Well here goes the whole crazy story of this trip. It started out with an awfully long flight to Frankfurt, however since we had a twelve hour layover, I decided to check out the town and do some exploring. After a few hours, I headed back to the hotel we rented day room from the get some rest. Then onto another long flight, this time all the way to Cape Town South Africa. After landing, we had a few days of logistics and practice setting up the telescopes. Oh, and getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Then we drove north, to the small town of Clanwilliam. This would be our operating base for the actual observations. From there, my partner, the film crew, and me drove further north to the latitude line where we were assigned to observe. Yes, I did say film crew. NASA hired two local videographers, Sam and Alistair, to document the expedition. Eventually we arrived in the even smaller town of Vanrhynsdorp, where we went to the local police station. There we asked to speak to whomever was in charge, and describe our mission, and showed our diplomatic letter from the United States Consulate in Cape Town. We also indicated where we needed to observe, and the officer recommend we visit a farm run by Sakkie and Merwe. After a short drive, we again explained our mission, and that we were from NASA, and our hosts told us they would be more then happy to let us use their land, and they had a telescope pad! And not only did they have a telescope pad, but it was large, extremely level, and dimmable red lights, and a power outlet. Can't get much better than that. After that we retuned to Clanwilliam.
The next few days passed with hours of practice and preparations. Our one major setback was the weather. Two days from the occultation, a very confident weather forecast was in hand and told us that the area we planned to observe from was going to be clouded in. After much deliberation, we redeployed six of the twelve teams 200 km east to double our chances for clear weather.
Finally, event night arrived. My observing partner and I left Clanwilliam at about midnight to head up to our site. We setup our telescope and the rest of our gear and worked on getting the telescope, collimated, focused, and aligned. The collimation had become awful on the drive that night so it took me quite awhile to collimate the primary and the secondary with a star. But, eventually we got it going. Then the time came to take our data, 4:50 AM local time. The collection worked without a hitch, minus the wind which we abated by using a tarp and a wind block. The farms owner came out and helped us hold it up which was super nice. Also, we brought out coffee and tea which was great for our sleep addled minds.
After the data was collected we quickly packed up and left to get some much needed sleep, but before we left I could not resist taking a quick shot of the Milky Way as I had never seen a sky so dark and beautiful.
In the subsequent days we had some time to enjoy our selves and do some exploring. I went on a safari, went up Table Mountain, visited the Cape of Good Hope, and even visited the African Penguin Colony.
These experiences are better served with photos, included in the link to below. The obvious exclusion from this is the data and results. Unfortunately, at this time, I can not discuss them. However, once NASA has an official press release, I can provide a more a more detailed discussion of the mission.
R.J.'s South Africa Trip Photos
06-11-2017 6:13 PM