100 Hours Day 2 (2009 Apr 04)
What better setting for a public star gaze: the Saturday beach at sunset. Hundreds and hundreds of people strolling up and down the mirror-sand walkway, the golden red Sun in the west, high up in the east a bright white half-moon, and beckoning telescopes aperture-gaping at the Moon.
Ah yes, the dream. The reality: The Strand at sunset, the Sun, Moon and the telescopes – sans people. Gazing up and down the beach I count perhaps 70 people in total. Ed, Lynnette and Martin arrive and after much to-and-fro we elect to set up in the parking lot between the Spur and Steers. People have to eat, don't they?
And as it turns out, they also like to star gaze. Not long after sunset, the wind dies off and even the clouds atrophy. Earlier the day there was much concern about cloudy conditions; rain had even been predicted. But Dieter (a Somersetwestian) had noted that often such afternoons clear up towards evening, and he was on the money.
By 20:00 we are in full flow. When dew finally calls a halt to the evening's viewing at 23:00 the three telescopes have been constantly busy, except for two brief moments when even the car-guards seemed to disappear. I spare a thought for the intrepid members from the Durban Centre who are in Sutherland this evening – earlier I'd heard from Clinton that it was raining there.
At least 150 people got their first look through a telescope. I concentrated mainly on the Moon (8-inch), Ed & Lynnette (10-inch) also showed Saturn and the Jewelbox, while Martin (10-inch Celestron) provided high-power views of Saturn.
Groups of people would spend 10 to 15 minutes viewing and talking about what they saw before moving on to the next telescope, and at each eyepiece they learnt something new.
We also collected a half-dozen new signups for the proposed astronomy club; I just hope I can read the handwriting on the dew-sogged signup sheets.
It's really cool to share in the excitement of a newlooker. When they first see the Moon in the 9x50 finder, its genuine oooohs! and aaahs! Sometimes they look up at the Moon and then back again, as if to check that there's not some trickery. And then they step up to the eyepiece for a 50x view. You can hear the OOOHS! being capitalized.
I even acquired two assistants during the course of the evening, who took it on themselves to reposition "Maphefo" (the 8-inch Dobsonian) on the Moon and show newcomers to first look through the finder and then through the eyepiece.
Some folk lingered longer and got to see a bit extra: pull up a chair and watch the Moon at 300x drifting through the eyepiece, or spy the blood-red carbon star Espin 365 next to beta Crucis.
Others got the chance to photograph the Moon through the telescope with their cell phone – an easy exercise (if you remember to use the zoom function to help get the exposure correct) that leaves them with an impressive memento and something to send to distant friends. I think we should get a Vodacom sponsorship.
In Louis Trichardt Kos Coronaios suffered similar early qualms about the weather. "I don't stress about the weather no more," he now jokes.
"After overcast and drizzly conditions for the better part of the day," he writes, "I thought the evenings 100 HA event was a non starter. But, surprise surprise! . the sky was cloud free but much colder than normal with lots of dew."
Kos and some helpful members of the "Ladies Circle" were set up by 17:00 and soon the night's events were in full swing.
"Although the turnout was less than anticipated," he notes, "the spectators were more enthusiastic with their questions then the previous couple of evenings and we were all kept rather busy. Again the Moon and Saturn were the stars with only one diversion for a group that wanted to see alpha Centauri."
Kos notes that they were impressed to see the separation of the two stars increase as he used increasingly higher magnification.
In addition to the displays and telescope viewing, Kos used a data projector to show clips from his laptop. He notes that the favourites were Carl Sagan's Cosmic Year and the SAAO presentation on Sutherland and SALT.
Sunday evening will be Kos' last presentation for the "100 Hours" event. He's just inspired me to go out tonight again.
In Wellington, OOG (Orion Observasie Groep) presented a star gazing evening and as Willie Koorts explains, they had a successful evening despite the bad weather.
"When I went to prepare the Wamakersvallei Voortrekker grounds on Saturday morning, it was actually drizzling which prompted me to seriously start thinking of Plan B. All day the weather kept clearing, just to cloud over completely soon thereafter. By our planned start time at 19h30, it was perfectly clear and we thought we were extremely blessed."
The evening's programme was to start with an introductory talk but threatening clouds, as well as late arrivals due to a road closure after a truck accident on the Agter-Paarl road, forced a change of plan.
"We decided to start with telescope viewing first," Willie noted, but after an hour or so the cloud-cover was near-complete. He then gave a talk detailing the IYA 2009 initiative, which included a recap of events that had already been held, and ended with a recounting of some star lore. Footage of the recent STS-119 Shuttle mission to put the International Space Station to full power by installing a massive array of solar panels, was also shown.
The talk was presented outdoors allowing an eye to be kept on the sky. "It never cleared properly enough for serious observing," Willie said, "so after showing at least the Moon and Saturn to folks who arrived late, we were all packed up by 23:00."
The event drew a crowd of about 40 people, more than half of which were not OOG members; "it was very nice to see a good number of kids," Willie added.
Six telescopes were set up, ranging from a small refractor to a 14-inch Dobsonian.
"Carol Botha attracted a captive audience, particularly amongst the visitors, when she started explaining astronomical concepts seen in her 8-inch Bushnell," Willie said. "Garth Williams was all set up with his 8-inch and software on a laptop to explore the craters of the Moon before being forced to stop by cloud," he noted.
The historical novelist Winnie Rust was also amongst the audience. The main character in her previous book, Martha, had an astronomical tie to the Royal Observatory in Cape Town.
"Her present manuscript is about one of South Africa's first female amateur astronomers, Miss Abbie Ferguson, founder of the Seminary Observatory here in Wellington. Winnie wanted to experience the awe of observing to help her in her writing. With her first glimpse at the Jewel Box in Richard Ford's trusty 12-inch, Winnie immediately knew she found an object that would have been admired with equal fascination by Miss Ferguson 130 years ago."
As a footnote, Willie recounted that the Paarl Post newspaper was most helpful by advertising their event, "but unfortunately the same could not be said for the Bolander."
nothing more to see. please move along.