeps Alan busy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lynnette explains finer points as Lorenzo points skyward during a short cloudy period. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: As the day warmed up more and more children visited us. BOTTOM: Auke recording for twitter and Lynnette managing the handout table.
TOP: A constant stream of visitors keeps Alan busy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lynnette explains finer points as Lorenzo points skyward during a short cloudy period. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: As the day warmed up more and more children visited us. BOTTOM: Auke recording for twitter and Lynnette managing the handout table.
TOP: A visitor looking at the sun through Lorenzo with the special protective filter clearly visible on the front cover. MIDDLE: Demonstrating the use of the special solar viewing glasses. BOTTOM: A queue waiting for a turn at either the special Solar Telescope or Lorenzo.
TOP: A visitor looking at the sun through Lorenzo with the special protective filter clearly visible on the front cover. MIDDLE: Demonstrating the use of the special solar viewing glasses. BOTTOM: A queue waiting for a turn at either the special Solar Telescope or Lorenzo.
TOP LEFT: Auke explaining solar energy applications. MIDDLE LEFT: Lynnette shielding a visitor from the sun as he looks at the sun through Lorenzo. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette and Lorenzo doing their thing. TOP RIGHT: Alan did a lot of very competent explaining. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette even managed to talk two of the municipal workers into taking a look at the sun.
TOP LEFT: Auke explaining solar energy applications. MIDDLE LEFT: Lynnette shielding a visitor from the sun as he looks at the sun through Lorenzo. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette and Lorenzo doing their thing. TOP RIGHT: Alan did a lot of very competent explaining. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette even managed to talk two of the municipal workers into taking a look at the sun.
TOP: Rose lending a hand at the Solar telescope. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Visitors examine the material on the handout table. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan discussing renewable energy with two younger visitors. BOTTOM: A view from behind of our setup showing the telescopes and the renewable energy table.
TOP: Rose lending a hand at the Solar telescope. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Visitors examine the material on the handout table. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan discussing renewable energy with two younger visitors. BOTTOM: A view from behind of our setup showing the telescopes and the renewable energy table.
TOP: Johan has his audience captivated with his talk in renewable energy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo on the left with Alan on the right. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan discussing the role of the sun in supplying renewable energy. BOTTOM: Auke in discussion with some visitors interested in renewable energy.
TOP: Johan has his audience captivated with his talk in renewable energy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo on the left with Alan on the right. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan discussing the role of the sun in supplying renewable energy. BOTTOM: Auke in discussion with some visitors interested in renewable energy.

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.

TOP: Alan and Johan in action. The temperature has dropped as you will see by the fact that Johan has put on a jacket. SECOND FROM THE TOP: No sun but Alan still manages to hold his visitor’s attention. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The slightest break in the clouds and Alan is onto the Sun with the Solar Telescope. BOTTOM: All packed up for the day and one last shot showing the Past All From One DNA-model against the backdrop of the impressive building of the Iziko South African Museum.
TOP: Alan and Johan in action. The temperature has dropped as you will see by the fact that Johan has put on a jacket. SECOND FROM THE TOP: No sun but Alan still manages to hold his visitor’s attention. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The slightest break in the clouds and Alan is onto the Sun with the Solar Telescope. BOTTOM: All packed up for the day and one last shot showing the Past All From One DNA-model against the backdrop of the impressive building of the Iziko South African Museum.
TOP: The Solar Cooker. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Rose and Alan in action around the Solar Telescope. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The very impressive model of the eye we used to demonstrate dramatically to children why they should not look directly at the Sun without eye protection. BOTTOM: Lynnette supervising one of the younger visitors at Lorenzo’s eyepiece.
TOP: The Solar Cooker. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Rose and Alan in action around the Solar Telescope. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The very impressive model of the eye we used to demonstrate dramatically to children why they should not look directly at the Sun without eye protection. BOTTOM: Lynnette supervising one of the younger visitors at Lorenzo’s eyepiece.
TOP: Early on Monday morning the N! was relatively unpopulated. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke in discussion with some two early morning visitors on Monday. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan deep in explanations while two other visitors find something worth photographing in our display. BOTTOM: Some visitors enjoying Auke’s animated explanation of renewable energy.
TOP: Early on Monday morning the N! was relatively unpopulated. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke in discussion with some two early morning visitors on Monday. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan deep in explanations while two other visitors find something worth photographing in our display. BOTTOM: Some visitors enjoying Auke’s animated explanation of renewable energy.
TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo in the background while two other visitors examine some of the handouts. MIDDLE: Hopefully this visitor was phoning friends to come and join in the fun. BOTTOM: A visitor eyeballs the sun through the Solar Telescope under Alan’s watchful eye.
TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo in the background while two other visitors examine some of the handouts. MIDDLE: Hopefully this visitor was phoning friends to come and join in the fun. BOTTOM: A visitor eyeballs the sun through the Solar Telescope under Alan’s watchful eye.
TOP: Lorenzo is the centre of attraction for this group wanting to see the sun. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke explaining the principle of the solar cooker as he waits for the water to boil so he can make coffee. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan demonstrating the eye model while Lorenzo is the centre of attraction in the background. BOTTOM: Lynnette, Lorenzo and an elderly visitor.
TOP: Lorenzo is the centre of attraction for this group wanting to see the sun. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke explaining the principle of the solar cooker as he waits for the water to boil so he can make coffee. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan demonstrating the eye model while Lorenzo is the centre of attraction in the background. BOTTOM: Lynnette, Lorenzo and an elderly visitor.
TOP: Solar coffee thanks to the solar cooker. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Rassie Erasmus on the right, all the way from Germiston takes a break before embarking on an eight month construction contract in Angola. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lynnette and Lorenzo in the background. BOTTOM: Alan and the Solar Telescope saw non-stop action throughout National Science Week.
TOP: Solar coffee thanks to the solar cooker. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Rassie Erasmus on the right, all the way from Germiston takes a break before embarking on an eight month construction contract in Angola. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lynnette and Lorenzo in the background. BOTTOM: Alan and the Solar Telescope saw non-stop action throughout National Science Week.

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.

TOP: A very quiet N1 early on Tuesday morning because it was a public holiday. SECOND FROM THE TOP: The participants in the National Woman’s Day fun run/walk in central Cape Town make their way through the Company Gardens. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The gent in the grey top and black headgear in the centre might not have been an official entry but he was very excited about his participation. BOTTOM: Some just took the whole thing in their (casual) stride while others were clearly more determined.
TOP: A very quiet N1 early on Tuesday morning because it was a public holiday. SECOND FROM THE TOP: The participants in the National Woman’s Day fun run/walk in central Cape Town make their way through the Company Gardens. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The gent in the grey top and black headgear in the centre might not have been an official entry but he was very excited about his participation. BOTTOM: Some just took the whole thing in their (casual) stride while others were clearly more determined.
TOP: Rose and Lorenzo attending to early visitors. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan hard at work while Rose gets it all down in pictures. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Auke’s first group of visitors interested in renewable energy. BOTTOM: Lynnette helping a budding astronomer take her first look at the sun through Lorenzo.
TOP: Rose and Lorenzo attending to early visitors. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan hard at work while Rose gets it all down in pictures. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Auke’s first group of visitors interested in renewable energy. BOTTOM: Lynnette helping a budding astronomer take her first look at the sun through Lorenzo.
TOP: Auke explains renewable energy while Alan and Lynnette show visitors’ the sun in the background. MIDDLE: The amphitheatre is in front of the Iziko South African Museum is, without doubt a very attractive spot to present National Science Week. BOTTOM: Rose backing up Alan as the visitors queue to look at the sun.
TOP: Auke explains renewable energy while Alan and Lynnette show visitors’ the sun in the background. MIDDLE: The amphitheater is in front of the Iziko South African Museum is, without doubt a very attractive spot to present National Science Week. BOTTOM: Rose backing up Alan as the visitors queue to look at the sun.
TOP: There was a lot of interest in renewable energy and Auke was always on hand to discuss and explain. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lorenzo, Lynnette and a group of younger visitors. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan, the Solar Telescope and one of our striking display posters. BOTTOM: Alan always concerned that visitors should get the best view of the sun.
TOP: There was a lot of interest in renewable energy and Auke was always on hand to discuss and explain. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lorenzo, Lynnette and a group of younger visitors. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan, the Solar Telescope and one of our striking display posters. BOTTOM: Alan always concerned that visitors should get the best view of the sun.

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.

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TOP: Auke showing some younger visitors how solar energy can be put to use. SECOND FROM THE TOP: I am in the background with Lorenzo and Auke is up front with some enthusiastic younger visitors. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan on the left with the solar telescope and me in the background on the right with Lorenzo. BOTTOM: Myself, Lorenzo and a group of younger learners with one of their teachers.
TOP: Auke showing some younger visitors how solar energy can be put to use. SECOND FROM THE TOP: I am in the background with Lorenzo and Auke is up front with some enthusiastic younger visitors. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan on the left with the solar telescope and me in the background on the right with Lorenzo. BOTTOM: Myself, Lorenzo and a group of younger learners with one of their teachers.
TOP: Adderly Street on the way home. SECOND FROM THE TOP: F.W. de Klerk Boulevard as we queue to get onto the N1 and head home to Brackenfell. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Tygerberg Hills in the background with the first signs of the Earth’ s shadow and pink colour of Venus’s girdle just above them. BOTTOM: Last lap home with the outline of the Simonsberg, the Bottleray Hills and right in the background the Banhoek mountains.
TOP: Adderly Street on the way home. SECOND FROM THE TOP: F.W. de Klerk Boulevard as we queue to get onto the N1 and head home to Brackenfell. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Tygerberg Hills in the background with the first signs of the Earth’ s shadow and pink colour of Venus’s girdle just above them. BOTTOM: Last lap home with the outline of the Simonsberg, the Bottleray Hills and right in the background the Banhoek mountains.

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).

TOP: N1 not to bad considering it was a normal working day. SECOND FROM THE TOP: I get Lorenzo ready and in the background the rest of the team is already in action. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: This enthusiastic group from the Eastern Cape were all ears (and eyes) as Auke explained about renewable energy. BOTTOM: The group waiting for Alan to give them a look through the solar telescope.
TOP: N1 not to bad considering it was a normal working day. SECOND FROM THE TOP: I get Lorenzo ready and in the background the rest of the team is already in action. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: This enthusiastic group from the Eastern Cape were all ears (and eyes) as Auke explained about renewable energy. BOTTOM: The group waiting for Alan to give them a look through the solar telescope.
TOP: Auke’s renewable energy demonstrations drew a lot of attention. MIDDLE: The groups actually became too large to handle comfortably at one stage. BOTTOM: Getting Lorenzo properly aligned so that the visitors could take a peek at the sun.
TOP: Auke’s renewable energy demonstrations drew a lot of attention. MIDDLE: The groups actually became too large to handle comfortably at one stage. BOTTOM: Getting Lorenzo properly aligned so that the visitors could take a peek at the sun.
TOP: Auke’s hat just visible in the background and the lady in the Stetson in the foreground was not from Texas but from Austria. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke is somewhere in the middle of that crowd doing his renewable energy thing. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lorenzo and I working away the waiting queue of visitors. BOTTOM: A group photo of a section of the much larger group before they departed.
TOP: Auke’s hat just visible in the background and the lady in the Stetson in the foreground was not from Texas but from Austria. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke is somewhere in the middle of that crowd doing his renewable energy thing. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lorenzo and I working away the waiting queue of visitors. BOTTOM: A group photo of a section of the much larger group before they departed.
TOP: The renewable energy table with Auke in attendance drew lots of attention. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Another (very orderly) group of learners and their teachers. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: A group photo around the National Science Week advertisement. BOTTOM: Alan and the solar telescope in action with some of the younger learners.
TOP: The renewable energy table with Auke in attendance drew lots of attention. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Another (very orderly) group of learners and their teachers. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: A group photo around the National Science Week advertisement. BOTTOM: Alan and the solar telescope in action with some of the younger learners.

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.

TOP: A cold, wet and blustery trip in on the N1. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan’s corner inside the Iziko South African Museum where we took shelter from the rain and wind. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The solar oven and the solar cooker on display. BOTTOM: Alan, Auke and Elsabé who was always there to advise and help.
TOP: A cold, wet and blustery trip in on the N1. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan’s corner inside the Iziko South African Museum where we took shelter from the rain and wind. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The solar oven and the solar cooker on display. BOTTOM: Alan, Auke and Elsabé who was always there to advise and help.
TOP: Even indoors renewable energy and Auke’s explanations proved very popular. MIDDLE: A lack of sun did not put Alan off in the least. BOTTOM: Auke demonstrating to a small crowd.
TOP: Even indoors renewable energy and Auke’s explanations proved very popular. MIDDLE: A lack of sun did not put Alan off in the least. BOTTOM: Auke demonstrating to a small crowd.
TOP: I had a hard time with this lady who wanted to blow up all nuclear power stations because they were dangerous. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke running through renewable energy for the umpteenth time. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: I explain to this group how a telescope works. BOTTOM: Alan deep in discussion with a visitor whose cloak’s colour rivalled that of the sun in the poster.
TOP: I had a hard time with this lady who wanted to blow up all nuclear power stations because they were dangerous. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke running through renewable energy for the umpteenth time. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: I explain to this group how a telescope works. BOTTOM: Alan deep in discussion with a visitor whose cloak’s colour rivaled that of the sun in the poster.
TOP: The younger visitors showed a great deal of interest in Auke’s explanation of renewable energy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: This delightful young lady was not only charming but also very interested and soon had Alan in all sorts of knots around her little finger. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: This group came all the way from Oudtshoorn to visit the Museum and got us and renewable energy as a bonus. BOTTOM: Auke explaining the intricacies of renewable energy.
TOP: The younger visitors showed a great deal of interest in Auke’s explanation of renewable energy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: This delightful young lady was not only charming but also very interested and soon had Alan in all sorts of knots around her little finger. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: This group came all the way from Oudtshoorn to visit the Museum and got us and renewable energy as a bonus. BOTTOM: Auke explaining the intricacies of renewable energy.

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.

TOP: Because the Museum only opened later we could also leave home a bit later and clearly Saturday morning traffic was also less hectic on the N1. MIDDLE: This young lady absolutely insisted on signing her own name on our visitor’s register. BOTTOM: Auke explaining the solar oven and the solar cooker to a visitor.
TOP: Because the Museum only opened later we could also leave home a bit later and clearly Saturday morning traffic was also less hectic on the N1. MIDDLE: This young lady absolutely insisted on signing her own name on our visitor’s register. BOTTOM: Auke explaining the solar oven and the solar cooker to a visitor.
TOP: I get to explain how a telescope works with the able assistance of Lorenzo. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan in action and the fact that we could not see the sun did not affect his enthusiasm at all. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Saturday was very quiet and I only hope the SAASTA/NRF photographer didn’t take photographs during one of these very quiet spells. BOTTOM: Johan at left brought to his knees by renewable energy, Alan in the background hard at work and two visitors actually showing an interest in the handouts.
TOP: I get to explain how a telescope works with the able assistance of Lorenzo. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan in action and the fact that we could not see the sun did not affect his enthusiasm at all. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Saturday was very quiet and I only hope the SAASTA/NRF photographer didn’t take photographs during one of these very quiet spells. BOTTOM: Johan at left brought to his knees by renewable energy, Alan in the background hard at work and two visitors actually showing an interest in the handouts.
TOP: Auke and Johan in the foreground and Alan working away in the far corner. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan enthusiastically explaining the workings of the sun. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan busy with an infra-red demonstration. BOTTOM: Johan discusses renewable energy with an interested group.
TOP: Auke and Johan in the foreground and Alan working away in the far corner. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan enthusiastically explaining the workings of the sun. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan busy with an infra-red demonstration. BOTTOM: Johan discusses renewable energy with an interested group.
TOP: The last visitors came past in small groups late on Saturday afternoon. MIDDLE: This charming lady and her husband were very interested in how a telescope works and it is a pity we could not demonstrate it to them outside. BOTTOM: There we all are at the end of a long, tiring but quiet satisfying week.
TOP: The last visitors came past in small groups late on Saturday afternoon. MIDDLE: This charming lady and her husband were very interested in how a telescope works and it is a pity we could not demonstrate it to them outside. BOTTOM: There we all are at the end of a long, tiring but quiet satisfying week.

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.

National Science Week 2015

It is the little ones that require more attention
It is the little ones that require more attention

National Science Week in 2015 took place from the 01st to the 08th of August. After 2014’s hectic outing we opted for what we hoped would be an easier event this year. We approached the Iziko South African Museum to find out if they would allow us to set up every day in the amphitheatre in front of the Museum. Theo Ferreira and Elsabe Uys were very helpful in arranging all the logistics of the event and without their able and willing assistance I doubt if everything would have run quite as smoothly as it did.

In the run-up to National Science Week there was the usual rush to fix last minute glitches and, of course, our house looked decidedly scruffy with all the piles of posters and handouts.

The first consignment of posters and handouts
The first consignment of posters and handouts
The second consignment of goodies from SAASTA
The second consignment of goodies from SAASTA
The third consignment of hand-outs from up north
The third consignment of hand-outs from up north

On Saturday 01st left home early, so as not to be caught in the traffic. We had roped Jaco Wiese in to help out as an extra pair of hands because we expected a fair number of people. Alan and Rose Cassels were also on site as Alan had to man the table with his absolutely superb model of the Southern African large Telescope (SALT). As part of our program the Iziko planetarium agreed to administer a competition for us. After each planetarium show the name of an entrant in the competition was drawn and the first person drawn that had answered the question correctly received a prize from us. The weather was superb for outdoor activities like ours and drew many Capetonians to the Company Gardens, so we had a constant stream of visitors wanting to view the sun through our telescope, which was equipped with special filters to safeguard their eyes.

A collection of images from day one of National Science Week.
A collection of images from day one of National Science Week.

Sunday the 02nd was pretty much a repeat of the Saturday.

Some scenes from day two of National Science Week
Some scenes from day two of National Science Week
Some images of Alan's magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)
Some images of Alan’s magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)

Unlike 2014 when we worked the crowds every day we took a break on the Monday and Tuesday but on Wednesday the 05th we were back at the Museum but, being a weekday we had to start much earlier to beat the traffic. It was also a tough day because neither Jaco nor Alan and Rose were available so Auke, Lynnette and I had to really know our stuff to cope with everything and we were very glad when closing time rolled around. The trip home was not a picnic either, because we were right in the thick of the dreaded 5 o’clock traffic.

Day three and as you can see we had to contend with the early morning and late afternoon traffic
Day three and as you can see we had to contend with the early morning and late afternoon traffic

We had planned it so that we would have Thursday free but on Friday 07th we were back on site after a very early start from home. Mercifully Alan and Rose had put in leave so they were also there to assist. The day was very successful with a particularly large number of schools showing up. Going home was a bit of a nightmare because, not only was it Friday, it was also the start of a long weekend. We had a long drive home.

Friday before the long weekend and was the traffic hectic
Friday before the long weekend and was the traffic hectic

On Saturday 08th we could leave home a bit later and the traffic was definitely easier. The day was surprisingly busy, considering the fact that many people had probably gone away for the long weekend, so we were very glad to have Alan and Rose on site again. For the first time that week the weather played up and we had bigger and bigger patches of cloud to contend with as well as an appreciable drop in temperature and a brisk breeze.

Images from our last day of a very pleasant and successful National Science Week
Images from our last day of a very pleasant and successful National Science Week
Our UV-beads worked well. Top left to bottom right you can follow the very fast colour change when exposed to sunlight
Our UV-beads worked well. Top left to bottom right you can follow the very fast colour change when exposed to sunlight

All round it was a very successful National Science Week.  We were well over our target figures and it was definitely less stressful then a road trip and the idea of having days off in between was a brilliant one. Having Jac and especially Alan and Rose on hand was also a huge help. Next year we plan to hit the Museum again but for eight consecutive days. Okay, so we are suckers for punishment!

Over and above our activities at the Iziko South African Museum we advertised in a number of newspapers, I spoke on one of the local radio stations and we had two static exhibitions at the Bellville and Brackenfell Public Libraries. Our media coverage reached a staggering 518 223 during National Science Week and at the Museum we had direct contact with another 16 430 people. So Star People brought National Science Week to the attention of more than half a million people that week; not bad at all!

The front pages of the newspapers we advertised in
The front pages of the newspapers we advertised in

For Auke, Lynnette and I there remained the site report to be written and submitted as well as the dreaded financial report. As usual the financial report gobbled up many, many hours of Lynnette’s time, but eventually that was done and dusted too and the 195 page document was in the courier’s hands and off to SAASTA in Pretoria.

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)

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

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

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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)

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

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

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