May 18th, Modimolle (Nylstroom)

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Saturday morning 18th May dawned overcast with the threat of rain. A call to Martin Blomm at Shangri-la Hotel in Modimolle where we would be staying confirmed that it was the same down there, but it did seem to be clearing. Armed with the latest posters and pamphlets from the South African Observatory (SAAO), James and I headed south towards the small town. Taking an earlier exit we traveled off the N1 toll road along the alternate route passing Mokopane (Potgietersrus) and Mookogophong (Naboomspruit), before entering Modimolle. Another call from Martin confirmed that the weather seemed to be deteriorating and the decision to postpone the outreach at the Checkers centre till Sunday morning was taken. However, by late afternoon the cloud was lifting and James and I setup for the evening’s stargazing outside Lonebear Spur. One of the hazards of stargazing: no control of the weather and even detailed forecasting for a specific area is so often incorrect!

The gods carried on smiling and shortly after 5pm we were setup and ready outside the popular local eatery. The first quarter Moon was the first target and patrons entering the restaurant were treated to marvelous views of craters near the terminator up on the big screen. This was followed by the planet Saturn, the famous rings as well as the Cassini division clearly visible. Changing the camera settings we could easily see four of its many moons, Tethys, Dione, and Rhea close to the planet, while the solar system’s second largest moon and Saturn’s largest, Titan was at near maximum elongation from the planet. A selection of clips and images were shown during the course of the evening and handout material snapped up eagerly by the kids and adults. By 9:30 pm jackets were donned as the winter chill took over and we started packing up for the evening.

A warm bed awaited us at Shangri-la followed by a wonderful breakfast spread on Sunday morning, with, more importantly, lovely clear skies. Shortly after 9am we were setup outside Shoprite Shopping Centre with my only concern finding a power point to run the telescope. The ladies from Van Heerdens Chemist kindly obliged and we powered up the telescope for some fantastic views of the solar disk peppered with sunspots. As usual, a spontaneous visit from the shopping centre’s friendly car guards got the ball rolling. These hard working men and women, who spend hours in the open air, day and night, are always first up for a look and a chat, with very genuine fascination in everything we can show them. James was in charge of the handout material that we had available and I was at the telescope. We spent a busy morning, as interested shoppers streamed past. By lunch time the pace slackened somewhat with everyone heading home for lunch or to their favourite restaurants and so we decided to pack up and head home.

The morning public outreach was well attended with the good folks from Modimolle clearly interested and asking us to come back again. James has done loads of outreach over the years with me and commented that it was one of the friendliest towns we have visited, with a real interest and appreciation in what we were doing.

Once again a warm thank you to everyone involved in this Astronomy for the Public Outreach initiative, the International Astronomy Union and its office of Astronomy for Development, SAAO and SAASTA for handout material, the local media, Nico from Lonebear Spur, Leon from the Center’s management and my son James for his continuing hard work assisting me.

Next up is Forever Resorts Tshipise, with a fully booked resort due to Bulletjie Rugby tournaments, which promises to be a very busy venue for astronomy outreach with hundreds of children and their families in attendance.