7th ASSA Symposium (Bloemfontein 2006)
The Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA) held its seventh national symposium recently, in Bloemfontein. I asked Magda Streicher, enthusiastic deep-sky observer and ASSA Council member, to write up her impressions of the event. Oleg Toumilovitch kindly supplied the photos.
There is something special and exciting about attending an astronomical symposium. Even the endless waiting at the airport, in transit to where-ever the regular biannual symposium is to be held, becomes a challenge that is easy to meet. The unique bond between star-friends resonates also with the professional fraternity. So it was that I arrived in the City of Roses a day before the symposium was to start, on Thursday, September 28, at Boyden Observatory, anticipating two-and-a-half days of wonder.
The Bloemfontein folk were in all respects well and truly prepared to ensure the symposium would be a great success. It was a mystical experience to move amongst the giants of astronomy and share in the history of Boyden Observatory, guided by Dawie van Jaarsveldt. Let's take our hats off to the Bloemfontein team, with a special nod to Gerrit Penning for his stalwart contribution.
The Symposium theme explored the contributions of amateur astronomers to astronomy, and looked at various ways amateurs and professionals can cooperate. It soon became clear, from Phillip Coetzer's presentation, that there was already a high amateur standard in support of professional astronomy. New technology has opened up new and deeper ways of studying the cosmos.
The detailed working of CCDs and photography was set out by Pat van Heerden (University of the Free State). In easy-to-understand terms Hannes Calitz clearly explained the astronomical applications of CCDs. Christopher Middleton showed that he was accomplished at merging new imaging methods with observing. What a delight to spend time with Christopher, an amicable star-friend.
Despite the new approach to observing with CCD and computer, I trust there will still be room for the more conventional observing approach. My deep-sky presentation was aimed at showing how a systematic approach to observing can bring a deeper appreciation of the objects we study. Through my sketches I hoped to show that valuable observations can be made, and hope and trust that I've left a motivating message.
Tim Cooper gave a key speech in which he masterfully discussed the role of amateur's observations and emphasised that cooperation with professionals was not only possible, but essential.
Hearty discussion was the order of the day during tea, which allowed amateurs and professionals to mingle happily. The refreshments was further proof of the dedication of those who arranged the gathering.
Pat Booth (ASSA President) with Magda Streicher (veteran
deepsky observer and ASSA Council member) [click to start slide show]
That evening, the observing session at the telescopes provided another opportunity for folk to mingle and share in the night sky. I used the 13-inch refractor to show off the Wild Duck Cluster (Messier 11), the Swan Nebula (Messier 17), and Messier 30 (globular cluster), and used the opportunity to point out features as set out during my deep-sky presentation. Prof Block was impressed with the detail that could be made out in the Swan Nebula; others were surprised by the great number of stars that could be seen in the Wild Duck.
Friday, September 29, was another full day, starting with Dr Patrick Seitzer (Univ. Michigan, USA) sharing his deep astronomical knowledge with the attentive audience.
Prof Phil Charles (SAAO) demonstrated the importance of astronomical symposia, and it was an honour to have him as a guest speaker.
Dr Adrian Tiplady was excited about SKA/KAT, even more so now that we are in the final round of selections to host the array.
Dr Matie Hoffman is always a favourite and friend of the amateur, and his humour injected a light note during the otherwise complex discussions.
Kevin Govender discussed SALT and provided a unique perspective on astronomy.
Dr David Block's presentation on galactic dust was remarkable and very interesting, and I enjoyed his tongue-in-cheek offer of thousands of Rands for some of my galaxy sketches.
With his thorough knowledge and long-term study of our nearest star, Jacques van Delft shared his passion for solar observing.
Chris de Coning grabbed the bull by the horns with his presentation on the future direction of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.
The gala dinner on Friday was thoroughly enjoyed by all. ASSA Merit Certificates were awarded to members who had earned them over the past years (see below). New names of four asteroids were announced by Brian Fraser, Director of the Occultations Section: Shuttleworth, Boyden, Paraskevopoulos and Alexroberts (for more details, see below).
The next morning the proceedings continued at the University of the Free State, as did the closing, with an excellent expert presentation by Prof Marian Tredoux, who spoke on asteroids.
On Naval Hill one had the opportunity to relive the historical past of various astronomers. Dr. Patrick Seitzer highlighted the devastating toll that light pollution is taking world-wide, and left us with much to think about. I bid him farewell with a kiss.
Then the road home. En route my suitcase is lost, somewhere between Bloemfontein and Polokwane (which fortunately reaches its final destination late on Sunday evening). That evening, I reflect on a delightful experience and am thankful that I had the opportunity to share in it; and then I receive an SMS from Christopher – he is already missing his astronomy buddies!
The following awards were made and certificates issued:
During the Asteroid Naming Ceremony four main-belt asteroids with names of special relevance to South Africa were announced. These are: (14310) Shuttleworth = 1966 PP, (4301) Boyden = 1966 PM, (5298) Paraskevopoulos = 1966 PK, and (11781) Alexroberts = 1966 PL. The minor planets had been discovered on photographic plates taken 1966 August 07 at Boyden Observatory.
nothing more to see. please move along.