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.

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.

Southern African Astronomical Observatory Telescopes hit the Road: February 2015

The 0.5m and 0.75m telescopes will soon be leaving Sutherland for Durban (University of KwaZulu Natal) and Boyden (University of Free State) respectively.

The 0.5m was constructed by Boller & Chivens of Pasadena, no rx California, sales for the Republic Observatory in Johannesburg at the end of 1968. Boller & Chivens collaborated with Perkin-Elmer during the 1950’s to develop and manufacture the Baker-Nunn satellite tracking camera for the United States Vanguard satellite tracking program. Eventually the company was taken over by Perkin-Elmer in 1965. The telescope’s main function at the Republic Observatory was photometry and planetary photography and was, look in fact, the only telescope ready for use in June 1972 at the new Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) location in Sutherland. Initially it was used with the Texas designed UCT high-speed photometer connected to a Nova minicomputer with software by R.E. Nather. Later the “People’s Photometer”, designed by Richard Bingham and built at the Greenwich Observatory, became the main instrument deployed with this telescope. A considerable number of publications about rapid variables such as dwarf novae originated from data produced by the 0.5m telescope.

The mounting of the 0.75m was originally located in at the SAAO site in Cape Town. Its old home is is currently the IT building. While there, from 1964 onward, it was officially known as the Multiple Refractor Mount (MRM) because it carried three refractors and the largest of the three produced around 7000 photographic plates between 1964 and 1970. These plates were part of the extensive Southern Reference Star Programme. The 0.75m telescope itself was a reflector telescope and was specially built for installation in Sutherland by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in 1974. Grubb Parsons was officially Sir Howard Grubb, Parsons and Co. Ltd. The company was originally founded in Dublin by Thomas Grubb as the Grubb Telescope Company in 1833. He was joined by his son Howard in 1864. In 1925 Sir Charles Parsons bought the company and renamed it. The company had an illustrious career as a builder of formidable telescopes until it ceased to trade in 1985. A list is provided at the end of this post. The 0.75m telescope also had an impressive career at Sutherland where it was used for many important infrared and visible light studies of stars, including the supernova that exploded in 1987 in one of our neighbouring galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

According to Dr. Ramotholo Sefako, head of Telescope Operations at the SAAO, says the domes of the 0.5m and 0.75m telescopes will be modified after the telescopes have been moved. Both domes will eventually house new robotic telescopes. One of these telescopes is the 0.65m MeerLICHT that will be used to simultaneously observe the same part of the sky at night as the MeerKAT radio telescope outside Carnarvon. It will provide a real time optical view of the radio transient sky as observed on MeerKAT. MeerLICHT is jointly owned by the University of Cape Town, SAAO, the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NOW), and University of Oxford. The second dome will house the new SAAO 1.0m wide field telescope with modern instrumentation. Currently none of the SAAO telescopes have a wide field so this creates a new dimension in the SAAO’s research capabilities. This telescope will be installed late in 2015 or early in 2016.

You can visit the SAAO site to see pictures and read more about this exciting development if you go here.

Some telescopes produced by the Grubb Telescope Company and Grubb Parsons of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The “Great Melbourne Telescope” – a 48-inch-diameter (122cm) reflecting telescope with a speculum primary mirror (1868).
The 27-inch (68cm) refractor for the Vienna Observatory (1878).
The 10-inch (25cm) refractor at Armagh Observatory (1882).
Seven 13 inch (33cm) refracting telescopes for the Carte du Ciel international photographic star catalogue project (1887).
The 28-inch (71cm) refractor at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (1893).
The 10-inch (25cm) refractor at Coats Observatory, Paisley (1898).
After 1925 they built the optical components for the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the UK Infrared Telescope, the Isaac Newton Telescope and the William Herschel Telescope.

New Planetarium Show. 10th December 2014

Full Circle:  Star Lore Comes Back to Africa

Lynnette and I were quite thrilled to receive an invitation from Elsabe Uys to the opening of the new Planetarium show. The Planetarium is housed in the Iziko Museum building at the top of the historic Company Gardens in Cape Town. Although the proceedings were only due to start at 19:00 we left home in Brackenfell at 17:30 anticipating heavy traffic in the city centre. We were correct about the traffic as we only parked the car in front of the museum buildings at 18:30 on the dot.

We were amongst the first to arrive but fairly hot on our heels Auke arrived, resplendent in a new blue shirt I had not seen before. People started arriving in an ever quickening stream and soon we were able to tuck into the delicious spread the museum had laid on. The was a selection of fine wines, courtesy of the famous Groot Constantia Estate as well as water and fruit juice.

There was a fair and sufficient selection and quantity of food for the guests
There was a fair and sufficient selection and quantity of food for the guests
Auke, resplendent in his blue shirt making sure he does not go hungry
Auke, resplendent in his blue shirt making sure he does not go hungry
Lynnette in the striped blue and black skirt at the sushi table
Lynnette in the striped blue and white skirt at the sushi table
Elsabe Uys, clarifying a wine technicality  with the ladies from Groot Constantia
Elsabe Uys, clarifying a wine technicality with the ladies from Groot Constantia

The Planetarium Manager, Theo Ferreira, welcomed everyone and called on the Director of Education and Public Programmes at the Iziko Museum, Wayne Alexander, to fill us all in about the programme for the evening. Wayne talked briefly about the Planetarium and the development of the new programme. He mentioned the various Planetarium staff members who had been involved as well as other persons who had played an important role in the process. He then called on the script writer for the new show, Dermod Judge to give us some more background.  This Dermod did in a very entertaining and informative manner before handing the mike back to Theo. Theo informed us that we should finish up whatever we were eating or drinking as the show would start in 10 minutes time.

Theo Ferrera gets the proceedings going
Theo Ferrera gets the proceedings going
Wayne Alexander congratulating the Museum staff involved in the project
Wayne Alexander congratulating the Museum staff involved in the project
Dermod Judge delivering an informative and entertaining talk on the background to the new show
Dermod Judge delivering an informative and entertaining talk on the background to the new show
Those present listened attentively while they sipped and nibbled.  Well, I suppose some might have been more intent on sipping and nibbling than listening
Those present listened attentively while they sipped and nibbled. Well, I suppose some might have been more intent on sipping and nibbling than listening

The show is certainly a whole new view of Cultural and Ethnoastronomy. It highlights the fact that, although the ancients did not go to the Moon, their knowledge formed the basis of modern Astronomy which has taken us to the Moon and built the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) as well as the radio telescopes KAT-7, meerKAT and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The narration was clear and lucid and the background music and lyrics were appropriate and supplemented the narration well.  I think the show will go down very well with the general public and average visitor to the Planetarium this summer.

The projector in the Planetarium has always reminded me of some mechanical being from outer space or perhaps a mechanical deity of sorts
The projector in the Planetarium has always reminded me of some mechanical being from outer space or perhaps a mechanical deity of sorts
Could this be what the aliens will look like when we bump into them one day?
Could this be what the aliens will look like when we bump into them one day?
Aha!  Auke brings his offering to the Majestic Mechanical Majesty. Will his cellphone be accepted?
Aha! Auke brings his offering to the Majestic Mechanical Majesty. Will his cellphone be accepted?
Most Majestic Mechanical majesty please accept this humlbe electronic device as a gift from your servant, Auke
Most Majestic Mechanical majesty please accept this humlbe electronic device as a gift from your servant, Auke
Woe is me! my gift has been rejected by his Mechanical Majesty and now He has put out the lights of the Universe
Woe is me! My gift has been rejected by his Mechanical Majesty and now He has put out the lights of the Universe

It is a pity that, when the projector popped a fuse on the Southern Hemisphere circuit, and was only able to give a Northern Hemisphere star background, the technical crew did not tell the audience this. Most people there probably did not notice it and, had I not spotted Cassiopeia’s characteristic “W” fairly early on, I would, like Lynnette, have spent a considerable portion of the show wondering where all the familiar stars were and why the Milky Way was so sparse.

The ladies from Constantia packing up their goodies
The ladies from Groot Constantia packing up their goodies

Autumn Southern Star Party from April 25th to April 28th 2014

Night Sky Caravan Park, Oudekraal, Bonnievale (-33.012486, 19.994881& 207m)

To start with, a special word of thanks to the sponsors, speakers, newcomers, day visitors and of course the regulars who helped to make the event possible. If you want to read some feedback from people who attended the Star Party please go here.

Sponsors:
Andrie van der Linde, Eridanus Optics,
http://www.eridanusoptics.com/store

Anneliese Carstens, Bonnievale Verhurings, Gelukshoop,
marankis@lando.co.za

Gesina de Wet, Oudekraal, Bonnievale,
nightsky@breede.co.za

SAASTA, South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement,
http://www.saasta.ac.za

Waltons – Stellenbosch,
http://www.waltons.co.za

Donors
Alan & Rose Cassells – the two lights for the interior of the marquee.

Speakers (in order of appearance)
Martin Lyons – “Live Video Astronomy Demo”
Kos Coroniaos – “Amateur Astronomy in South Africa”
Martin Lyons – “Basic Spectroscopic Astronomy”
Lia Labuschagne – “Brown Dwarfs”
Alan Cassels – “Comfortable observing – Moving the Beast”
Auke Slotegraaf – “Photometry with a DSLR Camera”
Kechil Kirkham – “The SKA – The story so far”
Kerry Patterson – “Planetary Models of Hu Aquarii”
Brett du Preez – “Collimating a Newtonian Reflector Telescope”

Newcomers
Dwayne Engelbrecht, Lia Labuschagne, Charmaine Pretorius, Anneke Steyn, Bernie, Michelle & Keagan Swanepoel, Gerhard Vermeulen and Wendy Vermeulen

Day visitors
Anneliese & Tertius Carstens, Willie Lombard & Elise, Inus & Elsophie van Staden

The “old hands”
Alan & Rose Cassells, Charl and Yolandi Cater, Kos Coronaios, Brett du Preez, Wim Filmalter, Iain Finlay, Kechil Kirkham, Martin Lyons, Kerry Paterson, John Richards, Leslie Rose, Auke Slotegraaf, Willem van Zyl, and of course Lynnette and myself.

The 2014 Autumn Southern Star Parties Group Photo
The 2014 Autumn Southern Star Parties Group Photo

Lynnette, Snorre the cat and I got off to a very early start in Brackenfell and arrived at Night Sky by about 09:30 on Thursday.  Alan and Rose were already settled in and shortly after 10:00 Anneliese Carstens of Bonnievale Verhuurings and her two assistants were on site to pitch the marquee tent.  The whole process took just over 70 minute.  As soon as that was done,  we started putting up the banners and posters and doing all the other essentials to get the inside organized.  Alan and Rose pitched in to help with this and without their very able assistance, the job would have taken a great deal longer.  Thanks guys, as usual your convivial company made an otherwise boring task seem quite fun. Lynnette got the Admin table sorted out, as well as the chairs in the main tent and the coffee bar at the back of the tent.

The banner displayed at the entrance to Night Sky Caravan Park dates back to a 2004 astronomy outreach programme
The banner we displayed at the entrance to Night Sky Caravan Park dates back to a 2004 astronomy outreach programme
The side of the marquee tent facing the main camp area
The side of the marquee tent facing the main camp area
The left side of the tent's interior with the Admin Table on the left.
The left side of the tent’s interior with the Admin Table on the left.
The right side of the tent's interior.  The Sale Table is hidden by the chairs on the right.  All banners, inside and outside the tent, were designed by Auke.
The right side of the tent’s interior. The Sale Table is hidden by the chairs on the right. All banners, inside and outside the tent, were designed by Auke.
The Coffee Table was open all day and all night
The Coffee Table was open all day and all night
The Sale Table later sported binoculars and eyepieces put up for sale by various attendees.
The Sale Table later sported binoculars and eyepieces put up for sale by various attendees.

 

Lynnette at the Admin Table
Lynnette at the Admin Table

Thursday evening didn’t offer much by way of stargazing as it was one of those evenings where the clouds opened up and, just as one thought it was telescope time, they closed in again. Somewhere between 02:00 and 03:00 I got up to have a peek and it was totally clear, but I was too lazy to take the telescopes outside.

During the course of Friday most of the others trickled in, but by sunset there were still people on the list who had not turned up so we decided to move the Pub Quiz forward to the Saturday.

The weather looked indecisive about being cloudy or not, so we socialized and had an uncharacteristically late braai while Martin Lyons started setting up for his live video astronomy demonstration. Unfortunately the electronic gremlins were out in force and even with the able assistance of Kos Coraniaos the system obstinately refused to perform to expectations. As the clouds had cleared up we all dispersed to the telescopes and spent the rest of the evening observing or introducing the newcomers to the wonders of the night sky.

John, Alan & Leslie around the braai fires
John, Alan & Leslie around the braai fires
Paul, Alan, part of the camp and the marquee looking almost due South
Paul, Alan, part of the camp and the marquee looking almost due south
Evening reflection looking south-east
Evening reflection looking south-east
Alan point out a UFO to Paul, or maybe an early star?
Alan pointing out a UFO to Paul, or maybe an early star?

On Saturday Kos kicked off the programme followed by Lia in Martin’s vacant slot. The planned braai turned into a bit of a fiasco, because it started raining quite heavily just as the fires got going nicely. Kos and Wim’s attempts to rescue one of the fires by putting the braai drum on Brett and Leslie’s stoep, had unexpected consequences. Despite the fact that they closed the doors and windows the smoke from the fire still got into the house and tainted everything with a distinct “wood smoke” odour.

I am going to get myself a camera with a CCD this wide
I am going to get myself a camera with a CCD this wide
Leslie, Brett & Wenday at Kos's talk
Leslie, Brett, Wendy, Charmain & Gerhard at Kos’s talk
Lia concentrating on Brown Dwarfs
Lia concentrating on Brown Dwarfs
Reflections on the dam of the rain that was to follow shortly afterwards
Reflections on the dam of the rain that was to follow shortly afterwards

Even though Martin’s talk had been cancelled as a result of his equipment failure, leaving an open slot for an extended lunch, the braai was so late that Alan had to wait for people to finish eating before he could start his talk.  After Alan’s talk, Auke presented Alan with his long-awaited observing certificate and a special t-shirt commemorating his acquisition of a 12-inch telescope.  After that ceremony we took the group photo and set ourselves up for the Pub Quiz after supper.

Alan maneuvering The Beast into position
Alan maneuvering The Beast into position
Alan's ingenious drawing table
Alan’s ingenious drawing table
Auke handing over Alan's observing certificate
Auke handing over Alan’s observing certificate
Alan and the long overdue observing certificate
Alan and the long overdue observing certificate
Alan receiving his 12-inch t-shirt
Alan receiving his 12-inch t-shirt
Leslie & Auke enjoying the sunshine after the rain while the braai fires got going again
Leslie & Auke enjoying the sunshine after the rain while the braai fires got going again
Gesina after delivering the SSP-cake
Gesina, after delivering the Southern Star Party cake
Auke and Gesina in a congenial mood
Auke and Gesina in a congenial mood

The Pub Quiz was contended between six teams. After the first three rounds, three teams were eliminated leaving three to contest the next four rounds before Lia and John’s team made it through to the finals. It was a tight race between these two teams until John’s team took the lead. By that time the weather had cleared completely leaving everyone itching to get to the telescopes, so this year’s Quiz, like the Spring SSP in 2013, was not taken to the individual level. Probably a good thing because John has already won the Quiz twice before on an individual basis!

A rainbow at night is a shepherd's delight or something to that effect
A rainbow at night is a shepherd’s delight or something to that effect
With the clouds looking as if they were clearing people hastily started setting up so that they could start observing after the Pub Quiz
With the clouds looking as if they were clearing people hastily started setting up so that they could start observing after the Pub Quiz
Richard, Charl and Yolandi have spotted something interesting in the evening sky
Richard, Charl and Yolandi have spotted something interesting in the evening sky
Wim is also looking but Yolandi seems to be be worrying about the photographer
Wim is also looking but Yolandi seems to be be worrying about the photographer
Al set up and ready to fire off the first salvo in the Autumn 2014 Pub Quiz
All set up and ready to fire off the first salvo in the Autumn 2014 Southern Star Pub Quiz
The final rounds and on my left gaining steadily, John's team
The final rounds and on my left gaining steadily, John’s team
The final rounds and on my right, putting up a brave fight to stay in the lead, Lia's team team
The final rounds and on my right, putting up a brave fight to stay in the lead, Lia’s team
The winners of the Autumn 2014 Southern Star Pub Quiz. Bernie Swanepoel, Muchelle Swanepoel, Iain Finlay, John Richards and Keagan Swanepole.  Keagan is wearing the coveted Southern Star Party Pub Quiz Floating Rosette
The winners of the Autumn 2014 Southern Star Pub Quiz. Bernie Swanepoel, Michelle Swanepoel, Iain Finlay, John Richards and Keagan Swanepoel. Keagan is wearing the coveted Southern Star Party Pub Quiz Floating Rosette

For the evening and late-night coffee we had a very nice cake baked by Gesina to commemorate the seventh Southern Star Party.  The cake was iced in blue and decorated with silver stars.  The cake also served to celebrate John Richard’s 70th birthday and we wish him well on his next 100 years.  A very nice gesture indeed, thanks Lynnette.

The Southern Star Parties Cake commemorating seven Star parties (and John's birthday)
The Southern Star Parties Cake commemorating seven Southern Star Parties (and John’s birthday this time too)

Sunday’s day-programme went off without a hitch. Auke had to leave just after his talk to get Kos back to Somerset West and then he unfortunately encountered a problem and was unable to return as planned. By evening the sky was clouded over, much to everyone’s disappointment, so we also cancelled the scheduled “Ethno-What’s up Tonight”. Anneliese and Tertius had come over specially for the stars, so it was a great disappointment for them.  However, just as we were sitting down having coffee with them, Leslie knocked on the door and announced that the clouds were clearing so we could set up a telescope and take them on a tour. Before midnight Lynnette and I gave up the unequal battle with the dew and went to bed.

Auke seated, left back talking about photometry with a DSLR camera
Auke seated, left back talking about photometry with a DSLR camera
Kechil talking about the SKA after having shown us how to dance the SKA!
Kechil talking about the SKA after having shown us how to dance the SKA!
Kerry explaining the intricacies of HU Aquarii
Kerry explaining the intricacies of HU Aquarii
Brett explaining exactly why most of us avoid collimating our telescopes
Brett explaining exactly why most of us avoid collimating our telescopes
The sunset was absolutely magnificent
The sunset was absolutely magnificent
Much later we could actually do some stargazing on an absolutely windless night as evidenced by the reflections in the dam
Much later we could actually do some stargazing on an absolutely windless night as evidenced by the reflections in the dam
Over on the far side of the dam a moving red light is reflected in the water
Over on the far side of the dam a moving red light is reflected in the water
The Magellanic Clouds, 47 Tuc, the Tarantula very faintly and a tiny corner of the Milky Way
The Magellanic Clouds, 47 Tuc, the Tarantula very faintly and a tiny corner of the Milky Way

On Monday morning everyone was packing up and saying goodbyes. In-between all the farewells, we took down the posters and banners in the tent, folded up tables, stacked chairs and loaded the trailer. By that evening it was only Lynnette, Snorre, myself and Iain and Willem left.

On Tuesday morning with the clouds building up, Anneliese and her crew arrived to take down the marquee.  Iain and Willem were also packing up and when Anneliese and her crew had finished one of her crew remarked, “Look at those two still struggling with that little tent and we’ve already finished with the big one.”  Iain and Willem did eventually finish and left shortly after midday.  Lynnette and Snorre and I stayed till Wednesday before we left for home via the Pitkos Farm Stall.  Regrettably they had no more roosterkoek by the time we got there so we just had coffee and bought a box of Nuy Muscadel for the next SSP in October 2014 before heading home!

This table gives the sky brightness readings obtained during the Autumn 2014 Southern Star Party.

Place Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park
Locality & GPS -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m
Date 24/03/2014 25/03/2014 26/03/2014 27/03/2014 28/03/2014 29/03/2014
Time (SAST) 22:30 23:30 22:00 22:00 22:00 22:00
Temp (°C) 18.00 17.00 16.00 16.00 16.00 17.00
SQM1 21.68 21.58 21.61 21.67 21.59 21.65
SQM2 21.65 21.57 21.62 21.67 21.60 21.64
SQM3 21.66 21.56 21.62 21.66 21.61 21.65
SQM4 21.64 21.59 21.63 21.66 21.60 21.64
SQM5 21.65 21.58 21.60 21.67 21.61 21.64
SQM6 21.63 21.56 21.61 21.68 21.60 21.64
SQM7 21.65 21.58 21.61 21.67 21.59 21.61
SQM8 21.66 21.56 21.62 21.67 21.59 21.64
SQM9 21.65 21.55 21.61 21.66 21.60 21.63
SQM10 21.66 21.58 21.61 21.66 21.60 21.65
Average (MSAS) 21.65 21.57 21.61 21.67 21.60 21.64
StdDev (MSAS) 0.012689 0.012207 0.008000 0.006403 0.007000 0.011358
Med.(MSAS) 21.65 21.58 21.61 21.67 21.60 21.64
NELM (V mags) 6.4610 6.4203 6.4418 6.4679 6.4343 6.4541