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University of South Africa: Department of Mathematical Sciences--2008 annual report.

Personnel and Departmental Issues Prof D.P. Smits and Dr B. Cunow were the only full-time staff members in the Dept of Mathematical Sciences at Unisa responsible for the Astronomy programme. Ms A. de Witt was registered for a PhD on shock-excited masers in Herbig-Haro objects under the supervision of Smits and had a student assistantship post. Ms H. Preston from the USA was registered for a PhD on variability in K giants using WIRE with Profs Buzasi and Smits as her supervisors. Mr E. van Graan and Ms P. Skelton were both registered for MScs and are working on eclipsing binary stars under the supervision of Smits. Ms A. Prozesky was a full-time Hons student. Ms Skelton and Prozesky had student assistantships and assisted with marking scripts and answering student queries.


Our introductory astronomy module AST131F had a pass rate of 43 students out of the 112 who registered. The Spherical Astronomy module AST134J had a pass rate of 18 students out of the 39 who had registered for it. At 2nd year level, pass rates were also low, with just over 50% of the registered students passing. For the introductory practical module AST255, 11 students attended and passed.

Travel & Conferences

In February Smits attended a 2-day NASSP Workshop in Cape Town and then a 3-day IRAF workshop, organised by the astronomy department at UCT.

Smits participated in an FET workshop organized by Dr Diane Grayson on 17-18 March which was held at Pretoria University.

In March, Cunow and Ralf Kotulla from the University of Hertfordshire, UK, had a two-week observing run at Sutherland using the 1m telescope and the IRSF. They obtained optical and NIR data of spiral galaxies in local clusters.

Bishop, Cunow and Smits travelled to Cape Town to give talks at the NASSP Project Presentation Day on 31 March. A student from the extended Hons programme did a project on astronomical masers.

A presentation on OH masers in astronomical environments was given by Smits to 30 people at the Interim Regulations Advisory Committee Meeting in June.

Smits attended the 53rd Annual Conference of SAIP held at University of Limpopo from 8-11 July 2008 at which he gave a talk on "The First Stars".

Smits and Skelton attended the 8th Biennial ASSA Symposium held in Durban in August. Skelton gave a talk on WUMa-type variable stars, and Smits talked on the First Stars.

Cunow attended an international conference on "Cosmic Dust--Near and Far 2008", in Heidelberg, Germany, during September 2008 at which she presented a poster on her work.

In December Smits, Skelton and Prozesky attended the 3rd Annual SKA Bursary holders meeting in Stellenbosch. Skelton gave a presentation on her MSc progress for which she won the "Best MSc Presentation".


Mr Peter Kalebwe from the Physics Department of the University of Zambia, Lusaka, visited the department in April with a view to registering for a PhD in Astronomy. He spent time in the department familiarizing himself with the Linux operating system and programmes such as LaTeX. He also worked through some of the course notes from various Unisa astronomy modules.


Cunow continued her work on age and metallicity gradients and dust extinction of disc galaxies at intermediate redshifts and of local cluster galaxies. She continued her collaboration with Uta Fritze and Ralf Kotulla at the University of Hertfordshire, UK. In March, Cunow and Kotulla had a two-week observing run on the 1m telescope and the IRSF at Sutherland. In September, Cunow visited Kotulla in the UK, during which time they analysed their optical and NIR data of spiral galaxies in local clusters and Cunow presented results at their departmental colloquium.

Smits and de Witt continued with their work on looking for shock-excited 1720 MHz OH masers towards Herbig-Haro objects. De Witt attended a COSPAR Capacity Building Workshop on Space Astrophysics with NASA & ESA Missions: Swift, Chandra & XMM-Newton in Alexandria, Egypt in January 2008. She is investigating emission from HH objects to see if there is enough X-radiation behind the C-shocks to produce OH via the Wardle mechanism. She also spent time reducing the VLA data obtained towards some of the HH objects identified in the single-dish observations as being possible sources of OH maser emission.

Skelton looked through the ASAS database for systems that appear to be changing their period. She also used the SuperWASP-South data to supplement the ASAS data. Van Graan continued to develop programmes that can be used to automate the Wilson-Devinney code light-curve fitting procedure of W UMa type variable stars from the ASAS database.

Middleton continued his collaboration with Smits by doing further observations of W UMa-type eclipsing binaries from Kyalami in Johannesburg. The observations have been submitted to the AAVSO. He went to Sutherland twice where he used the 0.75m telescope with his CCD camera, but the weather was not conducive to observations--of the 20 nights allocated, only 2.5 nights of data were obtained.

Extramural Activities

Several viewing evenings were held at the Unisa Observatory during 2008, providing tours of the night sky to more than 150 people. Cunow, de Witt and Smits hosted several of the evenings each, Skelton and Prozesky assisted when large groups were involved.

Cunow gave two talks about astronomy to the general public and wrote five articles for Afrika-Kurier. Every two months Cunow wrote a short contribution for the Unisa Enews about what can be seen in the sky.

Smits gave a talk on astronomy to 22 learners at a school in Johannesburg and showed his slides of SANAE 20 to visitors to SAASTA on the winter solstice. Sixty people attended an S2A3 talk on Frontiers of Astrophysics at Pretoria University's Sci-Enza centre.

In December, Middleton was commissioned to move the 9-inch Reunert Telescope from its site on the Theo van Wyk building on the Unisa Campus, back to the Observatory in Johannesburg which is now owned by SAASTA.


* Cunow B., 2008, Formation and Evolution of Galaxy Disks, eds. J.G. Funes and E.M. Corsini, ASP Conference Series, Vol. 396, San Francisco, 139-140. Stellar Population Gradients and Dust Extinction in Disk Galaxies at Intermediate Redshifts in the Hubble Deep Field

* Groundstate OH masers associated with Herbig-Haro objects. A. de Witt, D.P.

Smits. In Astrophysical Masers and their Environments, ed. J. Chapman & W. Baan, Proceedings of IAU Symposium 242, p. 172-175
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Title Annotation:reports from institutes
Publication:Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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