March 29th, Polokwane (Mall of the North)

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Friday 29th March dawned with an auspicious start to the first 2013 Public Astronomy Outreach for Limpopo Astronomy and the Soutpansberg Club with overcast conditions and a light drizzle in Makhado (Louis Trichardt). One hundred kilometers south, at The Mall of the North in Polokwane, there was no rain, but the sky was heavily laden with cloud and for a moment I considered rescheduling the first of this year’s outreach events.

At around 10 am the rain had subsided and the decision to pack the vehicle and head south was taken. By 12 am we were setup at the movie entrance of the Mall of the North and a continuous flow of shoppers, movie patrons and hungry folk streamed past the astronomy display. Assisting visitors with views of the Sun through the telescope and handing out the science and astronomy material that was available, Sarah, James and I were kept constantly busy. A short, late afternoon thundershower brought proceedings to a halt as we frantically moved equipment under cover only to bring it all out again half an hour later.

Shortly after sunset Jupiter was visible in the twilight sky and the telescope was pointed at the giant gas planet.

The Mall’s patrons were treated to beautiful views of the planet at different eyepiece magnifications with the Giant Red Spot (GRS) visible as well as three of the four Galilean moons. With patrons hurrying to the various restaurants and cinemas the pace once again picked up and I decided to project views of the planet onto the screen, which was followed by the Great Nebula in the constellation Orion, designated M42. The four stars making up the famous Trapezium in M42 were shown, as was the nebulosity surrounding them. Explaining the difference between emission and reflection nebula, the public were also offered wide field views of this at the eyepiece.

Some of the stars and constellations that were visible were pointed out and clips of how the Moon was formed and Curiosity’s landing on Mars, amongst others were shown. Our long day finally ended well after 8 pm with the consensus that the weather had not hampered the day’s activities in any way. Handout material that I was glad to see eagerly snapped up was information on SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) careers and where to study these. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm our event generated and we were asked many times when we would be returning again. Thanks to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and its Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) for making this event possible through their funding. A warm thank you to Sarah and James without whom I could not possibly do this, Rene at Mall of the North, as well as the local media for advertising and publicising this event.

The next event will be held on Saturday 6th April at Forever Resorts Warmbaths in Bela Bela, see you all there.