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.

 

Partial Lunar Eclipse: Monday 07th August 2017

Lynnette and I set up Lorenzo in the rooftop parking area of the Family Pick & Pay on the corner of Old Paarl Road and H.O. De Villiers Street in Brackenfell. The event had been advertised via local social media sites and announcements were also made by the store manager during the course of the evening.

This graphic was borrowed from a Facebook posting by Willie Koorts of the SAAO, who is well known for his participation in the Radio Sonder Grense radio programme “Sterre en Planete”, which is broadcast every Sunday evening.
The photo was taken by Lynnette using her Samsung A5 mobile on the 20mm eyepiece of the 10” Dobsonian.
TOP: The Vito as the backdrop to our StarPeople pull-up banner.  BOTTOM: Edward on the left with Lorenzo just making it into the photo and Esther and Sewes from the local Neighbourhood Watch resplendent in their “Glow-as-much-as-you-can” bibs.
TOP: Edward and Esther discussing some serious astronomy.  MIDDLE: Two guests, all the way from Bellville, signing our attendance register.  Strange that many people just flatly refuse to do this.  BOTTOM: This group stayed for quite a while and showed a great deal of interest.

The turnout was disappointingly low but the few people that did turn up were very enthusiastic, which compensated for the poor attendance.

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.

The 13th Southern Star Party. The first to be held at Leeuwenboschfontein: Wednesday 22nd of February to Monday 27th February 2017.

The first Southern Star party held at Leeuwenboschfontein was a success. So, any suspicions about unlucky 13 were neatly sidestepped or perhaps the jinx only applies to people who suffer from triskaidekaphobia.

TOP: The barn with the display tables on the left, the lecture area in the centre and the kitchen on the right. 2nd FROM TOP: Our pull-up banners and some of the posters. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: This banner is always a showstopper. BOTTOM: The group at the opening.
TOP: The barn with the display tables on the left, the lecture area in the centre and the kitchen on the right. 2nd FROM TOP: Our pull-up banners and some of the posters. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: This banner is always a showstopper. BOTTOM: The group at the opening.

Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived on Wednesday the 22nd, downloaded our stuff at Dalzicht and set about getting the shed converted into a lecture area with a display section. Fortunately, their spacious kitchen made organising the coffee area very easy.

And here we all are. You can figure out who’s who on your own. I gave up putting in the names because we are not standing in nice neat rows and I could not make my list of names match the people in the photograph.
And here we all are. You can figure out who’s who on your own. I gave up putting in the names because we are not standing in nice neat rows and I could not make my list of names match the people in the photograph. Six people could not make it for the group photo.

Who attended:

Jim Adams (speaker), Jonathan Balladon, Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Steyn Botha, Samuel Botha, Dominique Brink, Johan Brink, Nellie Brink, Anja Bruton, Alan Cassells, Rose Cassells, Pamela Cooper, Chris de Coning, Micah de Villiers, Pierre de Villiers, Barry Dumas, Miemie Dumas, Clair Engelbrecht, Dwayne Engelbrecht, Arné Esterhuizen, Iain Finlay, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Louis Fourie, Maureen Helman, Cheyenne Kersting, Christine Kersting, Harald Kersting, Jamie Kersting, Evan Knox-Davies, Dianne Nxumalo-Kohler, Robin Kohler, Bennie Kotze, Paul Kruger, Lia Labuschagne, Eddy Nijeboer, Jannie Nijeboer, Lorenzo Raynard (speaker), Kim Reitz, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Rogan Roth, Johan Roux (Jnr), (Johan Jnr’s wife), (Johan Jnr’s eldest son), (Johan Jnr’s 2nd son), Alecia Roux, Henda Scott, Barry Shipman, Auke Slotegraaf, Corne van Dyk, and Chris Vermeulen, Alex Wright.

Some of the keen people pitched on Thursday and among them were Deon and Ronelle Begeman. Deon had, as promised at the previous SSP in Bonnievale, constructed two magnificent binocular viewing tripods for Auke and myself.  This is really quite an ingenious device with many improvements over what is currently on the market and it is very reasonably priced too when compared to its competitors. I will do a separate post with pictures about it at a later stage.

What a super way to advertise the Star Party against the backdrop of the busy telescope area and Leeuwenbosch’s starry skies.
What a super way to advertise the Star Party against the backdrop of the busy telescope area and Leeuwenbosch’s starry skies.

On Thursday evening Paul and I went up Swartberg in his 4×4.  It was a whole lot easier than walking up but also considerably more taxing on one’s nerves and I am not implying that Paul drove recklessly; quite the contrary. It is just that the vehicle adopts a wide variety of very unusual angles during both the ascent and descent and one has to trust the driver a whole lot more than when driving down a normal road.

TOP: I cannot recommend a visit to the hut on top of Swartberg strongly enough. This shot shows the hut in the first rays of the rising sun. CENTRE: looking east down the Nouga Valley in the early morning with smoke from the extensive veldt fires packed in the valleys. BOTTOM: Early morning looking south-west from the hut. The Langeberg lies on the far horizon and the tiny white spike of a microwave tower is just visible at the top of Rooiberg Pass.
TOP: I cannot recommend a visit to the hut on top of Swartberg strongly enough. This shot shows the hut in the first rays of the rising sun. CENTRE: looking east down the Nouga Valley in the early morning with smoke from the extensive veldt fires packed in the valleys. BOTTOM: Early morning looking south-west from the hut. The Langeberg lies on the far horizon and the tiny white spike of a microwave tower is just visible at the top of Rooiberg Pass.
Christine took this from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal just to prove that Paul and I had been on top of Swartberg. Thanks Christine for sharing.
Christine took this from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal just to prove that Paul and I had been on top of Swartberg. Thanks Christine for sharing.

TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.

TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.

Arne and Alex had their vehicle expire on the R318 while on the way to the SSP, but they were picked up by Evan and brought to Leeuwenboschfontein. The two seemed pretty laid back about leaving the car at the side of the road until Monday when they would set about sorting it out from Cape Town.

TOP: The group attending Deon’s presentation. BOTTOM: Deon and his very good representation of the Milky Way.
TOP: The group attending Deon’s presentation. BOTTOM: Deon and his very good representation of the Milky Way.

The beginner’s session at the telescopes was quite successful on Friday as was the beginners talk on Saturday morning.

TOP LEFT: How much traffic is there in the telescope area during a star party. This tangle of lights against the star trails in the background, as captured by Auke, should give you a good indication. TOP RIGHT: Taken from a different perspective by Auke and showing the south celestial pole very nicely is a second view of the telescope area. BOTTOM LEFT: A less cluttered short exposure of the telescope area showing Leo rising in the east. BOTTOM RIGHT: There are some very rare beings prowling the telescope area at night, as this shot would seem to prove. In real life, Eddy is not nearly as daunting I assure you.
TOP LEFT: How much traffic is there in the telescope area during a star party. This tangle of lights against the star trails in the background, as captured by Auke, should give you a good indication. TOP RIGHT: Taken from a different perspective by Auke and showing the south celestial pole very nicely is a second view of the telescope area. BOTTOM LEFT: A less cluttered short exposure of the telescope area showing Leo rising in the east. BOTTOM RIGHT: There are some very rare beings prowling the telescope area at night, as this shot would seem to prove. In real life, Eddy is not nearly as daunting I assure you.

Jonathan had to leave suddenly on Saturday morning as he was needed to fly a plane somewhere.  He promised he would flash his landing lights if his route took him over Leeuwenboschfontein which it apparently didn’t.

TOP LEFT: Part of the smallish group. TOP RIGHT: Me demonstrating the Southern Star Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: Samuel and Steyn. BOTTOM RIGHT: Steyn on the left, John in the background on the right and Henda up front.
TOP LEFT: Part of the smallish group. TOP RIGHT: Me demonstrating the Southern Star Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: Samuel and Steyn. BOTTOM RIGHT: Steyn on the left, John in the background on the right and Henda up front.

During my beginners’ session on Saturday morning, Jim Adams, retired Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA and Anja Bruton Science Engagement Coordinator at the SKA arrived. The problem was that Lorenzo Raynard Communications Manager at the SKA, who was due to give the first talk had not pitched and all efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. Jim, hearing of our predicament, very kindly agreed to give the talk he was scheduled to give that afternoon in Lorenzo’s slot. So we started off with “Spinoff: How investing in astronomy and space science changes life on Earth”. Jim proved to be every bit as good a speaker as Anja had said he was; relaxed, knowledgeable and very good at fielding questions too.

In the meantime, Lynnette and Anja were frantically trying to trace Lorenzo.

Martin Lyons and his wife Pat flew in (literally) especially for the social braai in the lapa at the campsite during lunchtime on Saturday.  They stayed until after lunch and then flew home again. According to Paul and Louis, the takeoff was actually quite tense but Martin, during subsequent discussions, downplayed any suggestion of problems.

Just before the braai the Vito was attacked by a vicious tree and lost its back window.

The Vito was the victim of an unfortunate incident just before the braai on Saturday when it was attacked by one of the vicious trees at Leeuwenboschfontein.
The Vito was the victim of an unfortunate incident just before the braai on Saturday when it was attacked by one of the vicious trees at Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Eddy and Jannie. TOP CENTRE: Louis and Deon. TOP RIGHT: Cheyenne Kersting CENTRE LEFT: Alex and Arne BOTTOM LEFT: Chris de Coning RIGHT: Micah and Auke.
TOP LEFT: Eddy and Jannie. TOP CENTRE: Louis and Deon. TOP RIGHT: Cheyenne Kersting CENTRE LEFT: Alex and Arne BOTTOM LEFT: Chris de Coning RIGHT: Micah and Auke.
TOP: Corné hard at work. CENTRE: A relaxed group outside with Alan and Rose who drove through to visit for the day. Thanks, guys! BOTTOM: Is Louis explaining where to find the stars? We will have to ask Bennie.
TOP: Corné hard at work. CENTRE: A relaxed group outside with Alan and Rose who drove through to visit for the day. Thanks, guys! BOTTOM: Is Louis explaining where to find the stars? We will have to ask Bennie.
TOP LEFT: Claire and Dwayne relaxing. TOP 2nd FROM LEFT: Barry and Miemie. TOP 2nd FROM RIGHT: A Cape Centre group tucking in. CENTRE LEFT: Alan’s version of the Polynesian fire poi possibly needs some practice. CENTRE: Myself, Lynnette and Jim. CENTRE RIGHT: Kim and Marius. BOTTOM LEFT: The Kerstings. BOTTOM RIGHT: Micah and Chris.
TOP LEFT: Claire and Dwayne relaxing. TOP 2nd FROM LEFT: Barry and Miemie. TOP 2nd FROM RIGHT: A Cape Centre group tucking in. CENTRE LEFT: Alan’s version of the Polynesian fire poi possibly needs some practice. CENTRE: Edward, Lynnette and Jim. CENTRE RIGHT: Kim and Marius. BOTTOM LEFT: The Kerstings. BOTTOM RIGHT: Micah and Chris.
TOP LEFT: Chris. TOP CENTRE: Jannie and Eddy. TOP RIGHT: Henda. CENTRE: Lia and Paul. BOTTOM LEFT: Lia. BOTTOM CENTRE: Evan and Jim. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Rose.
TOP LEFT: Chris. TOP CENTRE: Jannie and Eddy. TOP RIGHT: Henda. CENTRE: Lia and Paul. BOTTOM LEFT: Lia. BOTTOM CENTRE: Evan and Jim. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Rose.

By now Lorenzo had been traced and was on his way but would not make it in time for his time slot. We, or at least Anja, talked Jim into giving a second talk in Lorenzo’s slot. This talk “Robots in Space and Space Exploration; Past, Present and Future” went down very well with the audience.  Lorenzo finally pitched later on Saturday afternoon. As his talk would cut into observing time we decided to rather have him give his talk on Sunday morning.

After Jim’s talk and the lively question session we took the usual group photograph and, as is usual, some people did not pitch up. People who were absent were Jonathan Balladon, Steyn & Samuel Botha, Dominique & Nellie Brink and Lorenzo Raynard.

The group photograph was followed by the Pub Quiz which, this year, was orchestrated the usual degree of malevolence and cunning by Auke.  After several gruelling rounds the overall winner, by a very large margin was Alex.  Well done Alex, you left several past winners staggering around in your slipstream’s dust.

TOP LEFT: Jim Adams and during his first presentation. CENTRE LEFT: Handing over Jim’s speaker prize. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Anja and Lorenzo in conversation on Sunday morning. TOP RIGHT: Alex, the overall winner of the Pub Quiz, receiving his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Snorre surveying the proceedings.
TOP LEFT: Jim Adams during his first presentation. CENTRE LEFT: Handing over Jim’s speaker prize. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Anja and Lorenzo in conversation on Sunday morning. TOP RIGHT: Alex, the overall winner of the Pub Quiz, receiving his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Snorre surveying the proceedings.

The number of beginners at the telescopes on Saturday evening was disappointing but I am hoping it was the sudden drop in temperature that convinced them to stay indoors.

Paul’s star trails arch over the telescope area.
Paul’s star trails arch over the telescope area.

Lorenzo’s talk on Sunday morning. “The public face of SKA in South Africa” was reasonably well attended and, after some discussion, the great dispersal began and the site emptied fairly rapidly. This year, though, more people stayed on to observe the partial solar eclipse on Sunday afternoon.

TOP: My series of photographs following the solar eclipse with a late afternoon shot of Leeuwenboschfontein from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke’s very artistic shot of the shadows cast by the people around the telescope. BOTTOM RIGHT: A picture of the sun through one of Chris’s filters.
TOP: My series of photographs following the solar eclipse with a late afternoon shot of Leeuwenboschfontein from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke’s very artistic shot of the shadows cast by the people around the telescope. BOTTOM RIGHT: A picture of the sun through one of Chris’s filters.

Dwayne and Claire, who got engaged during the 11th SSP at Night Sky Caravan Farm, missed the 12th SSP because they were getting married. Now, while attending the 13th SSP, Mr and Mrs Engelbrecht announced they were expecting their first child. I suppose it will be too much to expect them to call the baby SSP, but it would be nice if they would.

On Monday morning we packed up and after Calla had very professionally helped close of and dust proof the gaping hole where the Vito’s rear window had been, Lynnette, Snorre and I also left for home.

The SALT-model goes to Scotland.

StarPeople’s SALT-model is off to the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation Conference to be held at the Edinburg International Conference Centre from the 26th of June to the 01st of July. This conference is advertised as “…. the most prestigious event for developers of ground- and space-based telescopes, the supporting technologies, and the latest instrumentation.

Some images of Alan's magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)
Some images of the magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which Alan built for StarPeople.

Dr Dave Buckley (Director: SALT Science) at the SAAO (South African Astronomical Observatory) and a South African team are taking a container full of innovative instruments developed at the SAAO to the conference. Dave approached us as he wanted to take Alan’s excellent model of SALT along to show off at the conference.

TOP LEFT: The base of the packaging being prepared. TOP RIGHT: SALT’s base and the telescope trusses put into place. BOTTOM LEFT: The next layer of packing material goes in. BOTTOM RIGHT: A final layer of packaging material before the rest of the model are packed.
TOP LEFT: The base of the packaging being prepared. TOP RIGHT: SALT’s base and the telescope trusses put into place. BOTTOM LEFT: The next layer of packing material goes in. BOTTOM RIGHT: A final layer of packaging material before the rest of the model are packed.

In preparation for the trip Alan has packed the model with great care. StarPeople are very excited that the model we commissioned Alan to build is going places were no model of SALT has been before.

I apologize, but I couldn’t resist that quip!

TOP LEFT: A view from the top of the mirror and trusses of the telescope. TOP RIGHT: The smaller bits and pieces are put in place. BOTTOM LEFT: Now everything is packed away safely. BOTTOM RIGHT: Final layers of packaging positioned so that nothing can fall out if the packages is accidentally flipped over. (Heaven forbid!)
TOP LEFT: A view from the top of the mirror and trusses of the telescope. TOP RIGHT: The smaller bits and pieces are put in place. BOTTOM LEFT: Now everything is packed away safely. BOTTOM RIGHT: Final layers of packaging positioned so that nothing can fall out if the packages is accidentally flipped over. (Heaven forbid!)

StarPeople are very excited on Alan’s behalf because of the recognition this gives his exceptional model building skills and it is just a pity Dave couldn’t fit him into the container as well.

We hope Dave and his team and the SALT-model have a safe trip and make their mark for South African Astronomy (and Alan) at the conference.

There we have it. SALT in a box, ready to go.
There we have it. SALT in a box, ready to go.

The Blaauwberg Meridian Expedition: 05 December 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 10th Southern Star Party, held at Night Sky Caravan Park near Bonnievale in the Western Cape, South Africa from the 06th to the 08th of November, 2015.

The 10th Southern Star Party

As is usual, the most important topic during the run-up to the Spring Southern Star Party was the weather. The clouds played silly buggers with us in the run-up to the SSP. First they shifted away from the weekend and then they shifted back again and then partially moved away again, but eventually it looked as if we would probably have one good night on the Friday and at least half a good night on the Saturday. (View more information about the Southern Star Party here) The Southern Star Party is held at Night Sky Caravan Farm (go here to see their Facebook page) (or go here to see their add on Budget Getaways).

Lynnette, Snorre and I left on Tuesday after Lynnette had her hair colour changed to a bright red, which suits her temperament perfectly. First stop was Pitkos Padstal and Francina for a quick chat, wine purchases, olive tasting and some catching up on the local “skindernuus” or local gossip. Then on to Night Sky where either Anneliese or Tertius form Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to visit a webpage with more details about them) were due to come and pitch the big tent at around 14:00. I started unloading as soon as we arrived and Lynnette organized the mountain of stuff as I unloaded, but Bonnievale Verhurings had developed a problem and could only pitch the tent later in the afternoon. Anyway, by Wednesday evening, Alan and Rose had arrived, the banners were in place and the telescope area had been cordoned off.

Top: The final approach to the turnoff with the white roses and the red Cannas contrasting beautifully with the purple Jacarandas. Bottom Left: The section after Robertson is a very scenic drive. Bottom Middle: The Jacaranda tress are almost in full bloom. Bottom Right: The narrow bridge across the Breede River.
Top: The final approach to the turnoff with the white roses and the red Cannas contrasting beautifully with the purple Jacarandas. Bottom Left: The section after Robertson is a very scenic drive. Bottom Middle: The Jacaranda tress are almost in full bloom. Bottom Right: The narrow bridge across the Breede River.
Top: The tent on Wednesday evening. 2nd From The Top: The inside of the tent and all we need are the people. 3rd From The Top: The outside of the tent all done up. Bottom: The telescope area adjacent to the tent starting to fill up.
Top: The tent on Wednesday evening. 2nd From The Top: The inside of the tent and all we need are the people. 3rd From The Top: The outside of the tent all done up. Bottom: The telescope area adjacent to the tent starting to fill up.

On Thursday Deon and Ronelle Beugemann arrived and sometime later in the evening Sebastian Guile and Aurelie Lemiere also pitched up. Jopie and Pieternel Coetzee sent a message cancelling their participation because they thought the weather forecast was unfavourable, which proved to be a big mistake for them. Early on Friday morning Alan and I put up the projection screen and completed the final touches to the tent, ready for the rest of the crowd to arrive so we could start the programme. Roelina Losper was also a late cancellation due to illness in her family, but we hope to see her next time.

Top: Lynnette’s fantastic cell phone shot of a magical sunset moment at the dam. Middle: A beautiful, tranquil moment on the dam captured by Chris. Bottom: Chris’s daylight shot of the telescope area showing, as to be expected, no astronomers.
Top: Lynnette’s fantastic cell phone shot of a magical sunset moment at the dam. Middle: A beautiful, tranquil moment on the dam captured by Chris. Bottom: Chris’s daylight shot of the telescope area showing, as to be expected, no astronomers.

Spring Southern Star Party Programme – 06 to 08 November 2015

Friday
18:00 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
19:00 Meet-and-Greet
19:30 Beginner’s Programme starts, Fight Light Pollution! Starts, Constellation Explorers set up
20:00 All lights out!
20:00 Deep-Sky Challenge starts
20:15 Constellation Exploration starts

Saturday
08:30 Beginner’s Programme, continued
10:30 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
11:00 Africa in Space – Kechil Kirkham
11:45 Building (a pinch of) SALT – Alan Cassells
12:30 Detecting the Sun in Microwaves [demo] – Evan Knox-Davies
13:00 Braai
14:30 Modelling MeerKAT – Bani van der Merwe
15:00 A New Glimpse of the Old Cape Observatory – Auke Slotegraaf
15:45 Feedback: Constellation Exploration & Deep-Sky Challenge
16:00 World Famous SSP Pub Quiz
18:00 Group photo
19:30 Beginner’s Programme, continued
20:00 All lights out! Deep-Sky Challenge, continued, Constellation Exploration (repeat)

Sunday
09:00 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
10:00 Presentation of certificates
Farewell until next time! (2016 Autumn SSP, February 05 – 07)

Tea and coffee available 24/7. Bring your own midnight snacks!

By 18:45 almost all of the 33 prospective SSP attendees were accounted for and we had on site the following:

Deon & Ronelle Beugemann, Alan & Rose Cassells, Martin Coetzee, Evan Knox-Davies, Barry & Miemie Dumas (both new), Iain Finlay, Louis Fourie (new) Sebastian Guile & Aurelie Lemiere, Kechil Kirkham, Annatjie Kunz (new), Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer, Marius & Kim Reitz (new), John Richards, James Smith, Alida Taljard (new), Chris Vermeulen, Gerhard Vermeulen, Wendy Vermeulen (none of the Vermeulen triplets are related) and Willem van Zyl, plus Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and myself.

Dwayne Engelbrecht & Clair Ingram (new) as well as Leslie Rose were still on the road while Bani van der Merwe (new) would only arrive on Saturday.

Back & standing from left to right: Auke, Alan, Rose, Barry, Miemie, Annatjie, Alida, John, Kim, Marius, Evan, Edward, Lynnette, Bani, Leslie, Eddy, Louis, Iain, Willem, Clair, Gerhard, Dwayn, Aurelie, Sebastian. Front & seated, kneeling or reclining from left to right: Paul, Chris, James, Martin, Kechil, Jannie, Wendy, Ronelle, Deon.
Back & standing from left to right: Auke, Alan, Rose, Barry, Miemie, Annatjie, Alida, John, Kim, Marius, Evan, Edward, Lynnette, Bani, Leslie, Eddy, Louis, Iain, Willem, Clair, Gerhard, Dwayne, Aurelie, Sebastian. Front & seated, kneeling or reclining from left to right: Paul, Chris, James, Martin, Kechil, Jannie, Wendy, Ronelle, Deon. Snorre was temporarily AWOL.

The evening was clear, except for a few small clouds very low down to the southeast so, after welcoming everyone, we got started. The serious observers and astrophotographers did their own thing, as usual, and the constellation hunters gathered round Auke while the total newcomers and I sat down next to Lorenzo, the 10” Dobby.

Top: Night shot across the dam by Chris Vermeulen showing the light pollution from Bonnievale reflected on the low clouds. This has increased considerably in the recent past. Left: Another shot by Chris showing the light pollution, quite a few stars and the red trails of people moving around with red lights in the foreground. Centre: This photograph by Chris shows just how much glare is created by the red lights of the astronomers. Right: In this shot Chris has captured lots of stars including the large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: Here Chris captured the eastern sky with Orion’s belt and sword dead centre.
Top: Night shot across the dam by Chris Vermeulen showing the light pollution from Bonnievale reflected on the low clouds. This has increased considerably in the recent past. Left: Another shot by Chris showing the light pollution, quite a few stars and the red trails of people moving around with red lights in the foreground. Centre: This photograph by Chris shows just how much glare is created by the red lights of the astronomers. Right: In this shot Chris has captured lots of stars including the large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: Here Chris captured the eastern sky with Orion’s belt and sword dead centre.

My system for the beginners (Alida Taljaard and Annatjie Kunz) was to show them how to use the Discover! Charts (go here to download them for free) and ConCards (they are available for free here). Once they understand how to use them, they will be able to find their way around the sky in the future. I emphasized that Rome was not built in one day and neither does one become a clued up amateur astronomer in the course of one evening or one weekend. I used Lorenzo to show them interesting objects and pointed out the various symbols representing these objects on the charts. I explained the movements of the stars in the sky and pointed out the South Celestial Pole. Unfortunately Crux was just below the horizon so I had to employ an alternative to finding south for the group. We systematically worked our way from Pavo, and Triangulum Australe, Ara, Sagittarius and Scutum round to Pegasus and later included Taurus. By 23:30 the dew had become a problem for Lorenzo, so we decided to pack up and go to bed.

On Saturday morning the beginners and I got together in the tent and I ran through some of the key aspects of using star maps again. We were later joined by Martin Coetzee and Eddy Nijeboer. We also covered the use of the Southern Star Wheel (this can be downloaded for free here). We discussed the importance of the Loss of the Night project (please go here to read more about this) as well as sources of guidelines for amateur astronomers, such as ASSA’s Stargazing 101 notes (These notes can be viewed and downloaded here). The ASSA Big 5 in the African Sky initiative was also discussed (Please go here to read more about this project). The group was shown that invaluable amateur astronomy aid, the Star Guide Africa South.

Top: From left to right are, Eddy (standing), Martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself. Bottom: martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself.
Top: From left to right are, Eddy (standing), Martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself. Bottom: martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself.

During the discussions I emphasized that astronomy was a hobby that they should practice solely for their own enjoyment. Each person should determine their own rate of progress and also the level of expertise they personally wished to attain. There was absolutely no external pressure to perform to any predefined level or meet any externally imposed criteria.

The inevitable question about which telescope they should buy came up and my answer was none, at least not until they had achieved some proficiency with the naked eye and binoculars. When they did eventually buy a telescope, they should only do so after consultation with some knowledgeable people and not just buy one off the shelf from the local outdoor goods store.

At 11:00 Kechil presented her informative talk on Africa in Space dressed in her space suite for dramatic effect. Kechil gave an interesting overview which highlighted the role of South Africa and, in particular, the South African Space Agency.

Left: The visitor from outer space approaches. Top Right: This slide neatly sums up what Ketchil's talk was about. Bottom Right: Kechil answering questions.
Left: The visitor from outer space approaches. Top Right: This slide neatly sums up what Ketchil’s talk was about. Bottom Right: Kechil answering questions.

At 11:45 Alan demonstrated his magnificent model of SALT in a talk titled Building (a pinch of) SALT, giving details of the problems he had experienced during the building process and highlighting the importance of his visit to SALT in perfecting the model.

Top Left: The shuttle, Saturn V (1/187 scale) and SALT (1/144 scale). Bottom Left: Closer view of SALT. Top & Bottom Right: Alan demonstrating the intricate steps of the latest craze “The SALT”.
Top Left: The shuttle, Saturn V (1/187 scale) and SALT (1/144 scale). Bottom Left: Closer view of SALT. Top & Bottom Right: Alan demonstrating the intricate steps of the latest craze “The SALT”.
Chris is all ears (and eyes).
Chris is all ears (and eyes).

Just before the lunch time braai, at 12:30, Evan explained his ingenious radio telescope, which he had built using a discarded television dish aerial, in his talk Detecting the Sun in Microwaves and demonstrated it afterwards.

Top: Evan explaining the technicalities of his device. Bottom: Everyone gathered round the telescope for the demonstration.
Top: Evan explaining the technicalities of his device. Bottom: Everyone gathered round the telescope for the demonstration.

I had laid and made the fires, with the able assistance of Marius and supervision by Kim and Miemie, so by 13:00 the coals were just right and everyone could get going and prepare lunch. The braai was, as always, a very relaxed opportunity to socialize and everyone made good use of it. Bani arrived during lunch so we were all set for the afternoon’s entertainment.

Top Left: Allan in his role as Braai Master. Top Middle: Marius, Evan and James sweating it out. Centre Left: Martin getting instructions by phone. Right: Sebastian and Aurelie looking very happy. Bottom Left: Barry and Miemie having a blast.
Top Left: Allan in his role as Braai Master. Top Middle: Marius, Evan and James sweating it out. Centre Left: Martin getting instructions by phone. Right: Sebastian and Aurelie looking very happy. Bottom Left: Barry and Miemie having a blast.
Top Left: The braai extravaganza in full swing. Top Right: Leslie and James in the foreground with Annatjie in the background. Right, second from the top: James and Paul with Alan, martin and Rose in the background. Bottom Left: Annatjie getting that meat done just right. Bottom Centre: Kim, Marius and Leslie (back to the camera). Bottom Right: Miemie and Barry hard at work.
Top Left: The braai extravaganza in full swing. Top Right: Leslie and James in the foreground with Annatjie in the background. Right, second from the top: James and Paul with Alan, Martin and Rose in the background. Bottom Left: Annatjie getting that meat done just right. Bottom Centre: Kim, Marius and Leslie (back to the camera). Bottom Right: Miemie and Barry hard at work.
Left Top: James taking a peek at the sun while Ronelle waits her turn. Left Top: James Sun has brought John to his knees while Auke, Paul, Martin and Deon look on. Right: Marius taking a good look at the sun.
Left Top: James taking a peek at the sun while Ronelle waits her turn. Left Bottom: The Sun has brought John to his knees while Auke, Paul, Martin and Deon look on. Right: Marius taking a good look at the sun.

At 14:30 Bani entertained us with the trials and tribulations of building models of the radio telescope dishes in his talk Modelling MeerKAT. Over and above the technical differences he has also had to cope with a burglary which relocated his tools and a subsequent holdup at gunpoint.

Left: Bani explaining finer details. Right: Everyone gathered round to see the tiny parts.
Left: Bani explaining finer details. Right: Everyone gathered round to see the tiny parts.

Auke’s talk at 15:00, A New Glimpse of the Old Cape Observatory, took us back to the roots of scientific astronomy in Southern Africa and in fact in Africa. The talk left one very concerned about the preservation of this heritage.

Top: Auke with Louis and Chris on his left. Middle: Evan looking sceptical about the levitation technique Auke is explaining. Bottom: The Royal Observatory sketched in its very early days.
Top: Auke with Louis and Chris on his left. Middle: Evan looking skeptical about the levitation technique Auke is explaining. Bottom: The Royal Observatory sketched in its very early days.
Top Left: Rose knits while Alan and Paul ponder a problem. Right: Martin in a mischievous mood. Bottom Left: Does the bottle in his hand possibly explain why Martin doesn’t know the front of the telescope from the back?
Top Left: Rose knits while Alan and Paul ponder a problem. Right: Martin in a mischievous mood. Bottom Left: Does the bottle in his hand possibly explain why Martin doesn’t know the front of the telescope from the back?

We were running a bit late, so we skipped the feedback session and went straight on the World Famous SSP Pub Quiz. Lynnette and I had selected the teams and we hoped we had come up with reasonably balanced ones. The final teams were:

Team A – Barry & Miemie, Evan, Marius & Kim and Leslie.
Team B – Deon & Ronelle, Aurelie and Sebastian, Kechil, Eddy & Jannie
Team C – Paul, John, James, Alida, Chris and Wendy
Team D – Alan & Rose, Martin, Iain, Willem, Annatjie, Louis and Bani

Lynnette rewriting the team lists because of the non-arrivals.
Lynnette rewriting the team lists because of the non-arrivals.

The teams ended up numerically unequal because of late withdrawals mostly by novices, but we decided not to move people around because it would have meant splitting up couples, which is a very unpopular move. The first round was a team event in which we would have five rounds of five questions each. Each member of a team that dropped out received a chocolate as a consolation prize. The winning team was Team D and they each received a 250 ml bottle of Nuy Red Muscadel and a chocolate.

After the group rounds, each team selected two members to represent them in the individual competition. The final group consisted of Alan, Evan, Bani, Chris, Deon, James, Leslie and Sebastian. The individual rounds took longer than expected because we had to have repeat rounds when two people tied on the lowest score to determine who had to fall out. These delays meant we had to interrupt the competition so that we could take the group photo while the light was good. After this unscheduled break we resumed and eventually James Smith was the winner with Leslie Rose in second place and Evan Knox-Davies, winner on two previous occasions, in third place. James received the coveted SSP floating Rosette, donated by SCOPEX, as well as a bottle of red wine and a bottle of Nuy Red Muscadel.

Left: Edward the grand Inquisitor and the worthy winner of the 2015 SSP Floating Rosette. James Smith. Right: The competitors in the individual competition trying to puzzle out an obscurity.
Left: Edward the grand Inquisitor and the worthy winner of the 2015 SSP Floating Rosette. James Smith. Right: The competitors in the individual competition trying to puzzle out an obscurity.

After the Pub Quiz we had delicious cup cakes which Gesina had baked for our “10th birthday” and, as is often the case with things like this, everybody was going to photograph them but eventually nobody did! They were, however, delicious.

We made several mistakes with this Pub Quiz and if we present it in this format again, these will be rectified. The first mistake was to have eliminated teams in the group stage. We should have allowed all the teams to stay in the competition for all five or six rounds and then determined a winner based on the highest total score. The second mistake was again the elimination process in the individual section. Next time we will do six rounds and determine the winner based on the combined highest score. If there are two people with the same score, an elimination round or rounds will decide the winner.

Dwayne and his crew had made a mutton “potjie” which they were kind enough to share with Auke, Lynnette and I before the evening’s proceedings started. After supper we started the evening’s proceedings under clear skies, except for a few wisps of cloud to the north and northwest. I put the beginner through their paces with the star charts and the constellations as well as individual stars and deep sky objects to see if they had grasped the basics from the previous night and the morning session. In the process we covered the sky from Pavo all the way to Taurus again. After that we moved on to Orion, Canis Major, Lepus, Monceros, Puppis and Carina. I think the beginners have a reasonable grasp of how to use the star charts to find constellations and orientate themselves for finding specific objects; provided they do not wait too long and forget everything. I am confident that they have the basics to get their astronomy going if they practice. By midnight we had patchy high clouds moving in from the northwest and the dew was quite heavy so we decided to call it a night. Lynnette and I went to bed, but there were discussions elsewhere that went on until much, much later.

M31. I was surprised by the eventual result as this deep sky object was very close to the horizon and there was a haze on the northern horizon as well as a humidity of 80%.
M31. I was surprised by the eventual result as this deep sky object was very close to the horizon and there was a haze on the northern horizon as well as a humidity of 80%.

Most people left early on Sunday, because nobody had participated in the Deep Sky Challenge, so there were no certificates to be handed out. On Sunday evening it was fairly cloudy, so everyone that was left (Auke, Lynnette and I, Alan & Rose, Barry & Miemie, Chris, Iain & Willem, John and Louis) got together for a braai.

Monday was departure time for Auke, Barry & Miemie, Chris, John and Louis. Monday night was partially cloudy all night so no astronomy for us. On Tuesday Tertius and his crew came to take the tent down and on Tuesday night it was partially cloudy so again no astronomy. On Wednesday Alan & Rose, Lynnette, Snorre and I packed up and headed for home leaving Iain & Willem to enjoy the peace and quiet at Night Sky. On the way home we stopped off at Pitkos to buy wine, green fig and other fruit preserves, and some baby beetroot for Lynnette to pickle.

Top: The overloaded Ark, sorry Vito. .
The overloaded Ark, sorry Vito. .
The trailer, loaded to capacity and possibly a bit over the mark
The trailer, loaded to capacity and possibly a bit over the mark
This sign at Pitkos caught my eye while buying wine.
This sign at Pitkos caught my eye while buying wine.
This sign dashed any hopes I had about negotiating a discount.
This sign dashed any hopes I had about negotiating a discount.

That wraps up the Spring Southern Star party and now we start organizing the summer event from the 5th to the 7th of February, 2016.

Some comments we received from people who attended the event.

“We are back from a fantastic weekend of stargazing at Nightsky Caravan park where the Spring Southern Star party was held. Thank you to Edward, Lynette and Auke for all the hard work to make this a wonderful learning experience! We re-kindled friendships, made lots of new ones and are already looking forward to February 2016! A big thank you to all the guest speakers for once again broadening our general knowledge. We managed to spot the following constellations and deep sky objects: • Orion Constellation and Nebula • Triangulum Constellation and galaxy • Aries Constellation • Andromeda galaxy • Pegasus Constellation • Sagittarius • Corona Australis • Tucana Constellation and TUC 47 globular cluster • Musca Constellation • The Chamaeleon • Messier M7 NGC 6475 • Messier M6 NGC 6405 Butterfly cluster • Scorpius Constellation • Triangulum Australe • Pleiades in Taurus • Large Magellanic cloud • Small Magellanic cloud • Tarantula Nebula • Messier 55 NGC 6809 in Sagittarius • Messier 77 NGC 1608 in Cetus • Eridanus constellation • Teapot asterism in Sagittarius • Circinus Constellation • Planetary alignment of Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Moon. • Satellite iridium flare”

“Sjoe die tyd vlieg verby. Dis amper al weer ‘n week gelede wat ons mekaar ontmoet het. Ek wil net weereens baie, baie dankie sê vir die geleentheid wat ek
gehad het om die naweek se SSP by te woon. Ek het geweldig baie geleer. Vir my was dit ‘n belewenis en ek sal baie graag nog meer wil leer. Dankie vir ‘n stunning event en al jul moeite en reëlings was baie goed.” (Heavens but time flies. It is almost a week since we met each other.  I would like to, once more, say thenk you very, very much for the opportunity that I had over the weekend to attend the SSP. I learnt an enormous amount. I found it an exceptional experience and would very much like to learn more. Thank you for the stunning event and all your efforts; the organization was very good.)

“Ons moet eintlik vir julle dankie sê. Alles het vlot verloop danksy julle tyd en opoffering.” (We should actually thank you. Everything went very smoothly thanks to to the time and effort you put in.)

The organization for the event was excellent. The hospitality ensured that no body felt left out. Thanks to the organizers for a successful meeting.
The organization for the event was excellent. The hospitality ensured that nobody felt left out. Thanks to the organizers for a successful meeting.