Cosmic Reconciliation * Hemelruim Versoening

For the past decade or so I have been part of an astronomy group, the Orion Observation Group. Our main mission is to inspire others to look and appreciate the night sky.We were invited by the Afrikaanse Taalmonument (Afrikaans Language Monument) which is affiliated to the South African Department of Arts and Culture to host their popular summer season Stargazing Picnics. Once a month we set up our gear to give the public a chance to experience the night sky through our telescopes.

Give and Take: Through the years my participation at the Taalmonument in Paarl, has made me much more aware of our country’s cultural diversity and so I aimed to contribute towards building a bridge between South African culture and Astronomy. I decided that a good way of achieving this would be to choose themes for our Stargazing evenings that would not only inspire budding astromers but budding artists, writers, poets and performers in any genre.

Our themes aren’t just chosen at random. First of all I scrutinize the date to see whether it coïncides with a specific astronomical event. I scour the library’s bookshelves and internet for star-related material suitable for specific dates like Valentine’s or New Year’s day. Finding new themes has been almost just as much fun as stargazing. If I find inspiration in the title of a book, in song lyrics, poetry or art, I contact the author. Most are very appreciative and give me their blessing. Some just ignore me and then I have to resume my search.So far no-one has been rude! Afrikaans is a colourful language and lends itself well to slight twisting and tweeking of the original.By now I have a file of themes with lots of memories of every Stargazing Picnic at the Taalmonument.

Initially I had something completely different lined up for 16 Dec 2017 when it dawned on me that this was a very special South African holiday: the Day of Reconciliation/Versoeningsdag. Back to the drawing board.

Hemelruim/Constellations sort of jumped off the computer screen and into my lap. When I read the synopsis I knew I had found the most perfect theme. The play “Constellations” by Nick Payne was adapted by well-known South African director, Nico Scheepers. The Afrikaans text was a triumph and “Hemelruim” staged sold-out performances at Aardklop, the KKNK and Fugard Theatre.

Reviews read: Hemelruim was an amazing theatre experience on a galactic scale
It’s about one relationship,infinite possibilities,free will and friendship; it’s also about quantum multiverse theory, love, and honey

Nico Scheepers revealed: I tried to make the characters as real as possible as people, whichever universe they’re in, because I think it is a core soul that echoes throughout all these parallel universes, with intent and choice painted over that

The theme for the Stargazing Picnic at the Taal Monument on 16 December 2017 will be:
Hemelruim Versoening/ Cosmic Reconciliation

With this I hope I can inspired more South Africans to reconcile and bring parallel universes together and most of all to inspire others to look at the stars.

Thanks to Nico Scheepers for this wonderful inspiration.

Online Observing

Winter in the Western Cape, South Africa, leaves less opportunity for me to do deep-sky observing. It’s supposed to be our rainy season and I am accustomed to my telescope going into semi hibernation. I love the rain and we need the rain but when clouds gather just to show they have enough muscle to cover the entire heaven and I feel no raindrops falling on my head, I get really depressed.

There is some consolation in the fact that these days one can observe online as well. I have become a member of Slooh which feels like the most straight forward online telescope system for an enthusiastic amateur like me. I took baby steps at first and signed up as a crew member, which means I did not get to control the robotic telescopes but could observe the objects reserved by Slooh apprentices and astronomers in real time. Apprentice  and Astronomer members pay a subscription and crew members go along for the ride. Now a month later I’ve decided to take my second step and updated my account to an Apprentice. I will now get to reserve time on the telescopes and do settings and very cool stuff. Mostly I’ll still  go along for the ride. Honestly the less I have to fiddle with alignments and settings when observing, the better.

Usually when I go online I have access to content instantly but reality soon dawned when I realized that Slooh telescopes are live and have weather issues just like anywhere else. At least Slooh’s website has so much interesting stuff to explore while waiting for the dots on the telescope page to turn green for go.

Instead of doing astrophotography I sketch. Doing sketches while observing through a remote robotic telescope seems like crooking big time. Most of the rules that apply when I’m observing through my telescope fall by the wayside. How can I determine co-ordinates when the stars do not drift across to the west in the eyepiece like they do in my uncomputerised telescope  Trying to determine star colours seem to be less obvious through the Canary Island telescopes but nebulae are so much easier to sketch when not having to nudge the telescope at the same time.

I always keep a log of every observation – even when online. I know I will not be able to submit my online observations to the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa for I am such a goody two shoes and that would be like lip syncing. On the other hand, I am observing in real time but just without bug spray and I will be taking my online adventures into account when I tally the grand total of my deep sky observations.

Bingo – To be able to complete my notes I scoured the internet for hours to find specs on Slooh’s telescopes. I almost joined a forum of disgruntled people who could not find any specs and were accusing Slooh of being a scam. Luckily I went onto the website again to see whether Canary Two had come online and this time I noticed a cheeky arrow over a pink button on the telescope page. It’s amazing how much more info one can find if you know where to look. Each location also has a webcam and from that footage I can sort of guess atmospheric conditions. Apparently if the stars seem elongated, the wind is blowing a gust!

To get the most from of an online session I try to get as close to the real thing as possible: lights off when I’m visiting Canary Island, curtains drawn for Chile. I use my regular sketch pad with red light and have coffee from a flask. By adjusting my computer’s display I can become relatively dark adapted.

Doing Astronomy online is a far cry from looking directly through my own telescope. I thought there would be no accelerated heartbeat, no oohs or wows until my first observation of a red dwarf thanks to Slooh’s Chile One. “Kapteyn’s Star” was absolutely breathtaking through the 14” Smidt Cassegrain. Mostly when I observe galaxies I see small smudges but one Slooh astronomer member opened up a new universe for me when he reserved time to observe NGC 1433 on Chile One. WOW!

Thanks to Slooh, apprentices and astronomers for giving us this wonderful opportunity and for sharing their observing time.

Some technical info:
Image:NGC 1433 (Spiral galaxy)
Telescope: Chile One Wide-Angle
Telescope Type: Schmidt-Cassegrain Catadioptric (SCT)
Effective Aperture: 355.6mm (14″)
Focal Length: 3910mm (154″)
Focal Ratio: f/11