The HAC Committee members are(back from left): Peter Harvey, Derek Duckitt, Jenny Moris, Johan Retief, Lynette Geldenhuys and Fanie Lombard. Front: Pierre de Villiers (chairperson) and Deon Krige. Absent: Laura Norris. photo: jan-hendrik coetzer
By Jan-Hendrik Coetzer
Photo : jan-hendrik coetzer
Prof Patrick Woudt, incoming head of the University of Cape Town’s(UCT) Department of Astronomy, symbolically handed over a 14” telescope to Mayor Nicolette Botha-Guthrie on Saturday morning.
Botha-Guthrie accepted this magnanimous donation on behalf of both the Hermanus Astronomy Centre(HAC) – the future custodian of the telescope, as well as the Overstrand community in general.
The telescope, a Celestron 14” equatorial fork-mounted Schmidt-Cassegrain, is over 30 years old but is still fully operational.
It was used for years by UCT for undergraduate training and research purposes, but was decommissioned when the department upgraded to a more modern telescope and new teaching methods.
Botha-Guthrie echoed UCT’s confidence in HAC’s ability to do justice to such a donation and said she hoped the instrument will contribute to meaningful observational and research collaborations between UCT and HAC.
She reaffirmed council’s pride in the Overstrand’s indisputable scientific attributes embodied by SANSA and HAC, and also offered a challenge: “I would love to confer a Mayoral Award to local learners in recognition of a meaningful contribution to astronomy in particular or science in general. Please help me to achieve this dream.”
In thanking Woudt for a donation which will undoubtedly give Hermanus’ astronomically and scientifically minded community many hours of enriching enjoyment, HAC chairperson Pierre de Villiers said that even though no words could adequately describe the HAC’s appreciation, he did envisage a lasting legacy for this gesture:
-Physically, the telescope will share a place of honour with the 13,1” Steve Kleyn telescope on the two piers in the planned Hermanus Observatory. The HAC will also mount a brass engraving on the telescope, with whatever name UCT would like the telescope to be known by as a permanent reminder of its origin, ensuring that it becomes a scientific icon for generations to come.
-An enduring intellectual legacy will hopefully result from mutually beneficial observational/research collaboration between UCT and HAC in conjunction with local learners.
Regarding the reason for the donation, Woudt mentioned that the first seeds were sown in his mind when he discovered that Hermanus High School was a regular user of the 1,8m MONET telescope at the MacDonald in West Texas.
This was a clear indication of educational outreach activity.
The second prod came from Michael-John Heyns, an ex-Hermanus High School learner, who shared his experience of a MONET session as well as his perception of the HAC’s educational outreach commitment with staff at UCT, leading to the question, “What are you going to do with the decommissioned 14” telescope?”.
In recognition of his role, the HAC undertook to add “Donation encouraged by Michael-John Heyns” to the telescopes’ main inscription.
“This donation undoubtedly constitutes a major milestone in the remarkable history of the Hermanus ‘UCTronomy’ Centre”, said De Villiers.