Limpopo Astronomy Outreach (2009 Sep 15-16)
by Kos Coronaios
Limpopo Astronomy Outreach visited Mitchell House in Polokwane on the 15th and 16th of September for their Science Expo. A late request by Bronwyn Egan (Curator, University of Limpopo Herbarium) to include an evening of stargazing after the opening ceremony on the eve of the Science Expo found me in Polokwane one day earlier than expected. The request was easily entertained. How could I refuse the opportunity of including "real live" astronomy and telescope viewing to the astronomy display and activities for the following day.
The Science Expo was officially opened on Wednesday the 15th by Dr. Benoist Olliver the managing director of the Silicon Smelters in Polokwane. Dr. Olliver's key note address was "Why Study Science", emphasising that it is fun, useful, and that you don't have to be a brilliant student in order to be interested in science or to study it. The 150 strong audience, a mix of students, parents, teachers and members of the public were all enjoying the key address, judging by the sounds coming from the auditorium. Unfortunately I was not able to attend as none of my group of tried and trusted assistants (James, Cuan, Pathu) were able to accompany me (school night) and I had my work cut out getting all the equipment up and running for the astronomy evening later on.
Bronwyn and Kirsten Lucas, who is also from the University of Limpopo, were helpful in organising power cables, screens, projectors and making sure that I had everything for the evening's presentation including supplying a much needed and endless supply of refreshing cooldrinks. With the opening ceremony finished and the sky darkening the audience made themselves comfortable on the playing field, where two telescopes, data projectors, screens and I were waiting. Concerns regarding light pollution were unfounded and beautiful clear views of the evening sky all around were had.
After Bronwyn's introductions were over, the evening started with explanations of why this year is the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009) and included Galileo's various contributions to astronomy followed by views of Jupiter through the telescope on the screen. Jupiter's Great Red Spot was clearly visible as were all four of the Galilean moons once the shutter speed on the imaging camera was adjusted. Information on the planet had everyone captivated as they looked at this bright object high up in the east while listening to the commentary. Phil Calcott's 8 inch was tracking the planet and with the headmaster controlling the growing queue the audience had a chance to look at Jupiter through the telescope.
A "what's up" followed utilising the ever popular Stellarium program and the seeing conditions were so favourable that the audience was able to pick out some of the fainter stars making up constellations such as Lyra, Aquila, Sagitta, Delphinus and Equulieus that are sometimes not visible from a light polluted site. Earlier in the week at the Sumbandila Outreach at Ridgeway College conditions were terrible with the wind and dust at altitude making visibility just as bad as having cloud cover. Once the "constellation art" mode on the software was toggled "on" (and with a little help from the laser pointer), cries of "gosh, I can see the Eagle and there is the dolphin" could be heard. The evenings telescope viewing included Alpha Centauri, 47 Tuc, Ring Nebula and NGC 6231 followed by M4 in Scorpius.
The next day views of the Sun through the telescope were enjoyed, as well as activities such as, building of Southern Star Wheels and MoonScopes. Handout material on the Solar System, planets, South African star lore as well as pamphlets on SALT, SAAO were available. Conservative estimates of around 400 (mainly scholars, but also included, teachers, and members of the public) took part in the IYA 2009 astronomy activities at the Mitchell House Science Expo 2009.
A warm thank you to the organisers, the Headmaster (Mitchell House) and teachers who assisted, Bronwyn, Kirsten and family for the accommodation, everyone involved with the Astronomy Outreach Project in Limpopo and all the students, kids and parents for participating.
Equipment and activity material sponsored or supplied by: Dr. Calcott (Waterberg Cottages) 8 inch telescope, Ian Purdon (Maranga Phanda Office National) MoonScopes, Anton van Zyl (Zoutpansberger & Mirror newspapers) data projector and Southern Star Wheel, Adrian & Kirsten Lucas, screen, cables, data projector, meals and accommodation.
Some of the activities, displays and presentations during the course of the Science Expo included:
nothing more to see. please move along.