Watching the Heavens in Vaalwater
Kos Coronaios from the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club reports on public outreach in Vaalwater.
Limpopo Astronomy Outreach visited Vaalwater on the 19th and 20th of August.
Two hours after leaving Louis Trichardt the road headed up the northern slopes of the Waterberg Mountains and saw me dodging fallen rock slides and baboons rushing across the road.
Arriving at Boschdraai Primary 40 km from Vaalwater shortly after lunch I was greeted by the learners who rushed towards the vehicle and trailer. They were expecting me one hour earlier and could not wait for my arrival, Katie and Toboha explained as they welcomed me to the school.
My two assistants helped with translation (which was not really needed) and handing out material etc. They explained that the Headmistress was away for the day on a workshop but would join us for the evening's stargazing later on.
The next couple of hours were spent building Southern Star Wheels and MoonScopes with the eager learners who had loads of question to ask.
During the afternoon we practised how to use the Star Wheel and the MoonScope stressing that they must not look at the Sun with it. Explaining the basic principals of the Star Wheel I had a couple of the kids imagining that they were the Sun and Earth and showed them as the Earth rotated while at the same time orbiting the Sun how the view of the sky changed.
Information on the Moon with some interesting facts found the kids excited especially when they learned that they could jump really far and that they could not hear their teachers shouting at them to keep quite.
After the presentation I had just enough time to head to Windsong Cottages to meet Dr. Philip Calcott who had kindly supplied the accommodation. After hurriedly unpacking I rushed back to the school to set up equipment for the evening's stargazing.
Children, adults and learners arrived at the school around sunset and after meeting headmistress Johanna Motshodi, who apologised for missing the afternoon session, we started the evening's proceedings.
Views of Jupiter and deep sky objects were shown on the improvised screen, including various clips explaining, for example, how big and far stars are. Once again the children had lots of questions to ask about falling stars, rockets and space travel.
The audience found our South African star lore very interesting and we finished the evening with a quick look at some of the constellations that were visible in the crystal clear, unpolluted and light-free Waterberg skies.
Unfortunately views of the Moon with their newly built MoonScope would have to wait for a couple of nights when the crescent Moon would be visible in the west.
Midday the following day found me addressing pupils and a few teachers at the Waterberg Academy a few kilometres outside the small town of Vaalwater. The Director of the ASSA Imaging Section, Oleg Toumilovitch, and his daughter Alicia, joined us, and Alicia helped with handing out material scissors, glue, and the various components to construct the MoonScopes and Star Wheels. A very capable Mike Burton, a teacher at the school, was instrumental at crowd control and once again the learners were full of enthusiasm and questions.
Oleg was called upon to assist in answering a couple of the questions and it was a pleasure having someone with his knowledge to help out.
About 130 people, mostly learners, attended both sessions and it was really great to see the interest and their willingness to learn about astronomy and science and I must wonder if last years Planetary Festival and the upcoming one has any significance.
A big thank you to Phil and his team (Windsong Cottages), the heads of the two schools Ray Gordon and Johanna Motshodi and their staff, to the sponsors and designers of the MoonScope (Maranga Phanda, Office National and SAAO), Southern Star Wheel (Zoutpansberger, Mirror and Auke Slotegraaf), media (print and radio) and everyone else involved with this outreach initiative (SAASTA, DST and NRF).