The vision of the Hermanus Astronomy Centre (“HAC” or “the Centre”) is a Hermanus community knowledgeable of the Southern Skies.
The mission of the HAC is to stimulate the enjoyment and advance the interests of astronomy in Hermanus.
3. HISTORY OF THE CLUB
The HAC was initiated at a meeting held at the Golf Club on 13th December 2007, which was attended by 15 local residents interested in Astronomy. The unanimous decision of those present was to proceed with the formal establishment of the Hermanus Astronomy Club and elected a committee to proceed with the process. The Founding Meeting, at which the Constitution was approved, was held on 9th January 2008.
The Club’s activities generated considerable interest in the local community as reflected by the membership which expanded from the initial 15 to 57 during 2008, and more than 60 halfway through 2009.
The nature and future focus of the Club was irrevocably changed by the donation of two substantial telescopes to the Club: A Φ330 mm (13.1”) equatorially fork mounted Newtonian reflector donated by founder member Steve Kleyn (who has subsequently been granted honorary life membership of the Club), and a Φ280 mm (11”) Newtonian reflector on a Dobsonian mount by ASSA Director Dudley Field.
Since it would be wasteful to limit the use of two such powerful instruments to sky observations on Club meeting nights, the Club accepted the challenge of becoming involved in meaningful educational and observational projects using, amongst others, these two telescopes.
The Centre has matured remarkably and become very active with a wide range of activities as summarized below, as well as on the HAC at a glance link on the websitewww.hermanusastronomy.co.za. Meaningful recognition was given by the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa’s (“ASSA” – see www.saao.ac.za/assa/) Council approval of Hermanus as the 9thAstronomy Centre in Southern Africa on 21st April 2009.
4. WAYS AND MEANS OF ACHIEVING THE CENTRE’S OBJECTIVES
4.1 The most important resources utilized by the Centre to achieve its objectives include:
● The two telescopes belonging to the Centre, as well as smaller telescopes owned by members;
● Access to the considerable resources of the ASSA through ASSA membership of individual members and as an ASSA Centre;
● Access to the technical support and educational material of the South African Astronomical Observatory (“SAAO” – see www.saao.ac.za);
● The Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (“HMO” – see www.hmo.ac.za) for collaboration and cooperation in astronomy and science outreach projects.
● By far the most important resource is the expertise, contacts, commitment and enthusiasm of the Centre’s members.
Two important future resources are a dedicated observatory, open air amphitheatre and lecture hall with kitchen and ablution facilities adjacent to Rotary Drive above Hermanus and an Astronomy Centre in the planned Science, Sport and Culture centre to be established by the Overstrand Local Economic Development Agency (“OLEDA” – Google Overstrand Municipality Oleda)
4.2 Any community-based organizations’ stakeholders are crucially important to its success. The HAC’s stakeholders include:
● The Overstrand Municipality (observatory site, support, funding);
● OLEDA (Science, Sport and Culture centre for educational tourism and science awareness promotion);
● The Enlighten Education Trust (educational projects);
● U3A (educational projects);
● All 20 schools in the Overstrand (intra- and extra-curricular education);
● Other youth groups or youth outreach organizations such as Wortelgat Outreach Trust;
● Related community organizations like the Botanical Society (temporary facilities) and the Hermanus Photographic Society (photography).
5. ACTIVITIES OF THE CENTRE
5.1 Monthly activities of the Centre are set out in its website www.hermanusastronomy.co.za and include:
● Monthly Centre meetings which are held in the Fernkloof Hall and always comprise two components:
- A presentation on a topic reflecting the primary interests of Centre members. (See HAC at a Glance on the website for details of all previous presentations.)
- Weather permitting the presentations are always followed by observation of the night sky through the telescopes available, which usually include the Centre’s 11” Dobsonian and members smaller telescopes.
● A monthly Newsletter (“The Southern Cross”) containing items of astronomical and topical interest (see Newsletter August 2009 and Newsletter Archive on the website).
● A monthly Sky Map with accompanying commentary explaining what constellations and other items of interest (eclipses, comets, occultations, rare astronomical phenomena etc.) are visible during the specific month (see Latest Sky Map on the website).
● Special Interest Groups, introduced at the AGM in January 2009, meet separately from full Centre meetings to share their knowledge, expertise and experience with each other. This led to much more activity in the Centre, and contributes substantially to an increase in club members’ expertise in Astronomy. Currently active Interest Groups include “Astronomy for absolute beginners” (see Amateur Astronomy Interest Group on the website), “Telescope Skills” and “Cosmology” (see Cosmology Interest Group on the website). “Astrophotography” is to be initiated in the near future.
● Special Local & International Observational Events. Local events included the observation and photography of unusual alignments of planets and/or stars, whereas International projects included observing the Lunar Eclipse of 16th August 2008 (during which the disappearance and re-appearance times of 9 craters were recorded and submitted for incorporation into international observations), and World-Wide Star Count projects aimed at compiling a Global Light Pollution map in November 2008 and again in March 2009.
5.2 Educational Outreach projects have become a major focus area of the Centre (seeEducational Outreach on the website) and include:
● Schools visits. Presentations on “Introductory Astronomy”, which focus on where we fit into the Universe, to learners at all 20 schools in the Overstrand. Each school is “armed” with the impressive set of SAAO educational material (DVD collection, AstroCD, posters and Astronomy Cards), which give science teachers a formidable arsenal of astronomy educational projects and activities varying from elementary to advanced.
Follow up visits are envisaged to ensure effective use of the educational material provided.
● Wortelgat Outreach Trust. The leader group of Wortelgat Outreach Trust (seewww.wortelgat.org.za) are being instructed on how to instill an informed interest in astronomy in the ±9000 young people that attend camps each year.
● Science Teachers. A half-day seminar for all science teachers in the Overstrand is being arranged in conjunction with the HMO and the Enlighten Education Trust (seewww.enlighteneducationtrust.org.za) to guide the teachers in how to effectively use the SAAO educational material in science classes.
● Astronomy Course. A formal course in Astronomy to be presented by HAC members under the auspices of the University of the 3rd Age (“U3A) Hermanus is being planned.
5.3 Perhaps one of the most exciting projects of the Centre is active and leading participation in the establishment of a Science, Sport and Culture centre in Hermanus by OLEDA, which will introduce the concept of educational tourism to Hermanus. This centre will have permanent, professionally designed educational exhibits (on par with SALT’s Visitor Centre) on Astronomy (HAC/ASSA/SAAO), Science (HMO) as well as Hermanus’s most important tourist attractions (whales, fynbos, sharks, penguins, viniculture, Eco Schools, Hoy’s Koppie history etc – with each discipline’s exhibit being done/approved by its highest representative body in South Africa). It will be staffed by professionally trained personnel and linked to outings with experts in each discipline exhibited. It will also have an auditorium for sports clinics or cultural activities such as U3A or other lectures, eisteddfods and the like.
By way of illustration, the Astronomy exhibition will be similar to but on an obviously more modest scale than SALT’s visitor centre. The most effective space utilization probably entails dry-walled partitions to divide the locale into six “passages” about 1,5m x 5m with each “passage” devoted to a specific topic (Solar System; Spectroscopy; Milky Way; Exoplanets; Stellar Evolution and the Large-scale Structure of the Universe). The exhibition will include posters, working models and the self-guided tour (a la SALT) will end with a screen(s) at which visitors can select any one of the multitude of stunning SAAO, History Channel, Discovery Channel or National Geographic DVD’s to watch. There will also be PC’s at which visitors can experience astronomy software such as Stellarium (a planetarium programme), Virtual Moon Atlas (which shows amazing detail of the moon) or Celestia (a programme that allows you to “fly/rocket” in 3D through the universe, or a whole host of other educational, participative activities (which can vary from activities as simple as finding North with a watch and the Sun to advanced exercises such as determining the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud – our nearest galaxy 170 000 light years away – from an analysis of the periods of Cepheid Variable stars in this galaxy).
The detailed design of our locale, as well as the training of personnel, will be done in conjunction with the SAAO and ASSA to ensure a professional end product that will hopefully set a benchmark standard to be aspired to (hopefully bettered!) by the other disciplines.
The concept has huge potential for:
● Tourism in Hermanus. It should be possible for anyone genuinely interested in learning moreabout the unique combination of attractions that Hermanus has to offer to spend a whole day learning meaningfully (i.e. not just seeing) about the various disciplines/attractions under professional guidance in the centre. This will undoubtedly add value to the visits of both day trippers and the much sought after longer-period tourists in the area.
● Astronomy in Hermanus. The permanently staffed exhibition at the centre will certainly contribute significantly towards achieving the HAC’s vision of a Hermanus community knowledgeable of the Southern Skies.
We will hopefully benefit hugely from the “spill-over” effect of visitors who visit the Centre for the primary purpose of wanting to learn more about say Southern Right whales, but while being there indulge in a bit of “Let’s have a look at this – It looks interesting!” This “complimentary attraction” will be an important benefit to all disciplines involved in the centre.
● Astronomy in South Africa. Such astronomy “locales” – i.e. exhibits + trained personnel – can easily be copied at all eight other Astronomy Centres in Southern Africa. It can also be duplicated in all towns and cities in South Africa that have active tourism bureaus which wish to give their tourism industry an effective and meaningful boost – to which Astronomy can be added as an extra string to their bows.
● Science in South Africa. It would be presumptuous to regard this concept as being theanswer to stimulating an interest in Science, but it certainly has a lot of merit and can serve as the kernel for a wider and more effective approach – from which we would then in turn benefit.
In summary educational tourism is a fundamentally sound and effective way of providing more value-added services to the public (community and tourists) visiting the centre, as well as a way of enticing top-end tourists to spend more time and forex in Hermanus.
6. ASTRONOMY EDUCATION CENTRE with an OBSERVATORY (AECO).
The need for a permanent facility to act as base for the Centre’s observational and educational activities led to the establishment of a Special AECO Committee to plan the establishment of the Education Centre. Its first task was to determine the best site for such a project and after due process identified a site adjacent to Rotary Drive almost opposite the main viewpoint. This site has the advantages of limited light pollution, almost unrestricted views and easy accessibility, but suffers from an obvious lack of services (water, electricity and sewerage), parking and security.
A Google map of the preferred location as well as the draft layout of the facility comprising:
● A lecture hall with storage, kitchen and ablution facilities for indoor lectures
● A Φ3.5m observatory with a slide-off roof (to house the Φ13.1 telescope),
● A Φ20m amphitheatre to be used for outdoor lectures/ presentations,
The AECO facility, backed by a coordinated and practical educational outreach programme, will through its contributions towards the promotion of astronomy and science awareness and the added value of educational tourism to the local community and tourists alike, constitute a constructive and enduring legacy for future generations in Hermanus. The project as such is deemed to merit the involvement of a long-term development partner with expertise in the establishment of such facilities.
7. COMMUNITY BENEFITS
The benefits of the AECO with appropriate astronomy information dissemination is very difficult to quantify, but a few aspects are worth verbalizing:
● Gives Hermanus a unique, non-big city high class tourist attraction.
● Provides access to practical/hands-on and guided/supervised astronomy, something which is probably beyond the wildest expectations of rural communities from all sectors and of all ages.
● Provides tourists with considerable incentive to spend more time in Hermanus (stay overnight to participate in sky observation/attend a Centre or Special Interest group meeting).
● Stimulate interest in science.
● Stimulate interest in nature.
● Extension of the Centres activities to the community and tourists represents a huge but pleasurable challenge and purpose in life for the Centre.
● Helps introduce the concept and benefits of educational tourism to Hermanus.