Cape Centre News Letter, 01st July 2014

Dear Cape Centre members and friends,

The Cape Centre AGM and the formal talk by Dr Bernard Fanaroff are our main events in July. Below are some details of those events as well as some notes on other events.

Upcoming Events

Cape Centre AGM on 9 July,  20:00, SAAO Auditorium: This year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Cape Centre of ASSA will take place on 9 July. Please use the attached form to nominate members for the committee. It is okay to put your own name down; so don’t be shy.

16 July, 20:00, SAAO Auditorium:  Dr Bernard Fanaroff of the SKA will present an overview of the latest developments at the SKAWe will be privileged to be able to hear some of these details directly from Dr Fanaroff, who has an extremely full programme both locally and internationally.

 13 August20:00, SAAO Auditorium: Prof Michael Feast will talk about the discovery of the first known stars in the flared disk of the Milky Way. These stars are situated on the far side of our Galaxy, 80 thousand light years from the Earth and beyond the Galactic Centre. This discovery has been covered quite widely in the press and the results of the work done by Prof Feast (University of Cape Town – UCT, SAAO), Dr John Menzies (SAAO), Dr Noriyuki Matsunaga (the University of Tokyo, Japan) and Prof Patricia Whitelock (SAAO, UCT)  will also feature in the international journal Nature. Prof Feast will tell us more about their research and findings.

 SAAO Open Nights

 12 July, 20:00, SAAO Auditorium: Prof. Bruce Bassett (AIMS/UCT/SAAO) will present a talk entitled Rise of the machines in Astronomy.

 Other Events

 Although we would urge members to attend our AGM, you may also be interested in the following talk earlier the same evening:

  9 July, 18:00 (guests to be seated by 17:45), UCT Upper Campus: Open Lecture: The Evolution of the Universe

 University of Cape Town Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo is inviting to the fourth Open Lecture of 2014, where John D Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Cambridge University and Director of the Millennium Mathematics Project, will speak on the latest ideas about the nature of the Universe and how it came to be as we see.

The evidence for the Hot Big Bang theory of the Universe will be introduced, together with the idea of cosmological ‘inflation’. This theory offers novel explanations for some otherwise mysterious properties of the visible universe. Professor Barrow will describe some important recent observations to test these ideas and how these theories make further predictions which revolutionise our conceptions of the history and geography of the Universe. He will also address the problem of whether the universe had a beginning, whether there are other universes, and the place of life within the astronomical scheme of things.

 You can find more details and book a ticket on

 “What’s Up” note about minor planets

 Here is an interesting note via the SLOOH team that we are sharing with our members.  You may want to look up and see whether you can spot Ceres, Vesta or Pluto this week:

 Asteroids. Minor Planets. Dwarf Planets. The distinction is blurry even to some astronomers. No matter: three of the largest and most famous are making headlines this week.

 One of the brightest asteroids Vesta (525 km or 326 mi) “meets” the dwarf planet Ceres (950 km or 590 mi) just above the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Vesta and Ceres are two of the four original big asteroids discovered at the start of the 19th century – it is rather rare for them to “meet” in the same small piece of sky while also being easily visible through backyard telescopes. Both are unique. Vesta is the only asteroid that sometimes reaches naked-eye visibility, thanks to being whiter than any other. Ceres is spherical, possibly contains a thin atmosphere like Pluto, and, also like Pluto, is now officially classed as a “dwarf planet.”

 Pluto –  demoted from a “planet” to a “dwarf planet” in 2006, reaches its closest approach to Earth on July 4. It will not come this close again for more than two centuries. Moreover, next July the New Horizons spacecraft will finally zoom past Pluto after nine years of traveling from Earth — it was the fastest ever spacecraft. So this is the final Pluto “opposition” in which that tiny world will most likely retain its mysteries.

 Slooh will highlight the two dwarf planets along with Asteroid Vesta on Thursday night,  July 3rd, starting at 5:00 PM PDT / 8:00 PM EDT / 00:00 UTC (7/4) – International Times:, live from Slooh observatories located in the northern and southern hemispheres. The northern hemisphere observatory is located off the west coast of Africa, at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, and the southern hemisphere observatory is located at the Pontificia Universidad Católica De Chile (PUC) near Santiago, Chile.

 Viewers can watch the broadcast free on The image stream will be accompanied by discussions led by Slooh host, Geoff Fox, Slooh astronomer, Bob Berman, and Slooh Observatory Engineer, Paul Cox. Viewers can follow updates on the show by using the hashtag #Sloohdwfplanet.

 While 7th magnitude Vesta is easily viewable through binoculars, Ceres at magnitude 8 ½ is more challenging; both require using good astronomical charts. As for Pluto, which is only 2/3 the size of our moon, even experienced backyard astronomers often find its faint 14th magnitude a major challenge through backyard telescopes: It is a thousand time fainter than the dimmest naked-eye stars.

 Added Berman, “This is Pluto’s closest approach until the 23rd century, and its final one before its secrets are finally revealed by New Horizons craft, which makes this a compelling “opposition,” not to mention it comes nearest smack on the fourth of July. And Ceres and Vesta coming together in Virgo is very cool too. Having this three-for-one special at the SLOOH community observatory makes for a unique programme.”

Any ideas?

Lastly a request to  let us know if you have any ideas about a new site for our Dark Sky evenings?  The person to talk to via e-mail about this is Tony Jones, at  Tony has been looking hard for a place that is dark, safe and offers the basic amenities for us within relatively easy driving distance from the centre of Cape Town.