UP IN THE AIR
As I mentioned in a previous post, the Community Centre has a wonderful program running to get children from the community interested in astronomy – and science in general. The kids already “observe” the sky while steering the kites, and then follow up on that more closely with a telescope – today taking a look at Jupiter, Mars and the Southern Cross. There were about 30 kids and teenagers around, and I am happy to have had the chance to attend such an event. What an experience – so much fun for everyone and so rewarding to see their native curiosity. After my return from South Africa, I will publish a story about each location on the website (in the ‘Observatory’-section), and this event will definitely be part of it…
Pompoen works in Sutherland’s beverage store, and spends his leisure-time drawing. From his sketches, he creates sculptures made of wire. While favorably he works from pictures of cars (Lamborghini being the favorite),the shape of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which is the largest research telescope here at the observatory, inspired him to do a sculpture. The piece is about 5 feet tall and includes interiors like the mirror. He sold it to the observatory, where it is now part of the permanent exhibition at the Visitor Centre. More about SALT can be found here: http://www.salt.ac.za/
It’s Sunday in the Karoo, and even the wind seems to take a day off today. Part of the weekend – Friday and Saturday – is very busy in this otherwise quiet town. On Friday afternoon tourists from all over the country start coming here to visit the observatory and to experience a stargazing session at night. The hotels and guesthouses are usually fully booked then, and the few restaurants and bars in town are crowded – making “astronomy tourism” the second biggest economic factor for Sutherland after sheep farming. On Sunday, though, things calm down quickly; with the shops closed, and the streets deserted. Even the dogs don’t seem to mind a foreign photographer.
It’s a ‘words only’-post today. I was forwarded a circular e-mail by the founder of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT), one of my collaborators on this project, which I would like to share because it fits the approach of the ‘deep dark pale blue’-project very well. He is currently working at their Chile-site – which I will be visiting as well -, from where he sent the following:
“I woke up about 6AM local and decided to turn no lights on while getting ready to go to site. When I got to parking lot the sky was absolutely incredible. No scintillation (twinkling in common language) at all. Milky Way stretching from Cygnus rising, to Scorpio almost overhead and then down to Southern cross. Galaxy plane sharply cut off by horizon. No serious fading at Airmass > 10*. Coal Sack clearly defined by lack of stars. Sagittarius was so bright I could not detect the pattern for a while (Teapot was upside down.) We should never forget native curiosity about the sky was a key driver for why we are what we are, and Astronomy is the mother of Science.”
INTO THE NIGHT SKY
Ten eight-grade students from Sutherland had the opportunity to make use of the LCOGT-telescope network, and do online observations. After observing targets in the sky from computer facilities provided at Sutherland Community Centre (see post from April 23rd), they spent time researching and collecting various information about their targets before putting down that information in an essay. Today’s image is one of the observations made by the students, showing a star cluster.
ASTRONOMY AND THE COMMUNITY
I met with Anthony Mietas today, who is running the observatory’s outreach-program in the community. He took me around town and showed me the ‘Community Centre‘, where study-places for children and free internet-access for the community are provided. Moreover, the organization regularly organizes stargazing events for children and teenagers. They combine the stargazing with a kite-flying-session! While steering the kites, the kids look up into the sky and have the chance to then take a closer look through the telescope. Wonderful! Next session is scheduled for next week and I am thinking of making a story about that.
The African semi-desert, the “Karoo“, spreads out over almost 1/3 of the country and large parts of the Northern Cape-province, where Sutherland lies. Wind and dust are your faithful companions out here, and Ingrid, the bartender at my hotel, told me today that she has to wipe the dust off the counter twice every day. Even with the windows closed.
My first full day in Sutherland. I drove up to the observatory, which is a 15-minute-drive away from town, to take a first, distant glance. The sky is mostly clear tonight, and the telescopes are getting ready for their observations. As a guest, you normally need to book a visitor-tour to get in, and I am very grateful that I will be allowed to photograph there.
Welcome to this website and my blog! This year, the deep dark pale blue-project will take me to different astronomical observatories around the world – the first journey being South Africa. I flew to Cape Town and traveled on to the town of Sutherland today, where the South African Astronomical Observatory is located. I will spend the next couple of weeks in and around Sutherland, and will share images, experiences and stories that I come across on a regular basis. I would like to invite you to follow my journeys and I hope you will enjoy it! There is the possibility to comment on my posts, and I look forward to hearing from you.