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IYA2009--The 100 hours of astronomy event.

The main Cornerstone project of the International Year of Astronomy was the 100 Hours of Astronomy campaign, celebrated worldwide between 2-5 April 2009. Events could be registered on the 100 Hours website, marked as balloons on a map with links to the details of the event when you click on it. The South African map had balloons for Louis Trichardt, Irene, Hartebeespoortdam, Middelburg, Wellington, Stellenbosch, Newlands, Observatory Camp's Bay, Fish hoek and even Gough Island! One cannot help but wonder how many people attended the latter event. Although some of the registered occasions were cancelled, most of the others were quite successful, despite non-ideal weather experienced by some.

Kos Coronaios of the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo Province, told how they set up telescopes, an astronomy display and a big screen at the Makhado Crossing shopping centre on all four evenings of 2-5 April. On the agenda each night were views of the first quarter Moon, Saturn and a few of the brighter deepsky objects. Although they had intermittent cloud during the four day event, overall the weather remained reasonably clear with conditions affected mainly by the light pollution from the car park and Louis Trichardt town. Club members handed out material such as ASSA membership forms, SAAO pamphlets and flyers. Information on phases, factoids and maps of the Moon were also made available. The handouts were particularly popular with the kids. During the course of each event various astronomy presentations were shown on a big screen and software was demonstrated which sparked off crowd involvement by identifying lunar features visible in the eyepiece.

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The first night was slow with only around 40 visitors. Kos wrote that "... although we were all keen to entertain, no real enthusiasm was shown by the public and when packing up at 21h30 I wondered how the next three nights would progress". His worries soon vanished since they were kept very busy on Friday and Saturday nights with around 250 visitors each Sunday was especially rewarding. By now word had spread and people came specifically for the event. "The crowds were really interested and very enthusiastic", writes Kos. "It was great to be able to utilize the big screen to show images and clips when answering questions such as; how far, how big, how marry, etc. About 50 of my astronomy images were very effectively used in a slide show as a filler during telescope viewing", he concludes.

Ernst Marais reported from Middelburg on their event held on the Saturday night. "It was a very nice evening with clear skies. Some 20 to 30 people attended, including quite a few kids. We only had three telescopes; two 8-inch Meade LX90's and a small Newtonian. We handed out "Star Wheels" to everybody and gave a short Power Point presentation which went rather well. The green laser pointer was a hit (could have sold 20 if I had them!). Hope to do this again."

The West Rand Astronomy Club really pulled out all the stops. Chairman Gerhard Koekemoer reported how they split into two teams and did four events over two evenings--on Friday night at the Northgate and the Key West Shopping Centres and on Saturday at the Cresta Shopping Centre and the Clear Water Mall. All four the venues received a wonderful, enthusiastic response from the public with a grand total of 653 visitors. Sixteen telescopes per night were used, split between the Northern and Western functions, ranging from 4 to 12 inches in aperture. The main targets were the Moon, Saturn, Orion Nebula, Jewel Box and Omega Centauri. Unfortunately viewing conditions were not the best, with many objects having to wait for the sporadic cloud cover to pass to fully appreciate their beauty. The people showed great enthusiasm and saw it as a wonderful learning experience, with some people coming back for a second and third visit in order to view items that had caught their attention.

Auke Slotegraaf, together with some helpers held two events, one is Stellenbosch and one in Strand. The Stellenbosch event happened on Friday, 4 April on Die Braak. A telescope and posters, sponsored by SAASTA, were set up on the busy, highly-visible street comer and visitors were directed to four other telescopes, somewhat more in the dark behind a row of trees. Despite intermittent cloud, pleasing views of the Moon and Saturn were enjoyed by over 100 casual stargazers. In addition to SAAO brochures and SAASTA booklets, a special moon pamphlet was handed out, as well as free copies of the Southern Star Wheel. Engaging questions were often asked and the enthusiasm was heartening. A total lunar occultation of mu Cancri was observed around 21h00. A very popular activity was photographing the Moon though the telescope using nothing more than a cellphone camera. Several visitors enthusiastically imaged the Moon and one entrepreneur even managed a shot of Saturn and its rings!

Their Strand event was the next night (Saturday). Threatening weather initially looked like it will be a showstopper but after sunset the wind dropped and by 20h00 they were set up in a parking lot between two popular eat-out restaurants and in full swing. Three telescopes were used, each aimed at a different object, concentrating on the Moon (8-inch), the Jewelbox (10-inch) and high-power views of Saturn (10-inch Celestron). Groups of people would spend 10 to 15 minutes viewing and talking about what they saw before moving on to the next telescope. At each eyepiece they learnt something new. As things quieted down, people could linger longer and some folk got to see a bit extra--pull up a chair and watch the Moon at 300x drifting through the eyepiece, or spy the blood-red carbon star; Espin 365, next to beta Crucis. By 23h00, when dew forced them to stop, at least 150 people got their first look through a telescope.

Also on Saturday night, in Wellington, the Orion Observation Group (OOG) had a starparty at the relatively dark Voortrekker grounds on the edge of town. The event was advertised in the local media and drew some 40 people, some as far as Montage, Prince Alfred Hamlet and Worcester. It was very nice to see a good number of kids when a group on a camp nearby, joined in. Six telescopes were set up, ranging from a small refractor to a 14-inch Dobsonian. The plan was to start off with a talk, followed by telescope viewing. Although it was perfectly clear by sunset, threatening cloud build-up called for a change of plan so they first did the telescope viewing until forced to stop by cloud. The talk then followed, detailing the IYA 2009 initiative, which included a recap of events that had already been held, and ended with a recounting of some star lore. Footage of the recent STS-119 Shuttle mission to put the International Space Station to full power by installing a massive array of solar panels, was also shown. This was presented outdoors allowing an eye to be kept on the sky. However; it never cleared properly enough for serious observing. So after showing at least the Moon and Saturn through gaps in the cloud to folks who arrived late, they had to pack up by 23h00.

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The historical novelist Winnie Rust was also amongst the audience. The main character in her previous book, Martha, had an astronomical tie to the Royal Observatory in Cape Town. Her present manuscript is about one of South Africa's first female amateur astronomers, Miss Abbie Ferguson, founder of the Seminary Observatory in Wellington. Winnie wanted to experience the awe of observing to help her in her writing. With her first glimpse at the Jewel Box in a 12-inch, Winnie immediately knew she found an object that would have been admired with equal fascination by Miss Ferguson 130 years ago.

Breaking away from the traditional pattern SAAO arranged two 100 Hour events with a difference. The first entitled "Yuri's Night" was held in conjunction with the Cape Centre and took place at SAAO headquarters in Observatory, Cape Town. This commemorated Yuri Gagarin who, in 1961, became the first human to navel into space, having been launched to orbit aboard the Russian spaceship Vostok 1.

The aim of the event was to increase public interest in space exploration and to inspire a new generation of explorers. The program started early with an optional bring-and-braai, followed by a rocket motor bench test demonstration. Next were two short talks, one on HartRAO's involvement in NASA missions and the second on Space Technology. Finally some stargazing and satellite spotting concluded the events.

The other extraordinary occasion was a daytime telescope viewing event at SACS Junior School in Newlands, held on 2 April 2009. Three telescopes were set up at the school grounds, one pointing at an IYA2009 banner fixed to a distant building in Claremont, another to the canon at the blockhouse on Devil's Peak and the third at the fireman's hut, also on Devil's Peak. This setup gave 587 learners the opportunity to look through a telescope. When asked, it seemed as though some kids mistook the 6-inch Dobsonian for a canon! So we trust that, judging by all the "oohs'' and "aahs", the ones who expected canon balls to be fired hopefully overcame their disappointment!

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It is also trusted that with the combined effort put into this campaign, we all got one step closer to addressing three of the IYA2009 objectives, namely that in 2009: (1) Everybody on earth thinks, at least once, about the wonders of the sky. (2) Share the human wish to reach to the stars, to comprehend them and to feel part of the universe. (3) As many people as possible get to gaze through a telescope. This was recently confirmed by a statement from the organisers saying that the 100 Hours of Astronomy was an unprecedented success, regarded as the largest single science public outreach event ever. More than 1500 events were registered in over 130 countries, making it a truly global project--an event on a scale never attempted before, with more than one million people participating! The website is still growing as events continue to be registered so that a report and photos can be added. To view these, visit www.100hoursofa stronomy.org.
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Title Annotation:International Year of Astronomy 2009
Publication:Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jun 1, 2009
Words:1728
Previous Article:IYA 2009 news.
Next Article:First National star party in South Africa.
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