Robertson astronomy outreach (2008 October 17-18)
Almost on the dot 8 o'clock on Friday morning our entourage set off from Stellenbosch for Robertson, after having packed the trailer and two cars with: three people, seven crates, two pillars, several bags and sixty-four telescopes.
Robertson is a beautiful town, a mix of a new modern through-road lined with larney buildings and eateries, and around the corner, small-town homes and older established business properties. We drove straight through and out into the bundu some 24km to our guest house, Oestervanger, where we unpacked our personal belongings before returning to town to prepare for the morning's meet-and-greet.
An oestervanger is an oyster catcher which is a coastal bird species. The gentle reader curious to know why a B&B in the semi-desert is named after a bird more at home in the surf should make the trip there themselves and find out first-hand.
Browsing through the kitchen at the B&B it was clear that we would be in for a culinary feast – and we weren't disappointed. Lest a less-gentle reader assume that we expressly chose this luxurious B&B for our two-day stay, here's the matter of the fact. At the time of our planned visit, it turns out, Robertson was celebrating a wine festival and all accommodation nearby was taken. Well, like Gaul, not exactly all – Ed did find a four-bed room (with communal shower) in town, which obviously wouldn't do. After all, Carol is married, and not to either of us. So it was by pure luck that we ended up at Oestervanger, and I thanked my lucky stars.
Friday morning was busy-time in town, and we'd arranged with George, the owner of the Pick 'n Pay, that we could set up outside his bustling shop. The "star gazing" and solar system banners quickly drew attention and in record-time we'd exhausted our promotional material.
We packed up and headed down to the Commando (for some reason called the Swellendam Commando) where we set up shop for the afternoon and evening show. The very friendly Mr Wouter Brevis had given us the key to the Commando, and we still haven't thanked him properly for his kind assistance. Note to self.
By now we were already in a routine. In short shrift we had marshalled all our material. Carol set up the various activity tables, Ed assembled the pillar, banners, laptop/projector and 4.5-inch telescope, while I stressed about my presentation.
The photo gallery below shows some of the activities and posters in use.
Shortly before 17:00 our first guests arrived – three gents who had driven all the way from Cape Town for the show. Meanwhile, outside, storm clouds were gathering – thick, dark and ominous.
A demonstration of eye safety was followed by the equally-popular "human solar system" and "making an impact crater" demonstrations. Indoors, for a wrap-up of the telescope making and planisphere assembly, and my talk on South Africa's role in astronomy and space science. By the time we had finished the indoors activities it was dark outside, and to everyone's relief, the clouds had all but vanished. The skies in Robertson are lovely. Even though there was significant light pollution (we were in the town itself) smaller constellations like Delphinus and Sagitta were easily seen.
Carol and Ed had set up their telescopes while I gave running commentary, pointing out stars and constellations, explaining a lot of basic astronomy in the process. This was a departure from our previous programme, in which an introductory astronomy talk was presented indoors. We decided to change the indoors presentation to focus on South African astronomy, amateur astronomy, space science, and South Africa's involvement in space, and leave the explanation of astronomical concepts for later, in the observing field. I think this change of sequence works very well.
The next day we repeated the entire exercise, although this time the observing venue was the town library. We met our library contact, Corina, late morning, and her enthusiasm and able, friendly assistance made our visit both pleasant and efficient. At around 15:00, long after the library was officially closed for the week-end, she opened up and allowed us to set up our material. This gave a most welcome respite from the heat – it was at least 32°C outside.
Two gruelling days finally came to an end when, at 23:30, we pulled into the back yard of the Oestervanger. As Carol and I got out of the car, we instinctively looked up at the sky. Facing north, Pegasus and Triangulum were in prime position. And clearly visible to the naked eye – despite not being dark adapted at all – was the Andromeda Galaxy. A lovely note on which to end our Robertson outreach and this narrative.
(P.S. Yes, the opening paragraph is correct, we had 64 telescopes with us. A 10-inch, two 8-inches, a 4.5-inch, and 60 2-inch "Galileo-scope"/"Maankykers" refractors.)
Have telescope – will travel. Outside the Pick n Pay in Robertson. Four telescopes can be seen on my back seat – Carol's 8-inch – a Galileo-scope – a 4.5-inch Newtonian and my 8-inch. [click to start slide show]
nothing more to see. please move along.