Mad Dogs and Amateur Astronomers go out in the midday sun (apologies to Noël Coward)
Astronomy outreach during the daytime and in summer is not for the fainthearted or those who forget to apply their sunblock as Star People, being Auke, Lynnette and myself were about to discover at the Root44 Market, on the Audacia Wine Estate on Saturday the 17th, Sunday the 18th and Saturday the 24th of January. On the first Saturday we were very ably supported by Wendy Vermeulen and Brett du Preez who’s innovative solar telescope was also pressed into service. Permission to be there was negotiated by Auke with Surea and Megan and on the individual days JJ and Jason were available for all manner of practical assistance. The wine estate is situated on the R44 between Stellenbsch and Somerset West right next to the equally well known Mooiberge farm stall and strawberry farm with its huge collection of imaginative scarecrows.
The Root44 Market is the venue for the Root44 parkrun every Saturday morning when hundreds of serious and also not so serious runners and walkers descend on the venue to participate in the weekly, timed excursion through the vineyards. Some progress at the highest speed they can manage while others are merely intent on finishing the 5 km and soaking up the beauty of their surroundings. However, it is also the venue of choice for hundreds of folk who want to spend a Saturday or Sunday with good food and wine, relaxing music and the convivial company of good friends in the sort of tranquil surroundings which only the Winelands of the Western Cape can offer.
We were there to generate an interest in Astronomy and especially in space related activities and research. To do this we employed a wide selection of informative posters, and Lorenzo, the 10-inch Dobsonian, equipped with the appropriate Solar filter to show guests the Sun and the rather meager harvest of sunspots. On the second Saturday we even managed to show people the rather pale pre-first quarter moon. We talked to lots of interesting people and also met many astronomically enthusiastic persons as well.
One gentleman turned out to be the estate manager for the Earl of Rosse’s estate in Ireland where Birr castle is situated and where William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, built his gigantic Newtonian telescope between 1842 and 1845. Called the Leviathan of Parsonstown it had a 1,8 m speculum mirror with a focal length of 16 m. In 1994 a retired structural engineer and amateur astronomer Michael Tubridy was asked to resurrect the Leviathan of Parsonstown. The original plans had disappeared so intense detective work was called for to achieve his goal. Reconstruction lasted from early 1996 to early 1997 and a new aluminium mirror was installed in 1999.
Our poster display was quite impressive and most visitors found it very informative as well. In fact many of the interesting discussions originated around one or more of these posters. Some visitors started a discussion at one poster and then continued on to a second and third poster, eventually departing after more than an hour of questions and answers; heavy stuff!
However, the Sun took its toll and by closing time on the second Saturday we were done, well done. It did not take a long discussion to decide that we were just not up to another day in the Sun. Auke made the appropriate apologies to Surea and Megan and we spent the Sunday recuperating. All things being equal it is much easier to battle the mozzies and their biting cronies at night than to take on the Sun for seven hours or more.