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ScopeX 2009


by Lerika Cross

Many people will remember 30 May 2009 as the day the Blue Bulls won the Super14 crown in a runaway 61-17 victory over the Chiefs.  “Die beste tot nog toe. Hulle het alles perfek gedoen”, said Naas Botha, speaking of the game and not of ScopeX which was also held on 30 May.  

But, ScopeX also went well. The Military History Museum was happy; they recorded an attendance of 1724, a good turnout.   

New additions to the format:

Rainer’s Sun Corner: It was sunny which was excellent to show off Rainer Jakob’s Sun Corner which included 7 beautiful sundials, an armillary sphere and an analemmatic sundial – 6 made by Rainer himself.  A truly excellent display which delighted visitors!  Many thanks, Rainer.

The Moon Telescope Building Workshop led by Auke Slotegraaf, the Deep Sky Director of ASSA: Auke’s enthusiasm is so infectious it rubbed off on the helpers and the youngsters – they enjoyed themselves thoroughly.  To have ~ 280 Moon telescopes built in a morning takes some doing: Auke and his young team did brilliantly;

Edward Foster brought his fascinating display: “Fossils, Light and Time” all the way from Stellenbosch. Edward writes: “The display mapped the history of the Universe in a Southern African context using posters and examples of fossils or rock types. The posters drew parallel lines in space and on earth from the present to a point in time when the Vredefort crater was formed and light, which we see today, was just leaving the galaxy cluster Abell 1689. I spoke to a total of 322 people at the display but many more passed through, while I was occupied. The comments were favourable, especially from educators.  The manner in which the display brought together a number of disciplines to demonstrate the concept of evolution in the Universe drew appreciative comments from many.”  

The Meteor Impact Simulation where, from a 4m height, one could drop pebbles - of various shapes and sizes - into a special container filled with powder to create impact craters. This activity was enjoyed by many – especially the kid who smuggled in a huge rock and dumped it into the container to simulate a Dinosaur-Killer scale of impact.  (It required a major clean-up by Dave Hughes the next day to re-instate the area to military acceptable standard!)

Other highlights:

ATM awards: For the first time a demo Newtonian telescope won a prize! Read Chris Stewart’s full ATM report;

Astrophotography: Although fewer entries were submitted this year for the AstroPhotography competition
, the winning photos of George Liakos and Francois Nortje were of a high standard.  We were fortunate to have 2 excellent photo displays:  by Dr Dieter Willasch of Somerset West  (www.astro-cabinet.com), graciously brought to ScopeX by Auke Slotegraaf all the way from the Cape and a  stunning display of pinhole camera photos by Eric Brindeau;

Invited learners: It was a challenge to provide a structured programme for the scheduled 280 learners – more than double the number that ScopeX normally endutains. Francois Nortje, who worked out the learner’s schedule, writes:   “SAASTA sponsorship made it possible for 280 learners to attend ScopeX 2009. They attended the Experilab Science Show and a number of the scheduled presentations during the course of the morning. Each of the learners built a Moon telescope under the guidance of Auke Slotegraaf. They also visited a number of the exhibits. In particular they enjoyed the Camera Obscura, the Sun Corner as well as the Meteor Impact Zone. Cries of astonishment could be heard each time a group of learners entered the Camera Obscura tent. They were fascinated by the time telling ability of the analemmatic sundial and had an opportunity to observe the sun in both white and Hydrogen Alpha light. They had great fun observing the different types of craters that were made by the various missiles at the Impact Zone. The learners enjoyed the interactive activities and found the event to be interesting and informative. Many thanks to Cetric Molelemane and his 15 colleagues from Wits who excellently guided the 16 groups of learners through their schedule”;

Thank you, Claire, for supporting us and taking the time to have the Johannesburg Planetarium represented; and thank you, Sam and colleagues from HartRAO, for your informative stand and display model of the SKA and radio telescope;

Other popular stand were the Rocketry Society – who also produced lots of noise and smoke with a static test fire of a rocket motor – and Anthony Els’ 3 mini Meccano Orreries of the solar system;

The Star Party probably had the highest attendance to date for any ScopeX – thank you to the West Rand Astronomy Club members and friends for your support.

Summary of the presentations - many thanks to all presenters:

Johan Smit, ASSA Pretoria, presented his very popular  “How a telescope sees” which includes how to build a simple telescope in <  5 min;  

Case Rijsdijk, ASSA  Education and Public Communication Section Director and who has presented at ScopeX since its inception in 2002, presented “Comets - debris from the formation of the Solar System”.  Brian Fraser says of the talk:  “Case explained what comets are, how they are formed and how they become such spectacular objects in our night skies, or not.Case pointed out the different materials that make up the various tails that comets develop as they loop round the sun and the mechanisms driving the physics.With some excellent slides he showed the main features of a number of bright comets that have visited our patch of space in recent decades.  The talk ended with Case “building” a comet nucleus with dry-ice, sand, cooldrink, water, gravel and a few other ingredients.“


Lolan Naicker, Coordinator for the Development of Astronomy at the SAAO, gave an informative talk on the initiatives, in Cape Town and the astronomical community as a whole, within the International Year of Astronomy programme - a worldwide initiative during 2009 in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical use of the telescope by Galileo;

Paidamwoyo Mhangara,  Remote Sensing Specialist from the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre or SAC, talked about “Applications for Earth Observation Satellite Imagery”   and gave an overview of the remote sensing process discussing the most common satellite imagery applications and satellite image products supplied by the SAC and their applications in South Africa;  

Daleen Koch, Space Weather Engineer, 47th South African National Antarctic Expedition, talked on “Living the Antarctic dream: Life and Science at SANAE IV”. Robert Groess writes:  “Living the Antarctic Dream was a vivid and enthralling view behind the scenes of what life is really like for the intrepid explorers stationed at the South African Antarctic base, SANAE IV. Daleen took us through breath-taking landscapes of a World positively alien to most of us. Here the Sun is either up for the season or it teases the horizon continuously. Crevasses whose dimensions boggle the mind, rippled across the ice-scape. And then there were those who chose to sleep OUTSIDE the comfort of the base, with their sleeping bags, in mid-winter! All in all, it was a tremendous privilege for us to have been afforded a glimpse of what life is like for a band of people who are closer than family to each other, living on the edge of forever”;

Dr Maria Diaz-Trigo, Scientist ESA Astronomy Centre – Spain, was sponsored by the Embassy of Spain to visit South Africa and ScopeX.  Chris Stewart writes:  “Whenever possible ScopeX tries to include speakers of international stature. Manuel Peralta Sanchez of the Spanish Embassy joined the telescope making class and was able to arranged flights for ScopeX international speaker, Dr Maria Diaz-Trigo. With a Masters in particle physics from the University of Heidelberg and a PhD from the Max Planck Institute, together with her experience on the European module of the ISS at the German Space Agency as well as scientific research on ESA's XMM Newton probe, Maria is eminently qualified.  She gave a wide-ranging presentation on the ESA missions (past, present and future) covering the spectrum from sub-millimetre to gamma-ray wavelengths. She managed to give not only an overview of each spacecraft's purpose and capabilities, but also some explanations of how their missions interlock to provide the detailed spectral coverage necessary for scientists to truly understand the complex underpinnings of the universe we live in. In the process, Maria evensome detail of the physics being researched, on a level accessible to much of the audience. Due credit was given to international collaborations, as these missions are frequently too expensive for even the EU to manage alone.  Thank you, Maria. Your talk was very well received by the audience. We hope your visit to our country was as special for you as your talk was to us”;

Brett Edwards:  Francois Nortje writes: “A capacity crowd attended Brett Edwards’ presentation titled “Introduction to Planetary Photography”. Brett is an accomplished astrophotographer and a past winner of the ScopeX astrophotography competition.  Brett covered the basics of planetary imaging. He described the available imaging equipment from webcams to dedicated CCD astronomical cameras and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each. He then discussed the fundamentals of image acquisition followed by a description of the processing that is required to produce good images as well as the pitfalls to avoid.  He wrapped up the presentation by demonstrating that excellent results can be obtained with a humble webcam. He showed a video clip that he made of Jupiter with his Meade LX200 12” telescope and a webcam and then demonstrated how to process this video clip to produce the final image. This hands-on approach was well received by the audience which was shown by the lively interaction during the presentation. As an added bonus Brett provided each audience member with a CD containing a copy of his presentation slide pack as well as the video clips and images he used during the presentation”;

Andrew Helsdon: presented Practical techniques for Polar Alignment.  Chris Stewart writes: “Andrew began with a brief explanation of the reasons behind the need for polar alignment. These include finding objects by means of setting circles, tracking objects for visual or photographic purposes and avoiding the problem of field rotation during imaging. He then gave an overview of a number of practical methods of varying complexity and precision, by which polar alignment could be accomplished for both “normal” equatorial mounts and equatorial platforms. Although conceptually simple, accomplishing satisfactory alignment is tricky in practice - especially when high precision is required for long-duration imaging. It is hoped that having had the basics demystified in this presentation, the audience would be encouraged to further explore and ultimately adopt one or more of the techniques in order to enhance their viewing experience”.

To all the people that helped make the event run smoothly, sincere thanks to:

The ATM and Astrophoto Judges: Chris Stewart, Dave Blane, Case Rijsdijk, Brett Edwards and Auke Slotegraaf;

Keith Lou for organizing the ATM stand and thank you to everyone who helped at the ATM stand, including Dorryn Jolly, Laura Tim, Percy Jacobs, Dave Hughes, Dave Rick, Johan Smit, Chris Curry, Bosman Olivier;

Special helpers: Chris Pemberthy, John Somersvine, Craig Allen, Gary Els, Catherine McKinnon, Atze Herder, Ron Cowley, Glen Whitney, Linschen Kirchner, Peter Venter, Graham Mephius for support at the Help Desk.  A special thanks to Sharon Tait, Rudolf Strydom, Sue & Alec Jamieson and Francois Nortje, all of whom were busy the whole day with various support activities;

The 10 helpers from Unika Voortrekkers who provided invaluable assistance the whole day with selling raffle tickets, assisting the Moon Telescope building workshops, manning the Camera Obscura or Meteor Impact Stand or Sun Corner – you were brilliant!

Monica, Ronel and everyone involved with the Food Tent which was active from early to late and kept producing mouth watering homemade fare;

Brian Fraser for doing duty at the outside microphone for most of the day;  Chris Middleton for starting the Star Party with What’s Up in the Sky;  Matimu Rikotso  and friend who helped at the Sun Corner;  Cherry Hart who assisted as standby First Aid support  … many thanks to all.

Finally, without generous sponsorship, the event would not be possible. Our heart-felt thanks go to:

SAASTA / DST who has been ScopeX’ non-commercial sponsor since 2004 and whose funding i.a. allows a number of senior learners every year to come and enjoy the morning at ScopeX;
Commercial exhibitors and sponsors whose donations help ScopeX recover costs via a raffle and also provide prizes to give away as awards;
The Embassy of Spain who kindly sponsored the travel of the main speaker Dr Maria Diaz-Trigo;
The South African Astronomical Observatory who sponsored Lolan Naicker’s travel from Cape Town plus 100  Moon telescope, and arranged the remaining 200 telescope and accessories to be couriered to Johannesburg – many thanks Cedric Jacobs for all your help;
The Hermanus Magnetic Observatory who sponsored Daleen Koch’s travel from Hermanus – many thanks Dr Pierre Cilliers.

The date for ScopeX 2010 could be Astronomy Day, 24 April or 22 May – it will be on
www.scopex.co.za  in due course.  

Till next time then.


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