National Science Week - Cape Town

posted: 1376 days ago, on Friday, 2013 Jun 21 at 01:22
tags: astronomy, outreach, NSW 2013, ethnoastronomy, astronomy media, SKA, SAASTA, OOG, events, Ed Foster, Cape Town.

This year's National Science Week - organised by SAASTA under the auspices of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) - will run from July 27 to August 04.

Here in Cape Town we'll be out on the streets sharing science - and astronomy in particular - with the general public, and are looking forward to having a lot of fun! Find out more about NSW in Limpopo by clicking through to the Soutpansberg Astronomy NSW page.

We've lined up a truly excellent list of venues (see the table) which will give us the opportunity to interact with both grown-ups and kids (in previous years the focus had been on learners). We've also added several new features to our "show", including live video of deep space, which will also feature a demonstration of how astronomy science data is collected - in public!

The day-programme for each venue will include viewing the Sun through a telescope, and a series of short talks ("Fifteen-minute Universe", "Fossils, Light & Time", "South Africa's Heritage in the Stars", and "Ancient Comets & Space-Age Satellites"). Each evening [Cape weather permitting!] there will be a star gazing with the naked eye presentation, viewing of deep-space objects with telescopes, and a hands-on demonstration of how a 21st century telescope is used to study the Universe.

Our NSW schedule

Sat, July 2709:00-16:00, 19:00-23:00Zevenwacht Mall, Kuilsriver   ✔
Sun, July 2809:00-16:00, 19:00-23:00Zevenwacht Mall, Kuilsriver   ✔
Mon, July 2909:00-16:00, 19:00-23:00Bellville Library   ✔
Tue, July 3009:00-16:00, 19:00-23:00Brackenfell Library   ✔
Wed, July 3109:00-16:00, 19:00-23:00Bellville Library   ✔
Thu, August 0109:00-16:00, 19:00-23:00Stellenbosch (Die Braak, Beyers Street parking lot)   ✔
Fri+Sat, Aug 02+0309:00-16:00, 19:00-23:00Willowbridge Mall, Bellville   ✔
Sun, August 0409:00-16:00, 19:00-23:00V&A Water Front, Cape Town CBD   ✔

Programme details

Studying the Universe with a 21st century telescope (Astronomy & Technology)

A computer-controlled telescope is used to demonstrate how astronomers use their equipment to study the Universe. A live image of the stars and deep space objects that the telescope is pointing to, is projected onto a large screen, making it easy to see even in the bright lights of a city. How this modern telescope works is demonstrated and explained, including references to the engineering and software design aspects of the device. Importantly, the technology is related to how SALT and the other telescopes in Sutherland operate, and how meerKAT operates.

By displaying a live image of a deep space object (one chosen by the visitors) the physical nature of the object can be carefully explained (eg, a dead star, or a newly-formed stellar system, etc.) It is then easy to show how this image is, in principle, analysed by astronomers. This introduces the concept of photometry (brightness measurement) which is practically illustrated by step-by-step compiling a graph and fitting a curve to the data. Of course, the level of maths used in this exercise depends strongly on the audience member’s maths skills.

The spectrum (light colour pattern) of a chosen star is also shown, and it is explained how spectroscopy (one of SALT’s strongest features) is used to take a chemical fingerprint of a star or deep space object, thus telling us what the object is made of.

Further, each group of visitors gets to choose a deep space object (from a list of those visible at the time) and to take control of the telescope themselves. Once the telescope has found the object, the group can display it, compose and enhance the image to their taste, and then take their own photograph of it, using the built-in camera. The image (which can also be e-mailed) is then printed out, along with a description of what it is, and lists the name(s) of the group who took the image, along with the date, time and place where the image was captured. This creates a unique handout, customised for and by the visitors, presenting them with a personalised momento of science and the Universe.

See what our ancestors saw – Star gazing with the naked eye

A guided tour of the night sky (using a green laser - all presenters are certified laser operators with the Dept. of Health) pointing out the stars and planets visible with the naked eye.

In addition to pointing out the modern constellations (as used by contemporary astronomers), traditional African constellations and star mythologies (collectively: ethnoastronomy) are pointed out, and their associated themes explained. This brings the stars “down to earth” as a part of our cultural history and heritage, a fact rarely appreciated by the general public.

By showing how, since ancient times, the stars have guided not only travellers but also moral and social values, an appreciation of our forgotten connection to the sky will hopefully be fostered.

See for yourself – Star gazing with a telescope

A small telescope is set up in the viewing area and is used to give first-hand (or is that first-eye?!) views of the night sky. By looking through a telescope, each visitor gets to see the sky for themselves, with no gadgetry or electronics involved.

Fossils, Light and Time – The story of South Africa’s unique fossils

“Fossils, Light and Time” is a talk exploring the concept of “deep time”, namely, what the world was like millions, and billions, of years ago. Specifically, this talk focuses on the fossil record in South Africa, highlighting important aspects of our planet’s pre-history that are only found within South Africa. More generally, the talk places the South African geological and palaeontological situation within the broader context of our planet’s evolution.

Unlike other approaches to the concept of deep time, this talk shows the parallels with astronomy, by coupling the vast distances in the Universe (via the speed of light) to periods of time in Earth’s history. One of the outcomes of this talk is an understanding of what South Africa was like hundreds of thousands, and millions, and billions of years ago.

South Africa’s Heritage in the Stars – Astronomy and Indigenous Knowledge

“South Africa’s Heritage in the Stars” draws on the rich ethnoastronomy of the traditional sub-Saharan cultures, and specifically those from South Africa. As mentioned in the description of Activity 2 above, the starry sky has guided not only travellers but was the canvas on which moral and social rules were painted, “written large”. This talk looks at each type of sky object (e.g. Sun, Moon, planets, shooting stars, etc.) and gives representative stories from the various indigenous cultures, hopefully rekindling an awareness of our long-forgotten, fascinating, connection between life as we live it and the starry sky above.

The talk, presented by Auke Slotegraaf, also highlights two /Xam Bushman narratives (describing the origin of the Sun and the origin of the Evening Star) that were recently discovered by him and presented at an international conference on the history of astronomy (in 2005).

Ancient comets and Space-age satellites: examples of maths in astronomy

Two specially prepared posters illustrate (school-level) mathematical concepts with an astronomical context. Topics include cometary orbits (parabolas), parallax (basic trigonometry), spatial orientation of satellites (congruence), etc.

Although there is no specific talk dedicated to maths, the display posters are referred to during the general small-group discussions, where appropriate, to draw attention to the importance of maths as an essential tool in the pure and applied sciences.

nothing more to see. please move along.