Visit to Porterville: Friday 15th April 2016.

The original appointment was somewhere in March but that had to be canceled due to inclement weather. The event was to have consisted of a talk at the retirement home, Huis Nerina, in the afternoon followed by a stargazing event at the Golf Course in the evening. The bad weather would not have affected the talk at Huis Nerina but would certainly have prevented the stargazing. So the event was rescheduled for Friday the 15th, which unfortunately clashed with an appointment we had with the EcoRangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve (click here to visit their webpage and find out more about this magnificent corner of South Africa) . Rather than cancel one of the events we decided to split up. Auke would do the presentation for the EcoRangers (click here to find out more about the EcoRangers) while Lynnette, Snorre and I would go to Porterville and do Huis Nerina and the Golf Course stargazing. Nathalie, from Porterville Tourism, (click here to visit their webpage) (you can also visit their FaceBook page by clicking here) contacted us shortly after these arrangements had been made and told us that the Porterville event would have to be shifted to Thursday the 14th because there was a dance on in the town and people wanted to attend that and our stargazing event. This actually suited us because we would not have to split up and could all three do both events. This was not to be because, a few days later, an embarrassed Nathalie contacted us and asked if we would please be prepared to switch back to Friday the 15th as some other administrative glitch had popped up! So, because we try and please most of the people most of the time, we switched back to splitting StarPeople up.

On Friday morning Lynnette, Snorre and I set off to Porterville where we arrived around 11:00 and reported to Nathalie at the Tourism Office.  From there we went to the Rendezvous B&B, Restaurant (visit a webpage with more information about this very friendly establishment) where we were welcomed by Riana van der Merwe and shown to our room. One of the staff, appropriately named Angel, quickly converted the two twin beds to a double bed. Shortly after 14:00 we headed for Huis Nerina and Old Age Home run by the ACVV, leaving Snorre in our room. The ACVV is the oldest welfare organization in South Africa, having been established in 1904 to render a comprehensive social welfare service to families in need (click here for more information on the ACVV) At Huis Nerina we discovered that there was no convenient white wall to project against, as we had been assured there would be. The staff quickly found a bed sheet and in no time it was fixed to a wall with sellotape and funny putty.

My talk was on astronomy in South Africa with some extra slides thrown in of pretty astronomical objects and a bit of Stellarium. I also asked the folks to encourage all grandchildren and great-grandchildren who had any interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics to stick with it and qualify themselves to participate in South Africa’s blooming astronomy endeavors. After fielding some questions we packed and said goodbye up after promising to come back with a telescope and do some real astronomy with them somewhere in the future.

A special note on the photographs in this post: Lynnette was the photographer but using my camera and somehow most of the photographs are just ever so slightly out of focus. Neither of us knows why because my photographs later on of the flowers are fine. Lynnette is not happy about the quality of her photographs but next time we will check the camera out first.

TOP LEFT: Entrance gate to Huis Nerina the retirement home in Porterville, run by the ACVV. TOP RIGHT: The assembled Golden Oldies. Please note the makeshift laptop and projector stand at centre right. BOTTOM LEFT: Different view with me in the picture. BOTTOM RIGHT: Almost the same as the top right one but from a slightly different angle and zoomed in a little bit.
TOP LEFT: Entrance gate to Huis Nerina the retirement home in Porterville, run by the ACVV. TOP RIGHT: The assembled Golden Oldies. Please note the makeshift laptop and projector stand at centre right. BOTTOM LEFT: Different view with me in the picture. BOTTOM RIGHT: Almost the same as the top right one but from a slightly different angle and zoomed in a little bit.

After a trip back to the Rendezvous for refreshments, we pitched at the golf course at around 18: to start setting up. Snorre was unfortunately confined to barracks because we were worried that some of the visitors might bring dogs, as they had on our previous visit. We were right because there was a particularly industrious Dachshund who felt duty bound to bark loudly at everything and everyone. Not Snorre’s cup of tea I am afraid.

TOP LEFT: The guest used chairs from the Golf Club and many brought blankets for their children. TOP RIGHT: The guests listening to me. The white objects most of them appear to be holding are the supper parcels Nathalie organized. CENTER: StarPeople’s banners displayed in the well-lit area in front of the door leading to the bar and the loo. BOTTOM LEFT: A different angle on the guests with me in the picture just to prove that I was there. BOTTOM RIGHT: Shot from behind you can see that it was pretty dark there despite several really irritating street lights.
TOP LEFT: The guest used chairs from the Golf Club and many brought blankets for their children. TOP RIGHT: The guests listening to me. The white objects most of them appear to be holding are the supper parcels Nathalie organized. CENTER: StarPeople’s banners displayed in the well-lit area in front of the door leading to the bar and the loo. BOTTOM LEFT: A different angle on the guests with me in the picture just to prove that I was there. BOTTOM RIGHT: Shot from behind you can see that it was pretty dark there despite several really irritating street lights.

By 19:15 the guests started trickling in and shortly after 19:30 I kicked off with a short talk before starting the telescope viewing. Orion was on its way down and already fairly low in the west so we started with M45, the Orion Nebula) and then worked our way eastward covering Jupiter and the Moon before switching to the Crux, the Diamond Cross and various objects of interest in the Milky Way itself.

TOP LEFT: Some guests did some naked eye stargazing while standing in line for a look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: We were very happy to see quite a few children among the guests. CENTER: Myself, Lorenzo and the ever-cheerful Nathalie Wagenstroom the Tourism Officer at Porterville Tourism. BOTTOM LEFT: I must say the guests were not only very interested but many of them were also quite clued up. BOTTOM RIGHT: There were one or two guests who appeared to be a little apprehensive about looking through the telescope.
TOP LEFT: Some guests did some naked eye stargazing while standing in line for a look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: We were very happy to see quite a few children among the guests. CENTER: Myself, Lorenzo and the ever-cheerful Nathalie Wagenstroom the Tourism Officer at Porterville Tourism. BOTTOM LEFT: I must say the guests were not only very interested but many of them were also quite clued up. BOTTOM RIGHT: There were one or two guests who appeared to be a little apprehensive about looking through the telescope.

Some sharp-eyed star gazers spotted Arcturus rising and mistook that for Mars which kindly put in an appearance a little while later, followed even later by Saturn. Once again one had proof positive that trying to view objects that had just risen above the horizon might have artistic merit but was an astronomical waste of time. By 22:30 we had packed up and not too long after 23:00 we could shower and hit the bed with a vengeance. Snorre was glad to see us but clearly perplexed at not being able to accompany us.

TOP LEFT: Some guests did some naked eye stargazing while standing in line for a look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: We were very happy to see quite a few children among the guests. CENTER: Myself, Lorenzo and the ever-cheerful Nathalie Wagenstroom the Tourism Officer at Porterville Tourism. BOTTOM LEFT: I must say the guests were not only very interested but many of them were also quite clued up. BOTTOM RIGHT: There were one or two guests who appeared to be a little apprehensive about looking through the telescope.
TOP LEFT: Some guests did some naked eye stargazing while standing in line for a look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: We were very happy to see quite a few children among the guests. CENTER: Myself, Lorenzo and the ever-cheerful Nathalie Wagenstroom the Tourism Officer at Porterville Tourism. BOTTOM LEFT: I must say the guests were not only very interested but many of them were also quite clued up. BOTTOM RIGHT: There were one or two guests who appeared to be a little apprehensive about looking through the telescope.

After a leisurely breakfast the next morning we packed up and headed home. We only stopped to photograph some Brunsvigia Orientalis (Afrikaans: Koningskandelaar) and Crassyn guttata (Afrikaans: Sambreelblom) in a field adjacent to the road near Halmanshof. Once home it was the usual schlep of unloading and packing everything away before being able to relax.

TOP LEFT: Crassyn guttata (Afrikaans: Sambreelblom). TOP RIGHT: The inflorescence of Brunsvigia orientalis (Koningskandelaar) shortly after pushing its way into the open. CENTER: A whole field of these flowers and you can sort through to identify them. BOTTOM LEFT: Brunsvigia orientalis on the left and Crassyn guttata on the right. BOTTOM RIGHT: A cluster of Crassyn guttata.
TOP LEFT: Crassyn guttata (Afrikaans: Sambreelblom). TOP RIGHT: The inflorescence of Brunsvigia orientalis (Koningskandelaar) shortly after pushing its way into the open. CENTER: A whole field of these flowers and you can sort through to identify them. BOTTOM LEFT: Brunsvigia orientalis on the left and Crassyn guttata on the right. BOTTOM RIGHT: A cluster of Crassyn guttata.

We will try and organize a special trip for the residents of Huis Nerina around the First Quarter Moon to give them the opportunity of looking through a telescope. Maybe Nathalie can pull a few strings for us.

 

Durbanville Public Library – Talk on Women in Astronomy: Monday 29th February 2016.

On Monday afternoon Lynnette and I set off for the Durbanville Public Library where I had been invited by Ari van Dongen to give a talk titled “Women in Astronomy”. Ari, Tony Jones, Lynnette and I were there nice and early so that we had enough time to set op projectors and make sure the laptops were all talking to the respective projectors.

Myself on the left and Ari van Dongen on the right (back to the camera) making sure all the connections are connected and all the signals are going to the right places.
Myself on the left and Ari van Dongen on the right (back to the camera) making sure all the connections are connected and all the signals are going to the right places.

Tony was first up and ran through a comprehensive “What’s up” for those who were interested in finding currently visible celestial objects.

I followed Tony and thought my talk went off fairly well. I did get the impression that one or two of the male members of the audience might have been a tad uncomfortable though.

The title slide of my talk.
The title slide of my talk.
Question time after my talk chaired by Ari. I do not know what on earth I was trying to explain with that expansive gesture.
Question time after my talk chaired by Ari. I do not know what on earth I was trying to explain with that expansive gesture.

After my talk, Lynnette and I had to leave as we had matters to related to our National Science Week grant proposal to finalize. This meant that we, unfortunately, missed Ari’s video.

The next meeting is on the 25th of April and Ari has invited me to give my talk on the geology of the Western Cape titled “Once upon a time when the Western Cape was much younger. The tale of why everything isn’t just flat or all the same all over the place.”

The autumn 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 05 to 07 February 2016.

The autumn Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) followed so hard on the heels of the Southern Star Party in November (read all about it here) that we felt there was hardly any break. We were booked out two weeks before the event, which was a record, and it was a huge success judging from the verbal comments and the written feedback we received. We are obviously elated at the success but also a tad tired, so the long gap till the next Star Party at the end of October is most welcome. However, that gap is already filling up with all sorts of other things so we won’t be exactly idle. We are in fact going flat-out at present to get our grant application for the National Science Week ready to send off to SAASTA by the end of February.

This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program fir the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There was lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember all recipients of the passport – it has to accompany you to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, to bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There is lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember, all recipients of the passport have to bring it to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. Bottom: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. BOTTOM: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

On Tuesday the 02nd of February at 07:00, without any sleep the previous night, Lynnette, Snorre and I left and arrived at Night Sky to find the lawn mowing in full swing. Shortly after they finished, Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent. As soon as that was done I got the projection screen set up and then it started raining lightly. The three of us went to bed early and the next morning we started organizing the tent. Alan and Rose arrived in the course of the morning and after they had set up camp they pitched in to help setting up as well. During the course of Wednesday Auke also arrived. Volker and Aka Kuehne from Pforzheim in Germany were also at Night Sky as they are every summer from early January to mid-March. This was their second SSP and as on the previous occasion they were always ready to lend a hand with just about everything.

This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.
This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.

Lynnette and I drove to Bonnievale to meet Rudolf who had found a fossil deposit and after viewing and photographing the Zoophytes trace-fossils in the Witteberg sediments, we drove back to Night Sky after some essential shopping. Before going to Night Sky we stopped off at Oppiekoppie Guesthouse (go here to see more about Oppiekoppie) to label the rooms, so everybody would know where to go when they arrived the next day. We then drove back to Night Sky for supper, putting up all the banners at the entrance on the way, to make sure nobody got lost. Shortly after supper we turned in. On Thursday Jonathan Balladon, Louis Fourie, Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer and Barry & Miemie Dumas arrived, followed by Pierre de Villiers, Karin de Bruin and Susan Joubert from the Hermanus Centre.

TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Wittenberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Witteberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. Middle: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. MIDDLE: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.

Alan once again set up his model table in the tent where he displayed the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle, the yet to be completed model of SALT and some very nifty models of the Mars habitat with the surface vehicle and fuel generation unit. During the course of the SSP, and especially on Sunday morning this attracted a lot of attention and many favourable comments.  I personally can’t wait for the completion of the SALT model.

This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.
This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.

Just as we were preparing for the evening braai on Thursday, I was laid low by a kidney stone. Juri de Wet went to a great deal of trouble to track down Dr Esterhuisen in Bonnievale who agreed to meet us at his consulting rooms. Auke drove Lynnette and I there in his car in a record time and I was given a shot of morphine to reduce the pain. The doctor liaised with an urologist; Dr Deon Marais in Worcester and off the three of us went again to the Worcester Medi Clinic. I was put on a drip and had to stay in hospital for a scan before having an operation to remove the kidney stone, the next day. Lynnette and Auke had to leave me contemplating my kidney stone, while they drove back to attend to the running of the SSP. On the Friday Alan and Rose were roped in to help organize things and keep the administration running smoothly while Lynnette came back to Worcester in Auke’s car. She stayed with me until late in the afternoon before driving back to help at Night Sky, where everyone had by now arrived. I was eventually operated on at around 18:00 on Friday and at 06:00 on Saturday, Lynnette was there again in Auke’s car, to pick me up and back to Bonnievale we went.

TOP LEFT: I herby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for the budget overruns.
TOP LEFT: I hereby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for their budget overruns.

Shortly after 08:30, on Saturday morning, I had a session with the beginner group and was rather amazed to find Pierre de Villiers, current ASSA president there. I am quite certain he is well out of the beginner category, but perhaps he just wanted to make sure I did not spout too much drivel.

Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Magda Streicher’s talk “Deep-Sky Delights” which took us on a genteel journey through the process of observing deep-sky objects and sketching them. Her talk was lavishly illustrated with personal anecdotes and examples of her own sketches. We are all looking forward to the book you intend publishing with all those sketches, Magda!

Next up was Bani van der Merwe who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so Pierre de Villiers, present ASSA president, came out to bat and he more than welcomed the extra time at the wicket. Pierre’s topic “How to foster an interest in, and enjoyment of, astronomy” was actually a workshop rather than an ordinary talk. He illustrated the various initiatives of the Hermanus Centre intended to achieve these objectives and engaged with the audience to get their ideas on the matter.

While Pierre was talking Marius, Kim, Lynnette and I packed and lit the fires for the lunch-time braai. During the course of the lunch-break it was decided that it was just too hot to go back into the tent for the remainder of the talks at 15:00, so everything was postponed until 17:00. We hoped that it would have cooled by then. The lucky draw also shifted and the Pub Quiz looked as if might have to take a back seat till October.

Ray Brederode’s presentation “The discoveries of Rosette and Philae” was very well received and generated quite a number of questions from the audience. He was followed by Charl Cater, who presented a short, but very interesting talk entitled “Green Pea Galaxies”. Auke Slotegraaf rounded of the programme with a presentation titled “To Forever Remain a Child: Astronomy and cultural heritage in South Africa.” The talk covered a number of important issues pertaining to astronomical heritage in South Africa and hopefully some members of the audience will heed Auke’s call to become involved in efforts to preserve that heritage.

On Friday night Dwayne apparently only had eyes for the stars in the love of his life’s eyes. How do I know? Because he took Claire out under the stars and proposed to her. Congratulations, this is the first engagement for the Southern Star Party and we hope that by the next SSP he will have taken the logical step and be able to bring his starry eyed wife along. We took the opportunity after the last talk to congratulate them and hope they enjoyed the bottle of wine and slab of chocolate we presented them with.

A series of images depicting the telescope are which was a focal point by day but especially at night.
A series of images depicting the telescope area which was a focal point by day, but especially at night.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.

By this time the light was just right for the group photo and after that Pierre de Villiers drew the three winners of our raffle. The first prize, a Skywatcher  Newtonian telescope was won by Chris Vermeulen (D=130, F=650, 25mm & 10mm eyepieces, Red Dot Finder, tripod and manual equatorial mount). The second and third prizes were two bottles of good red wine which went to Barry Dumas and Martin Coetzee respectively.

it was clear that time had overtaken us so we cancelled everything else and got ready for the evenings observing and related activities. It was a good evening for observing even though there were signs of clouds encroaching by about 23:00 and it actually rained around 03:00 or shortly thereafter. Martin Lyons and several other stalwarts were quick to rescue the telescopes that had been left in the telescope area by owners that had ignored the impending change in the weather.

TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours. Camera - Nikon D5100. Lens - AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G ISO 800 & f/1.8 Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals) & combined with StarStax 0.71
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours.
Camera – Nikon D5100.
Lens – AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
ISO 800 & f/1.8
Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals)
& combined with StarStax 0.71
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph also taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party by Leslie Rose.
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph, taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party, by Leslie Rose.

On Sunday Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to lay out the material for presenting astronomy to the visually impaired so that people coming to the tent to say goodbye could look at it. Part of the display was Dr Wanda Diaze-Merced’s 20 mHz Jove radio telescope. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd. On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre and I and Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday Tersius and his team took down the tent and loaded up the tables and chairs and on Wednesday the rest of us packed up and left. This brought down the final curtain on the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

Alan tending his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
Alan tending to his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.

Last but not least, a special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Waltons.

Boesmansrivier Primary School visit on the 28th of August 2014

A second visit to our favorite Farm School

On Thursday the 29th of August, Lynnette and I visited the Boesmansrivier Primary School on behalf of Star People. The Principle, Mrs. Madondo, had invited us back after our previous visit so we took her up on that. Thanks also to Laurette for helping to arrange this visit. We had planned to set up a telescope and do some solar viewing but the weather was not having any of that so we had to settle for a talk to the learners of Grades 4, 5 and 6 and a short chat to their educators, Mr. Mentoor and Mr. Sauls.

Our photographic record is, unfortunately, not good as the camera had a focusing malfunction. As is usual one only becomes aware of the problem at the last minute and then one can usually not find the cause of the problem either; at least I seldom can. When examined afterward the camera worked perfectly so it must have been a specific Boesmansrivier gremlin that got into the system!

Learners from grades 4, 5 and 6 at the Boesmansrivier Primary School filling up the class before my talk
Learners from grades 4, 5 and 6 at the Boesmansrivier Primary School filling up the class before my talk
Learners at Boesmansrivier Primary during my talk
Learners at Boesmansrivier Primary during my talk

My short talk emphasized the fact that knowledge was not only the key to personal development and improvement but also the best protection against being swept up and carried away by misrepresentations.  Knowledge provides one with the ability to present counter-arguments to many of the widespread fallacies about science in general and about Astronomy in particular.

Learners at Boesmansrivier Primary School.  Mr Mentoor is just visible on the left
Learners at Boesmansrivier Primary School. Mr Mentoor is just visible on the left
Me, doing my thing while Mr Sauls keeps a watchful eye on the proceedings
Me, doing my thing while Mr Sauls keeps a watchful eye on the proceedings
Showing the lerners how privelaged they are to live in an area with dark skies.  Mr Sauls is seated on the left
Showing the lerners how privelaged they are to live in an area with dark skies. Mr Sauls is seated on the left

Afterwards, Mr. Mentoor and Mr. Sauls undertook to put on their thinking caps about how we could assist them in the future and what type of presentation and material would fit in best with the curriculum and be most beneficial for the learners. Mrs. Madondo was very appreciative of the posters and hand-outs we had brought for the school and invited us to return to the school whenever we were in the area again.

In discussion with about Mr Mentoor (left) and Mr Sauls (centre) about future visits and their specific requirements
In discussion with about Mr Mentoor (left) and Mr Sauls (centre) about future visits and their specific requirements

None of the school’s learners are available at night for stargazing, so we want to time our next visit to coincide with the first quarter moon. Then both the Moon and the Sun will be visible in daylight for viewing in a telescope.

 

Oxford X: Astronomy, Indigenous Knowledge and Interpretation. Cape Town, 14-18 July 2014

Certificate Workshops – School Teacher Workshops

The workshop was aimed at school teachers interested in including “Astronomy, Indigenous Knowledge and Interpretation” into their classrooms. In view of the fact Lynnette and I have regular contact with schools when we do astronomy outreach, we decided that we also qualified as teachers. An e-mail to Kevin at the local IAU office was rerouted to the organizer of Oxford X, Dr Jarita Holbrook at the University of the Western Cape. Jarita very promptly replied that we were more than welcome to attend. Both Lynnette and I were rather exited at the prospect of the opportunity to interact with international and local scientists in this field. The workshop took place in the SAAO Auditorium and was facilitated by Dr. Sanlyn Buxner, Astronomy Education specialist, University of Arizona and Sivuyile Manxoyi, head of the SAAO Education and Outreach unit. This unit focuses on communicating and educating the public about astronomy and specializes in using indigenous languages and cultures to inspire the township based people in particular, to engage with and participate in astronomy.

Programme for day one – Saturday 12 July

9:00 am Opening Welcome & Introductions Sivuyile Manxoyi
9:15 am Mainstreaming Indigenous Knowledge Studies in South Africa Motheo Koitsiwe (Mahikeng Campus, North West University, South Africa)
10:00 am Working with the Cultural Astronomy Experts Sanlyn Buxner & Sivuyile Manxoyi
10:30 am Tea & Coffee
11:00 am Basic Astronomy Sanlyn Buxner
12:00 pm Archaeoastronomy Clive Ruggles (Leicester University, UK)
Sivuyile welcoming the attendees and getting the introductions done.
Sivuyile welcoming the attendees and getting the introductions done.
Motheo Koitsiwe who is based at the Mahikeng Campus, North West University, South Africa, presenting the first talk
Motheo Koitsiwe who is based at the Mahikeng Campus, North West University, South Africa, presenting the first talk

Mainstreaming Indigenous Knowledge Studies in South Africa

In Motheo’s presentation he presented a case for placing Indigenous Knowledge on the same footing as what he refers to as Western Science in schools and academic institutions. He used the example of Traditional Healers who use a more holistic approach when treating a patient with, for example a headache, than Western Doctors. The latter he points out would only prescribe a pain killer for the actual pain and implies that they do not look any further for causes or relationships because Western Science teaches them to think in a compartmentalized manner and not see the broader picture. This in itself is a contentious statement, but he also intimated that including Indigenous Knowledge in educational systems would teach students to think for themselves and be able to work for themselves whereas, in his view, Western Science and Education methods did not achieve this, but rather created end products which could only work for others. His references to what he calls Western Science as being, amongst others things, unethical and dishonest are definitely contentious, if not in fact libellous. I can see, accept and support the merits of giving recognition to Indigenous Knowledge in general as an essential and long overdue recognition of cultural integrity. I also concur that involving indigenous knowledge specialists directly in classroom situations can be very useful and most instructive. However, applying negative descriptors such as unethical and dishonest in broad terms to justify this and, in so doing, discredit so-called Western Science, Knowledge and Methodology is certainly not going to gain much support to achieve this.

Sivuyile Manxoyi (SAAO) and Sanlyn Buxner share a private joke as they prepare to start their presentation
Sivuyile Manxoyi (SAAO) and Sanlyn Buxner (University of Arizona) share a private joke as they prepare to start their presentation
Sivuyile explaining how the SAAoOoutreach team uses local cultural expertise. In the background is the opening frame of the video "Cosmic Africa"
Sivuyile explaining how the SAAoOoutreach team uses local cultural expertise. In the background is the opening frame of the video “Cosmic Africa”

Working with the Cultural Astronomy Experts

This presentation was rather low key and I was left with the distinct impression that the presenters could have made a much stronger case for the acquisition and presentation of Indigenous Knowledge.

Basic Astronomy

The speaker could have done considerably more with the topic and the material. Although the images were all pretty standard, the assumption that everyone in the audience knew all about astronomy was incorrect. Merely flashing through the images very briefly without any meaningful narrative to explain either the individual images or their context was not sufficient to qualify as a talk on basic astronomy.

Clive Ruggles ((Leicester University (UK) in full cry. during his presentation
Clive Ruggles (Leicester University (UK) in full cry during his presentation

Archaeoastronomy

Perhaps the contrast between this speaker and the previous rather lacklustre presentations contributed to my perception of this talk as being both exciting and highly informative. The presentation not only contained a wealth of information, but also encouraged one to question the current interpretation of knowledge on the subject. It is always a pleasure to listen to a knowledgeable person speak enthusiastically about their field of expertise, but for me, it also instils confidence in that person if they are critical of their own work and interpretations. Archaeoastronomy has come quite a long way in the last few years and much of this progress can, I think, be attributed to the efforts of people like the speaker and others of his calibre in the field. My take home item from this talk, was the cautionary comment that one should not read preconceived ideas (pet theories) into a site, but make every attempt to always read from it.

Day two was wet as can be seen in this photograph of the N1 on our way to the workshop.\
Day two was wet as can be seen in this photograph of the N1 on our way to the workshop.

Programme for day two – Sunday 13 July

9:00 am Setting the Intentions for the Day
9:30 am Ethnoastronomy Barbara Tedlock (SUNY – Buffalo, USA) & Jarita Holbrook (UWC, South Africa)
10:00 am Cultural Astronomy Lessons from Hungary Emilia Pasztor (Hungary)
10:30 am Tea & Coffee
11:00 am Cultural Astronomy Education in Australia Duane Hamacher (Australia)
11:30 am South African Indigenous Astronomy Themba Matomela (Iziko Planetarium, South Africa) He was replaced by Thebe Medupe, (Associate Professor in Astrophysicist at the Mahikeng Campus, North West University, South Africa)
12:00 pm Building Lesson Plans Sanlyn Buxner and Sivuyile Manxoyi

Ethnoastronomy

The interaction between the two presenters was a clear indication of two professionals who were entirely at home in their fields of expertise. The information about their respective research activities and also the brief histories of how they ended up where they are, was elucidating. In particular the information about Swainson’s Hawk’s migration and how that tied into the applied indigenous knowledge of the people along its migration route, was most interesting. I will certainly look at the Coal Sack Nebula with new eyes in the future. Probably the most valuable take home message from this talk was the prime necessity of a very close relationship with bearers of indigenous knowledge and the non-negotiable participation of the giver of information in the returns generated by that information.

Emila Pasztor Scientific adviser/editor/project manager at StudioMagistratum, Kecskemét/Dunafoldvar in Hungary emphasizing the need to think carefully about what one deduces from archaeoastronomy finds
Emila Pasztor (Scientific adviser/editor/project manager at StudioMagistratum, Kecskemét/Dunafoldvar in Hungary) emphasizing the need to think carefully about what one deduces from archaeoastronomy finds

Cultural Astronomy Lessons from Hungary

The speaker presented an interesting account of the finding and interpretation of astronomy symbolism in archaeological artefacts from the Carpathian Basin in Hungary. I found the methods used to introduce learners to astronomy and to these cultural artefacts very interesting. The pro-active efforts to generate an appreciation and understanding of the astronomical connectedness of past cultures, is an aspect one must take cognisance of in the Southern African context as well. Aspects which I know I often overlook are the weather phenomena which, although not astronomical in the strictest sense of the word, are most certainly an important part of the general body of indigenous knowledge.

Cultural Astronomy Education in Australia

Duane Hamacher (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Duane Hamacher (University of New South Wales, Australia)

The speaker’s computer problems reminded me of an erstwhile colleague’s admonition that one had to, like in cricket, inspect the pitch before one actually went out to either bat or bowl. The talk outlined the efforts and progress at a specific Australian University to include an indigenous knowledge component in all courses at the university. They also make extensive use of indigenous knowledge experts in presentations and carry out extensive filed work to expose students to indigenous knowledge cultures at grass roots level. The diversity of indigenous knowledge systems in the various areas of Australia emphasizes the need to recognize the regional nature of interpretations and also underlines the complexity of the issue. One of the objections raised against institutional recognition has been that it would be tantamount to sanctioning the teaching of creationism. This objection can be refuted because the spirituality aspect of indigenous knowledge is by no means dogmatically religious.

Thebe Medupe (Northwest University, Mahikeng, South Africa) as relaxed as always
Thebe Medupe (Northwest University, Mahikeng, South Africa) as relaxed as always

South African Indigenous Astronomy

I have attended talks by this speaker in the past and always enjoy his relaxed style. I like the emphasis he placed on cultural astronomy while, at the same time, stressing the need to create a bridge for modern day learners to gain access to mainstream (modern) astronomy. I have watched “Cosmic Africa” before, but listening to the personal accounts and interpretations of the person around whose experiences it was constructed, remains rather special. His narration of personal experiences at the various sites and the value these experiences added to his own life and to his teaching, are worth taking note of. The speaker is clearly well versed in modern computational astronomy, but also values the indigenous astronomy which forms an integral part of his own cultural background. This appreciation of his own astronomical cultural heritage also extends to that of other cultures, but he never loses his analytical scientific evaluation.

Sanlyn Buxner (University of Arizona) facilitating the last session
Sanlyn Buxner (University of Arizona) facilitating the last session

Building Lesson Plan

This presentation turned out quite differently to what I had expected. Nevertheless the exchange of ideas and opinions amongst attendees was insightful and will be useful. An important aspect that emerged during the discussions was the fact that in South African Schools, the curriculum requires some Astronomy, mainly covering the Solar System, to be taught by grade seven. Attendees, who are closely involved with educators and school curricula, confirmed my own observations during outreach events, that many of the educators are either poorly equipped or even not equipped at all to teach the subject. These same factors are, in my experience, also the reason that the small amount of material covering Geology and Fossils in the curriculum is either not taught or poorly taught. As far as Astronomy is concerned, this situation is exasperated by the fact that the specific module falls toward the end of the final term in the year, when educators are pressed for time. This results in the work being rushed and, in many cases, just not done. Educators have, in the past, also admitted to me that they do not understand the Astronomy section, so they do not teach it. At one end of the spectrum South Africa is planning and implementing astronomy related projects like SALT, KAT7, meerKAT and the SKA and at the other end learners are not properly prepared to make use of the opportunities afforded to them by these exiting astronomy developments in the country. This is a very sad state of affairs.

Overall impressions

Like the infamous Curate’s egg, the workshop was quite good in parts. Useful information was made available and I certainly gained some valuable insights. Probably the most valuable part of the workshop was the opportunity it afforded one to make contact with key figures in the field and also to interact with them and exchange ideas.

A vie from teh auditorium westward toward the harbour.  Very different to the view the early astronomers would have had
A view from teh auditorium westward toward the harbour. Very different to the view the early astronomers would have had
The analemma in front of the Jackson sundial
The analemma in front of the Jackson sundial
Fearon Fallows the first Astronomer Royal at the Cape lies buried here
Fearon Fallows the first Astronomer Royal at the Cape lies buried here
Sir Thomas Maclear and his wife Mary are buried here too
Sir Thomas Maclear and his wife Mary are buried here too
Looking across the lawn in front of the main building toward the building housing the Maclean or Victoria telescope
Looking across the lawn in front of the main building toward the building housing the Maclean or Victoria telescope

 

Pulses and Pulsars – An introduction to time domain radio astronomy

Pulses and Pulsars – An introduction to time domain radio astronomy

Presented by Dame (Susan) Joycelyn Bell Burnell of the University of Oxford Astrophysics and Mansfield College. The presentation took place at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study’s (STIAS) Wallenberg Centre on the 19th of February 2014

I am always slightly apprehensive about attending talks by visiting academics of the stature of Dame Joycelyn Bell Burnell.  Perhaps this apprehension stems from a lack of confidence in my own understanding of the field they are going to cover in their talks.  There are also other possible issues like the quality of the presentation and how clearly the person will speak and, of course, the acoustics of the venue.  The STIAS venue does not have good acoustics and experience has taught me that academics of international repute do not necessarily speak clearly or have well laid out talks using clear and legible slides.  I had read that Jocelyn was a good presenter but, just to be safe, Lynnette and I made sure that we got seats close to the front (third row) and more or less on the centre line of the projection screen.

Jocelyn’s talk covered quite a lot of ground.  She touched briefly on her original discovery of the first three pulsars during her PhD-studies and then talked at length on the characteristics of pulsars.  She started off explaining how very high mass stars had short lives and eventually ended up as pulsars.  Dame Bell Burnell made mention of their enormous masses, all crammed into balls with 10 km radii resulting in incredibly high densities and really freakish gravitational and magnetic fields.  Jocelyn humorously sketched the possible consequences to humans if they should visit a pulsar and concluded that such a visit could definitely be injurious to one’s health and one’s credit card.  We were taken on a visit to the only known pulsar that has a planetary system associated with it and also introduced to the short lived world of the brief radio pulses that are currently puzzling radio astronomers.  Most of these reports originate from an Australian radio telescope and I was wondering whether Wombats or any of the other marsupials Down-Under squeak at around 700 Hz?

Lastly she looked at the SKA-project and briefly made mention of the greatly increased sensitivity the instrument would bring to the field of radio astronomy.  After her talk Jocelyn fielded a large number of questions on topics not always related to the subject of her presentation.

Jocelyn’s presentation was excellent at all levels.  Her ability to relate to and communicate with people was clearly demonstrated by the throngs of questioners that she patiently handled after the talk.  Her patience even extended to having her picture taken with members of the Cape Center of ASSA, including Lynnette and myself.

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Lynnette and Dame Joycelyn Bell Burnell with the SKA’s Bernie Fanaroff trying to avoid the camera.
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Edward and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

 

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Carol, Dame Joycelyn Bell Burnell and Serena

1st Durbanville Scouts – Friday the 23rd of August

Part of our e-mail advertising campaign for National Science Week 2013 (NSW) was to send e-mails to all the Scout Troops and Voortrekker Commandos in the vicinity of the venues for our NSW presentations.  One of these was the 1st Durbanville Scouts and they were also one of the few to reply as well.  The Scoutmaster, Nick Pieterse, wanted to bring a group of 40 of his scouts round to Willowbridge Life Style Shopping Center.  Great stuff, except that we were worried that we would not be able to pay enough attention to them if we had the expected high number of the public also wanting to look through the telescopes.  So we suggested that he should consider a later date when we could go to the 1st Durbanville Scouts and do a presentation at there headquarters.  They agreed and a programme was arranged which would, among other things, specifically address the requirements for obtaining an astronomy interest badge.

The requirements for the interest badge would also require doing practical observations so we decided to cover the ones requiring only theory on the first visit and to them arrange second visit for the more practical ones . The interest badge, I must add here, is not all that basic and not all that simple either. Part of the first evening would be for the Scouts to build a Southern Star Wheel as we felt that once the scouts had that and could use it, they could also tackle some of the practical issues more easily. I would give a short talk about the Solar System in which I would cover as many of the theoretical requirements for the interest badge as possible.  Auke e-mailed the pdf’s of the Southern Star Wheel to Nick so he could have the appropriate number of copies made for the evenings activities.

We arrived on time and after the Scouts had performed their opening ceremony, Nick introduced, Auke, Lynnette and myself and we set up a makeshift projection screen and I got the laptop and projector organized. In the meantime the Sar Wheels were handed out, glue and incisors were organized and Auke explained how to cut out and assemble the Star Wheel. While doing this he also gave them a problem to solve.

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The pre-assembly cutting is well underway under the watchful eyes of Nick and Auke (black beanie).
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Some just cut while others apparently gave the matter some thought before proceeding
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Seniority seems to have its perks when it comes to sitting on the floor or on a bench
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Auke gathering photographic evidence while Edward and Nick keep their hands warm

After lots of cutting and gluing, plenty of sticky fingers and a mistake or two the Star Wheels were done and could be demonstrated.  Most caught on very quickly and a quick explanation helped those that didn’t to get the hang of things.

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Auke cracking a joke while explaining how the Star Wheel works
DSC_0012_Dville_Scouts_SSW_Bou_Edward_Help
Edward clarifying a minor uncertainty
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Edward in last minute consultations as Nick , in the background starts the ball rolling to pack up and go home.

After everybody settled down I gave my talk and answered a few questions.  I gave the group a guideline on how to visualize the scale of the Solar System and also left them with a problem to solve.

I have e-mailed a copy of my talk to Nick and he can distribute it the the Scouts if required and I will also a set of answers and background material for the interest badge.

We are hoping to arrange the second visit for the practical session and some telescope work as soon as it looks as if the inclement Capewinter weather is going to give us a break.