Thursday required an early start to beat the infamous N1-traffic and have breakfast at the Rcafe in Long Street (go here to find out more) before starting our day. We left Brackenfell at 05:17, which was actually later than our original ITD of 05:00. ITD? My shorthand for Intended Time of Departure. We were parked in front of Rcafe by 05:45 which meant that the trip had taken us a mere 28 minutes. As soon as the doors opened at 06:00 Lynnette and I went inside to order two much needed Americano’s to start the day properly. What really amazed us was that the owner and staff recognized us the moment we walked in the door and it was a few days more than a year since we’d last been there! Auke arrived shortly after us and ordered his cappuccino. After breakfast, we headed for the Iziko South African Museum (click here for more information) where Benjamin was waiting to unlock the gates for us and set out the traffic cones to prevent vehicles entering our display and observing space in the amphitheatre. The weather was clear but blustery. The wind was, in fact, such a nuisance that I eventually took down and put away the posters, as the frames were being badly scratched every time they toppled over onto the brick paving. Anyway, by 08:00 we were ready to roll and all we needed was a visitor or two, which we soon got.
Thursday’s are popular school days at Iziko and we had three groups that we managed to convince that they should take a peek at the Sun. There were several other school groups whose teachers waved us away when we invited them to view the Sun. Being a weekday many of our visitors were from outside the country’s borders as most South Africans were hard at work earning an income. Many of the tour guides with the groups declined to let their tourists take a look at the Sun. Their reason was mostly that they had a schedule to keep to and did not have the time. Nevertheless, we had groups from Gabon, Thailand, Hong Kong, France, Netherlands, Israel, and Germany.
It was also nice to have the research staff from the backrooms of Iziko pay us a visit. I was especially pleased to make the acquaintance of Jay van den Berg a palaeontologist on Dr Roger Smith’s staff and Clair Browning the newly appointed Curator of the Karoo Collection.
The problem of getting people to sign our visitor’s book was highlighted for the umpteenth time. Many people who viewed the Sun through our telescopes flatly refused to sign the list and some actually became quite agitated when asked to do so. This problem is exasperated when one is busy and you simply do not have time to chase after people and ask them to sign. So, once again, our signature total (288) and counter tally (597) do not agree. I am more convinced than ever that the answer lies in devising a means to automatically count the number of people who look into each telescope’s eyepiece.
Because the Sun appears as a very bland and uninteresting white ball as a result of of the solar filter fitted to Lorenzo, many viewers say it looks like the Moon. So I decided to do some experimenting with filters to make the image more “exciting”. The images were all taken with my mobile and I am afraid that I do not have the world’s steadiest hand, so the photos are not of the best quality.
August in the Western Cape is known for wet, blustery and cold conditions so we were mentally prepared for the worst during National Science Week 2016. However, the weather was uncharacteristically fine except for the last two days. Fortunately for us the Iziko South African Museum (go here to find out more about this exciting venue) allowed us to move inside and use the large open area adjacent to the now non-existent cafe. Thank you Elsabé and Theo for all your efforts on our behalf.
National Science Week had to be move forward by one week due to the local elections. That also caused some problems because we had already started making arrangements and the change meant changing other things as well. The run-up to National Science Week was a also unsettling because our sponsors had organizational problems, which meant that both the funding and the display material were very, very late. Late funding meant that we had to postpone all purchases and rentals until the very last minute which resulted in a lot of frantic rushing around with panic levels going off the scale every now and again. Scary stuff but we made it in one piece although it was really touch and go with some plans having to be partially shelved due to a lack of time to implement them properly.
Our setup this year shared the amphitheater with the impressive DNA model of the Past All from One Exhibition. Please go here to read more about this interesting exhibition sponsored by Standard Bank.
We had many visitors from overseas and also many visitors from other African countries. Despite the rather nerve racking preparation phase everything actually went off quite well. We definitely had more dubious characters hanging around this year than in 2014. Special thanks to the Iziko security staff who were very efficient and here Benjamin stands out and, quite honestly deserves a medal for his efforts. Despite their surveillance we had items “disappear”, among others Lynnette’s phone and that loss is still having repercussions almost a month later.
But, by and large it was a successful week with lots of sunshine making it easy to demonstrate and discuss renewable energy. The solar cooker, solar oven, and various solar power driven devices were all put to good use and other equipment was used to demonstrate the existence of energy at other wavelengths in the solar spectrum. We also used the telescopes equipped with special filters to good effect so that people could take a look at the sun, the source of all this free energy.
Our poster about solar energy depicted the photo-voltaic plant about 6 km outside the town of De Aar in the Northern Cape Province (go here to read more about this development). The other three projects we mentioned and discussed were Concentrating Solar Plants also situated in the Northern Cape Province. !Ka Xu is located about 40 km from the town of Pofadder (go here to read more about this innovative development). Close-by and just off the R358 Onseepkans road lies a similar development Xina (read more about this by going here).. Equally interesting is the !Khi Solar one project which is being constructed close to the town of Upington (go here to read more about this development).
Many of the South African visitors were totally oblivious of the efforts currently underway in South Africa to harness wind and solar energy. It is indeed a great pity that the handout material was so totally unrelated to the topic of Renewable Energy because people looked for something tangible to take away with them after visiting us and were noticeably disappointed when they discovered that the handouts were not related to the topic.
The late arrival of the handouts and posters also meant that we had to improvise in order to organize our usual displays at the three largest public in our area. Fortunately some of the librarians were very resourceful and able to contribute very good ideas.
It is also a pity that we did not get to see a member of the official inspectorate as we felt that we had a very good setup. As luck would have it an official photographer did turn up on one of the days when rain had forced us indoors. Our indoor display was not nearly as impressive as the outdoor one and, of course, the photographer turned up when we had a very quiet period and only a trickle of visitors.
Our total number of visitors was well over the 4 000 and at the three Libraries we supplied material to, we reached another 12 000 to 15 000. The circulation figure of the newspapers we advertised in was over one and a half million, so the exposure for National Science Week this year, was quite substantial. The NRF/SAASTA should be well satisfied with the number of people reached for the money they spent.
We can only hope that we have very good weather again next year and a smoother, less stressful run-up to the event.
Lynnette and I arrived first outside the Iziko Museum (go here to visit their website) and Planetarium (go here to see their webpage) and, after some vehicular gymnastics, managed to park the Vito. Auke and Wendy arrived shortly after us in Wendy’s new vehicle. After Elsabé Uys had assured us we were parked in the correct places we started setting up. The windy conditions soon made it clear that banners were not going to be put up at all. The wind was to become a major factor in the rest of the evening’s proceedings. However we set up Lorenzo, Wendy’s 8” Dobby and Walter, Auke’s refractor, and settled down to wait. The sun was already behind the trees and buildings on the western edge of the amphitheater so we couldn’t show people that and there was no moon, so we had no choice but to wait for it to get dark before we would (hopefully) have something to show people.
Shortly after sunset the queue started forming at the entrance to the museum and quickly extended itself down the steps of the amphitheater past our telescopes. I must say we certainly got some pretty odd looks sitting behind our telescopes twiddling our thumbs and gazing up into the sky. In the meantime the wind was steadily becoming stronger and the wispy clouds around Devil’s Peak and the eastern buttress of Table Mountain were becoming more and more substantial by the minute. Even before it was properly dark these clouds had started sweeping down the front of the mountain and then breaking up and floating across the city. They looked like giant tufts of candyfloss tinted pink and yellow by Cape Town’s poorly designed lighting.
When we finally got started the area around Orion, Canis Major and the surrounding constellations were only visible for brief moments in the breaks between the scurrying clouds and our best (in fact only bet) was Jupiter, low down on the eastern horizon. It seemed as if the clouds avoided that area. By now the wind was blowing a mini-gale, and when it gusted it overturned our tables and chairs, rocked the telescopes and blew dust and leaves into people’s eyes. Most certainly not the most pleasant evening for astronomy outreach we had experienced. As Jupiter rose higher it entered the cloudy zone and we had to wait patiently for it to reappear in the gaps before people could view it through the telescopes.
By the time 21:40 rolled around all three of us were more than eager to pack up and go home. We bundled everything into the cars and made our respective ways home. It was fun, I think, but not the sort of fun I would like to repeat in a hurry. We are uncertain if it was just the very windy conditions or if there were other factors, but we definitely had far fewer people at the telescopes than last year and there were also fewer people in the queues.
National Science Week in 2015 took place from the 01st to the 08th of August. After 2014’s hectic outing we opted for what we hoped would be an easier event this year. We approached the Iziko South African Museum to find out if they would allow us to set up every day in the amphitheatre in front of the Museum. Theo Ferreira and Elsabe Uys were very helpful in arranging all the logistics of the event and without their able and willing assistance I doubt if everything would have run quite as smoothly as it did.
In the run-up to National Science Week there was the usual rush to fix last minute glitches and, of course, our house looked decidedly scruffy with all the piles of posters and handouts.
On Saturday 01st left home early, so as not to be caught in the traffic. We had roped Jaco Wiese in to help out as an extra pair of hands because we expected a fair number of people. Alan and Rose Cassels were also on site as Alan had to man the table with his absolutely superb model of the Southern African large Telescope (SALT). As part of our program the Iziko planetarium agreed to administer a competition for us. After each planetarium show the name of an entrant in the competition was drawn and the first person drawn that had answered the question correctly received a prize from us. The weather was superb for outdoor activities like ours and drew many Capetonians to the Company Gardens, so we had a constant stream of visitors wanting to view the sun through our telescope, which was equipped with special filters to safeguard their eyes.
Sunday the 02nd was pretty much a repeat of the Saturday.
Unlike 2014 when we worked the crowds every day we took a break on the Monday and Tuesday but on Wednesday the 05th we were back at the Museum but, being a weekday we had to start much earlier to beat the traffic. It was also a tough day because neither Jaco nor Alan and Rose were available so Auke, Lynnette and I had to really know our stuff to cope with everything and we were very glad when closing time rolled around. The trip home was not a picnic either, because we were right in the thick of the dreaded 5 o’clock traffic.
We had planned it so that we would have Thursday free but on Friday 07th we were back on site after a very early start from home. Mercifully Alan and Rose had put in leave so they were also there to assist. The day was very successful with a particularly large number of schools showing up. Going home was a bit of a nightmare because, not only was it Friday, it was also the start of a long weekend. We had a long drive home.
On Saturday 08th we could leave home a bit later and the traffic was definitely easier. The day was surprisingly busy, considering the fact that many people had probably gone away for the long weekend, so we were very glad to have Alan and Rose on site again. For the first time that week the weather played up and we had bigger and bigger patches of cloud to contend with as well as an appreciable drop in temperature and a brisk breeze.
All round it was a very successful National Science Week. We were well over our target figures and it was definitely less stressful then a road trip and the idea of having days off in between was a brilliant one. Having Jac and especially Alan and Rose on hand was also a huge help. Next year we plan to hit the Museum again but for eight consecutive days. Okay, so we are suckers for punishment!
Over and above our activities at the Iziko South African Museum we advertised in a number of newspapers, I spoke on one of the local radio stations and we had two static exhibitions at the Bellville and Brackenfell Public Libraries. Our media coverage reached a staggering 518 223 during National Science Week and at the Museum we had direct contact with another 16 430 people. So Star People brought National Science Week to the attention of more than half a million people that week; not bad at all!
For Auke, Lynnette and I there remained the site report to be written and submitted as well as the dreaded financial report. As usual the financial report gobbled up many, many hours of Lynnette’s time, but eventually that was done and dusted too and the 195 page document was in the courier’s hands and off to SAASTA in Pretoria.
Public astronomy outing in Jack Muller / Danie Uys park in Bellville (Boston).
Ricardo (Ricky) Adams and Zenobia (Zee) Rinquest approached Auke, Lynnette and I to join them for a public astronomy outreach in celebration of Global Astronomy Month 2015 which youcan read more about here. They had a venue all planned and were looking for fellow astronomy enthusiasts to enjoy the outing with them. Ricky was associated with the Iziko Planetarium for a long time and when he spoke to Theo Ferreira the MMWC at the Planetarium, Theo was kind enough to recommend us and also to arrange for support in the form of the Iziko bus with the three museum stalwarts, Temba Matomele, Sthembele Harmans and Luzuko Dalasile. You can read more about the Iziko outreach program here.
Ricky and Zee’s outfit, Kingdom Skies, boasts a portable planetarium and they had plans to put that up as part of the show. Read more about them here. Eventually they were unable to do that due to various logistical problems but mainly because of a whole lot of red tape. As it turned out their planetarium would have been a tremendous asset on the specific evening because the weather gods were there usual fickle selves and we had cloudy conditions on the evening in question.
Auke had a prior commitment for that weekend as he and Hans van der Merwe were off to Van Rhynsdorp with the rest of the crew to carry out one of their high altitude balloon launches. The base station was in Van Rhynsdorp and the launch site was at the top of Van Rhyn’s Pass. He was due back on Saturday morning but balloon launches, like the path of true love, apparently do not always run smoothly. This one was no exception and Auke did not make it back on time. There is a If you click here you will be taken to a photograph of the setup.
Lynnette and I were on site by 16:00, as was the Iziko bus with Sthembele and Luzuko. Ricky and Zee arrived a little later as they had to make a detour to pick up Temba, who was going to give a talk on Indigenous Southern African Astronomy later in the evening. Zee’s volunteers had disappeared but were later found waiting outside the Bellville Public Library.
Once we started setting up everything went quite quickly, although the amount of cloud overhead did not bode well for stargazing later in the evening. By 17:30 we decided to capitalize on the fact that the Moon was visible through gaps in the clouds and Zukile and I started showing it to the first guests. After the sun set we managed to show people Jupiter too before the clouds realized what we were up to and started closing up the gaps.
Temba gave his talk and Ricky was fortunate to have some stars when he gave a brief what’s-up tonight. I did a short talk on light pollution and emphasized the fact that everyone could help by ensuring that lights around our homes were astronomy friendly. By 20:30 it was clear that the clouds were definitely winning and we all started packing up.
All in all it was a very pleasant evening and I think the venue has a good deal of potential for events like this in the future. Thanks Ricky and Zee for inviting us along and it was a pleasant experience to work with you guys and the team from Iziko.
Auke, Lynnette and I were invited, in our capacity as StarPeople, to set up outside the entrance to the Iziko Museum (**) at the top of the Company Gardens (**) in Cape Town and let people look at the Moon, Jupiter and whatever through a telescope. We also intended projecting at least the Moon onto a screen so that we could discuss important features with members of the public. We felt quite chuffed to be participating in the Museum Night project, so we accepted without hesitation.
We arrived shortly after 15:00 to find Auke already parked in front of the Museum building and a brief discussion with Elsabe sorted out where we should set up. The venue is a very attractive one and our position at the head of the stairs leading from the Company Gardens up to the Iziko Museum was perfect, because we were so visible to people approaching or leaving the building. We began unpacking and setting up and by shortly after 16:00 everything was set up and ready to go, except the projection system. Elsabe brought us coffee which was most welcome as well as some small containers of juice. By 17:00 the people were queuing for tickets to the planetarium shows scheduled for 18:00, 19:00 and 20:00 and by about 17:30 we had Lorenzo aimed at the still pale daylight Moon. At first people were hesitant to take a peek, but after the ice had been broken, we soon had a steady stream of moon gazers.
Our poster display on the cardboard A-frames was quite effective and drew many readers and lookers of which some had questions but most did not. Auke and Lynnette had the A3-planet posters set up on the steps representing a scaled down Solar System. Later in the evening the planets and our other poster displays again showed their vulnerability to windy conditions with most of them ending up either flat or propped up against a wall out of the wind. Short of carting around a load of bricks to weight them down, we have a not yet come up with a workable solution to the problem of them falling over at the slightest puff of wind.
Lynnette helped Auke lay out the Solar System and put up the poster A-frames and when the action started she manned the information table with all our handouts. She had to spend a considerable amount of time chasing after handouts and blown of her table by the gusting wind as well as setting the Solar System posters and our A-frame poster boards up every time the wind toppled them. Eventually she decided to let the wind win and put the handouts in boxes, laid the planets down flat and propped the A-frames up against the nearest wall. As it turned out her table also became the point where people approaching the Museum, expected to get information about the Museum Night and the Planetarium. When it later became clear that neither Auke nor I were going to have time to take photographs she shut down the information table, put on her photographer’s hat and took most of the photos we have of the evenings proceedings. All in all Lynnette had quite a busy night even if she did not spend time manning a telescope.
As is usual with events like this, there is always somebody who manages to do something amusing at the telescope. I have in the past had people drop to their knees and attempt to look through the Dobby’s handles at whatever. This time around I had several people walk up to Lorenzo from the front, embrace him and peer intently into the front of the finder scope. There were also the three gentlemen who looked as if they had not seen a change of clothing or too much water in quite a while. They first stood off to one side, glancing from the refractor to the Moon and back again and conducting an animated conversation, presumably about the Moon and the telescope. When they finally came closer, the spokesperson took a long look through the eyepiece, stood back and motioned his cronies forward. After they had each taken a long look and also glanced up at the moon several times while doing so, their leader had a second look and, as the three walked away, he announced to all within earshot, “it’s a hoax” before they disappeared in the direction of the National Gallery.
Initially we were only drawing people from the queue going into the museum but, after the first planetarium show finished just before 19:00, we had people coming out of the planetarium also stopping off for a look. Things quickly got quite hectic and as it grew darker I prepared to put the refractor and projection system into action, so as to relieve the pressure on Lorenzo, now taken over by Auke. The wind was a nuisance because it made the screen flap even though the central shaft was tied to a pillar underlining the need for a wall or other non-flapping surface to project onto. The wind also caused the telescope to vibrate, especially after I attached the video camera. Then my inexperience using the system in public came to the fore because, try as I might, I could not get a decent image. Nerves, lack of practice or just plain stupidity, or possibly all three, who knows. After a while I gave up and simply used the refractor with a high magnification eyepiece to give people a close-up view of the Moon and later of a very fuzzy Jupiter too. I must really get this projection thing sorted out so that it works anywhere, first time and every time.
In the meantime Shaun, who had popped in earlier in the evening, had fetched his Meade and set up further down the walkway, where he was also showing people astronomical objects. In exchange for looking through his telescope he was asking viewers for donations toward a 2015 Africa Burn project with an astronomy theme.
Later we had to move the telescopes back to keep the Moon in view as it slid behind a tree. Doing this with the Dobby is simply a case of pick-up-and-go. With the refractor on the alt/az-mount attached to a large 12V battery, it is not that simple. You have more pieces, the battery is heavy and re-positioning the telescope necessitates a re-alignment, so when I too had to move, Lynnette was called in to help as Auke had his hands full with a long queue of patiently waiting moon gazers.
Eventually everything wound down and the crowds dwindled until only one or two die-hard individuals were left. Packing up became a bit of a rush and was quite tense because somebody informed us that we had better hurry up as once everyone was gone; we ran the risk of being mugged! Rather an icky finale to an otherwise lovely and exciting evening showing more than 2000 people the sights of the night sky from central Cape Town.
Thank you Iziko Museum for inviting us and in particular thanks to Elsabe and Theo for advice and help on the evening. StarPeople had a lot of fun and we would like to think that the Museum benefited from having us there. If we get invited again, and we sincerely hope we will, there are some changes we will make to improve our service delivery.