Sunday, 14 October 2018

"But Sir, How Far to the Moon and Back?" - Stargazing in Maropeng, South Africa!

Photo Credit: Pexels

When I first heard that they were taking us stargazing, I will not lie to you, I felt my time would be best spent with a night trip to the mall for some late night shopping.

Why is it compulsory? I pondered.

"I am sorry but we must begin, Saturn is about to set and I don't want the group to miss that opportunity," said a bearded  white man with a grey black slick ponytail, dressed in black pants and matching black waist coat.

But I thought only the sun sets...

We were hurried out of Hominin House dinning hall with unfinished cake & custard pudding in hand to a corner of the parking lot, where a black telescope stood in place waiting to receive us. If you had told my younger self that one day many years from now you will be rushing to see the planet Saturn before it sets, on South African soil, at a UNESCO protected site called the Cradle of humankind, I would have told you, "What a great beginning for a fairy tail, Sister tell me how does it end?" Yet here I was watching my school motto materialize before my eyes.

Our guide through the universe that evening was Vincent Nettmann, Maropeng's Resident Astronomer. Just imagine that... a place with it's own resident astronomer! 👀👀👀👀

"How long will it take us to reach the moon by car?" he asked  the group.

...... blank stares....

" Exactly 4 months and 10 days," Vincent gleefully answered himself.

Blanks stares turned into raised eyebrows and WOWs

Throughout the evening, Vincent frequently asked such questions to keep the group engaged and to help us better understand the size and scope of the universe.

I have to admit that sometimes I take our existence as human beings forgranted. I get bogged down in the earthy things and rarely take time to think of  what's beyond the ozone layer. And I also don't want to ask the big questions like " Ummm....why are we here?" . It's too much for my mind to contemplate. However,  looking out into the night sky, watching the astronomer point out parts of the galaxy with a simple red lazer light,  and hearing the large aperture telescope quietly buzz and twist as it responded to typed calculated directions, made my earthy concerns minuscule in the grand scheme of things.  I felt limited and limitless in the same really can't explain.

"I am only rushing cause it's a cloudy evening and I want you to see as much as possible."

The celestrial sphere is not static, it doesn't just humbly wait for humans to look up and admire it. It has its own rhythm as beautifully demonstrated in Van Gogh's starry night, and Vincent the director, wanted to give us a great show, but with little control over his cast (the stars and planets) he could not make promises to us that he could not keep. And really....who were we to command the heavens? so I finished my pudding and obediently settled into the show.

We made a small circle round the telescope and took turns looking out into the night sky. Vincent instructed us to take our time because if our eyes were positioned wrong, instead of seeing stars and planets we could be frighted by the darkness of the plastic protecting the sides of the lens.

As the minutes ticked by, he showed and shared with us so many more interesting sights and insights, that we forgot about the late evening chill and became more fascinated by the secrets behind each twinkle in the sky.

Afterwards, we went inside and watched a presentation on planets, galaxies and universes. We learnt that South Africa is currently building one of the world's largest telescopes. Just think more children in Africa will be able to add astronomer to their dream career lists now.

I wrote it ALL down... all that was said in the presentation so that I could share it right here... in this post, but I regret to inform you, I lost the paper so you'll just have to take a trip to Maropeng and experience it yourself. My sincere apologies. 😊😀

UPDATE: discovered three weeks later! 

Last year I shared a blog post titled  "Maybe your dreams aren't big enough". Only my post had focused on the magnificence of the earth, so in light of my stargazing experience , let's extend it to our galaxy, then the universe too!

As mentioned earlier, this post is in honor of Ms Gumoes, so it must be short and sweet and straight to the point as she would have liked it. 
Thanks for stopping by, See you again soon!

Spotted in Maropeng.

Cradle of Humankind
Three weeks ago we lost a great, gifted and much loved human being, my primary school teacher Ms Gumoes.  Her former pupils are scattered across the global fulfilling their life missions with the gusto and zeal she planted in us, but on the day the news of her death digitally spread through the alumni, I am sure all of us stood very still for long while to remember the children we once were and the safe cocoon of our dynamic primary school. It's only in adulthood that you truly appreciate the valuable life lessons your teachers impart on you, and it's rare that you will get the chance to share your gratitude. I think I wrote Ms Gumoes only once after leaving school, and regrettably never again. I have no idea what the after life holds for us, but for all the children that have passed through her wise and loving hands, she deserves her place amongst the stars.
 I am dedicating this blog post to her.


                                               (Btw find me on Twitter @mariajulietrose 😀)