In a recent issue of MNASSA (Koorts 2012), Willie Koorts described the ESO site testing in South Africa and discussed two issues: The decision of ESO not to build in South Africa and the astronomical seeing on the high veld.
In his June 2012 survey of telescopes at Sutherland (see MNASSA Vol. 71, Nos 5 & 6, June 2012, p125), Willie Koorts mentioned three new domes belonging to the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT) project. They just got one step closer to reaching their goal with the three 1-m telescopes achieving first light, paving the way for science operations to start soon.
The SAAO's Mechanical Workshop in Cape Town recently took a huge leap forward with a R10 million infrastructure upgrade. All computer controlled, the workshop floor is now dominated by a huge 5-axis Milling Machine, surrounded by two Lathes, a Spark Eroder and Wire Cutter. The Optics Lab was also refurbished, enabling sophisticated optical work to be carried out in-house. The capabilities of these new machines have already been demonstrated with some technically challenging work produced for iThemba Labs and MeerKAT.
South Africa played a very important role at the dawn of the space-age because of its strategic position on the globe, being the first land mass over which satellites launched from the US, would pass. It is thus logical that America invested in tracking stations here. One such method was called Moonwatch where an "optical fence" was set up, detecting the satellite as it passed through it. However, this required a lot of manpower, which was supplied by keen volunteers who wanted to be part of the space age. Prof Peter Spargo, then a WITS student, was the youngest member of the Johannesburg Moonwatch and shares his memories of this experience here.
After several previous unsuccessful launch attempts, a new country just joined the ranks of the elite few that have managed to launch and orbit their own satellites. North Korea's recent launch caused some mild hysteria and is quite controversial, even deemed illegal under international law! The launch itself was quite tricky, requiring some complicated maneuvers, to avoid flying over populated landmass. Space authorities and amateur satellite trackers have been following the satellite with great interest, trying to establish if the payload is operational or not, since it may be spinning out of control. As usual, Greg Roberts was well equipped and strategically situated to get the best data to unravel this puzzle.
December 2012 proved to be a frantic period with some interesting space activities, including the predicted end of the world on 21 December 2012. A spectacular event occurred that gave rise to numerous UFO reports and terrified those that believed Doomsday was at hand.
These form an important part of a research facility, often as a sort of prepublication discussion or a discussion of an individual's current research, and as such it is virtually impossible to "publish" this material. However by recording the topics discussed in the form below does indicate to those, who are unable to attend, what current trends are and who has visited to do research: it keeps everyone 'in the loop' so to speak.
Hydra, the female Water Snake, is the longest of today's 88 known constellations, stretching from the Libra up to the northern constellation Cancer - more than 3% of the entire night sky (see starmap). It is quite a challenge to deal with this expansive constellation in one article, especially as it contains exceptionally magnificent objects that make a visit to the constellation decidedly worthwhile.