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 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 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.

SALT: March 2015

We visit SALT and get educated.

The visit to SALT was organized primarily to get Alan deep inside the telescope so that he could figure out some stuff he was unable to resolve from the drawings he had. Alan needed to know this minute detail because he is building the best model of SALT the Universe has ever seen for StarPeople’s outreach activities.  However, just when everything was organized disaster struck, because Alan’s employer withdrew his leave for complicated “technical” reasons. The rest of us decided to go in any case and give Alan all our photos afterward and then organize a second visit later in the year for his benefit.

In the end it was only Lynnette and I, Paul, Lucas, René, Wendy, Ross and his son that undertook the trip because Auke, Leslie and Martin couldn’t make it. Paul, Lucas and René camped at Sterland. You can go here to read more about Sterland. Lynnette, Wendy and I were put up by Ester Jordaan at Alpha B&B and Ester put up Ross and his son at one of her other guest houses, The Sutherland Guest House. Go here to read more about Alpha B&B and here if you want to know more about The Sutherland Guest House.

Top left: Paul on the prowl against the background of the building that houses the SAAO's visitor telescopes Top right: Wendy and Lynnette on their way to the Visitor's Centre. Bottom left: A very ingenious model of SALT by not quite what StarPeople have in mind for outreach. Bottom right:  Paul becomes almost double jointed when he gets behind the camera
Top left: Paul on the prowl against the background of the building that houses the SAAO’s visitor telescopes
Top right: Wendy and Lynnette on their way to the Visitor’s Centre.
Bottom left: A very ingenious model of SALT but not quite what StarPeople have in mind for outreach.
Bottom right: Paul becomes almost double jointed when he gets behind the camera

As arranged everyone made their own way to Sutherland and all of us pitched up on time at the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre, where we paid our dues to Anthony Mietas before he led our convoy up the hill to SALT, where our guide, Chris Coetzee, was waiting. Go here to find out more about the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre. The first thing we learnt was that we all had to be wearing closed shoes otherwise we would not be allowed to enter specific areas. General safety and the need to stay in a group where he could see us all, were stressed by Chris before we went in.  Next we were all issued with hard hats and I remember thinking that all we now needed, to really look “official” and have the run of the place, was a white coat and a clipboard.

Top left: Wendy and René in matching yellow hard hats and Lynnette in a white one to match her blouse. Top right: Up on the catwalk without Lynnette and Wendy.  It really is a long way down to the floor. Bottom left: Lucas and in the background one of the housing of the High Resolution Spectrograph situated right below  the telescope on the floor above. Bottom Right: Everybody making their way through the Spectrograph Room toward the Control Room.
Top left: Wendy and René in matching yellow hard hats and Lynnette in a white one to match her blouse.
Top right: Up on the catwalk without Lynnette and Wendy. It really is a long way down to the floor.
Bottom left: Lucas and in the background the housing of the High Resolution Spectrograph situated right below the telescope on the floor above.
Bottom Right: Everybody making their way through the Spectrograph Room toward the Control Room.
Top left: Paul looking a bit bewildered against the background of all those files.  Top right: Lucas and Chris discussing a point or two. Bottom Left: Paul on Saturday lurking around Sutherland with his camera Bottom right: Paul and Lucas discussing some finer photographic points against the backdrop of the Artist's Cottage in Jubilee Street
Top left: Paul looking a bit bewildered against the background of all those files.
Top right: Lucas and Chris discussing a point or two in the Control Room.
Bottom Left: Paul on Saturday lurking around Sutherland with his camera
Bottom right: Paul and Lucas discussing some finer photographic points against the backdrop of the Artist’s Cottage in Jubilee Street

I am not going to run through the tour step by step, as there is just too much to tell. So you will have to get the story from the photos. Lynnette and Wendy had to dip out when we went up on the catwalk as they both have an extreme reaction to heights.

Top left: Three of the refrigeration units used to cool the inside of the SALT building down to the expected temperature when the louvers are opened at the start of a night's observing. The cupboard with the grey door is an Igloo. It houses banks of electronics and keeps them cool an also prevents any light they may generate from interfering with the telescope's observations.  Top right: The framework that supports mirror structure. Bottom left: One of the giant feet supporting the telescope's structure/ The yellow section houses the rubber discs which form the air cushions on which the telescope moves when it rotates   Bottom right: A closer look at the underside of a mirror section.  The mirror rests on the blue bits and the grey cylinders are part of the system that control the movement of each mirror section during the alignment process.  The background photograph shows the segmented mirror itself.
Top left: Three of the refrigeration units used to cool the inside of the SALT building down to the expected temperature when the louvers are opened at the start of a night’s observing. The cupboard with the grey door is an Igloo. It houses banks of electronics and keeps them cool and also prevents any light they may generate from interfering with the telescope’s observations.
Top right: The framework that supports the mirror structure.
Bottom left: One of the giant feet supporting the telescope’s structure. The yellow section houses the rubber discs which form the air cushions on which the telescope moves when it rotates.
Bottom right: A closer look at the underside of a mirror section. The mirror rests on the blue bits and the grey cylinders are part of the system that controls the movement of each mirror section during the alignment process.
The background photograph shows the segmented mirror itself.
Top left: The wheel in the centre is part of the drive system that rotates the entire structure once it has been lifted on the air cushions. The small vertical cylinder measures the height of the structure above the concrete surface. The concrete is sealed with an epoxy layer to make it as smooth as possible and prevent it generating any dust. Top right: The cable housing that prevents the mass of cables leading up to the giant instrument beam above the telescope from becoming mangled or tangled when the telescope rotates. Bottom left: A gap in the mirror where a segment has been removed for cleaning and resurfacing. Bottom right: One of the motors that drives the rotation of the dome.  This yellow conduits carry high voltage power lines.
Top left: The wheel in the centre is part of the drive system that rotates the entire structure once it has been lifted on the air cushions. The small vertical cylinder measures the height of the structure above the concrete surface. The concrete is sealed with an epoxy layer to make it as smooth as possible and prevent it generating any dust.
Top right: The cable housing that prevents the mass of cables leading up to the giant instrument beam above the telescope from becoming mangled or tangled when the telescope rotates.
Bottom left: A gap in the mirror where a segment has been removed for cleaning and resurfacing.
Bottom right: One of the motors that drives the rotation of the dome. This yellow conduits carry high voltage power lines.
Top left: The instrument carrying beam at the top of the telescope structure. Top right: The eye or shutter in the dome that has to be opened for the telescope to see out into the night sky.  Bottom left: The "cherry picker" that is used to remove mirror sections.  Bottom right:  This motor is part of the system that opens the shutter. The background photo shows the mirror and part of its support structure.
Top left: The instrument carrying beam at the top of the telescope structure.
Top right: The eye or shutter in the dome that has to be opened for the telescope to see out into the night sky.
Bottom left: The orange device down on the ground floor is the “cherry picker” that is used to remove mirror sections.
Bottom right: This motor is part of the system that opens the shutter.
The background photo shows the mirror and part of its support structure.
Top left: A closer look at the instrument beam and the instruments it carries. Top right: A mirror section being prepared for cleaning and resurfacing. The large doors behind the technicians leads outside and the notice on the door is to remind anybody opening them that the hill is a windy place and that the winds can be quite ferocious. Bottom left: The underside of a mirror  section with all the trimmings removed and only the blue support framework left in place. Bottom right: The mirror section mounted and ready for placing in the vacuum chamber to start the refurbishing process.  The vacuum chamber is evacuated all the way down to one hundred thousandth of an atmosphere, which is quite a serious vacuum.
Top left: A closer look at the instrument beam and the instruments it carries.
Top right: A mirror section being prepared for cleaning and resurfacing. The large doors behind the technicians leads outside and the notice on the door is to remind anybody opening them that the hill is a windy place and that the winds can be quite ferocious.
Bottom left: The underside of a mirror section with all the trimmings removed and only the blue support framework left in place.
Bottom right: The mirror section mounted and ready for placing in the vacuum chamber to start the refurbishing process. The vacuum chamber is evacuated all the way down to one hundred thousandth of an atmosphere, which is quite a serious vacuum.

Later that evening, after dark, Paul, Lucas, Ross, his son and I were taken up the hill again by Chris to take photos. The one and only rule that Chris stressed repeatedly was that we were only to use red lights and very dim ones at that. On the way up we encountered Peter Haarhoff, the photographer’s group.  They were spread out across half the road surface right on a bend creating an extremely dangerous situation. Some of the group were using red lights that were definitely not dim ones and one in particular was more like a red spotlight. After the rather chilly photo session Lynnette and I joined Paul, Lucas and René for a very late braai and some red wine, courtesy of Paul, at Sterland.

On Saturday morning Lynnette and I took a set of photos in Sutherland’s Main Street and around the town.  Click here to read more and see the photos or you can go here to find out about Sutherland’s Solar System model and, if you want to know how many guest establishments in Sutherland have astronomy connections, you can go here. On Saturday afternoon Ester accompanied us on a rather bumpy ride out to their farm, Orion/Matjesfontein, on the road to Calvinia.  You can go here to read about that visit. On Saturday evening Paul, Wendy, Lynnette and I went to a dark spot about 15 km from Sutherland to do some observing and take photos.

What are these chaps building?  Bearing in mind that the local DRC congregation had held a prayer meeting for rain on the Friday I though they might know something I didn't and be building a large boat. Turns out this is part of a large sphere for the upcoming Africa Burn in the Tanqua.
What are these chaps building? Bearing in mind that the local DRC congregation had held a prayer meeting for rain on the Friday I though they might know something I didn’t and be building a large boat. Turns out this is part of a large sphere for the upcoming Africa Burn in the Tanqua.

On Sunday morning we packed up and, while everyone else made their way back to Cape Town, Lynnette and I went off to Floris and Annami Steenkamp’s place, Klipdrift, to do some observing there.  Click here to read about our visit.  You can also click here to read about how to own a piece of Klipdrift.

This is Lisa Marques's photo of the structure several days later with the builders Top Row: Quinton Maans, Jeff Whitlow, Benny Geduld and Julia Eszter Oláh. On the Floor:  Monique Schiess, Lollie Visagie, Karel Klein, Enrico Maans, Afrika Oncke, Davish Klein, Kosie Oncke, Kobus Klein, James Hayman, Koekie Prins, Nathan Victor Honey and Nicholas Raphael.
This is Isa Marques’s photo of the structure several days later with the builders
Top Row: Quinton Maans, Jeff Whitlow, Benny Geduld and Julia Eszter Oláh.
On the Floor: Monique Schiess, Lollie Visagie, Karel Klein, Enrico Maans, Afrika Oncke, Davish Klein, Kosie Oncke, Kobus Klein, James Hayman, Koekie Prins, Nathan Victor Honey and Nicholas Raphael.
A further updated photograph of the progress made with the structure. Photograph by Isa Marques
A further updated photograph of the progress made with the structure.
Photograph by Isa Marques