Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Road Trip 2.9

Saturday 13th June

Sutherland is known as being the second coldest place in South Africa and when we woke up we didn't doubt that this for one second! At 4780 feet above sea level Sutherland is 371 feet higher than the summit of Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain, so we shouldn't have been too surprised!

Now you may remember that we had been having some wonderful sunny clear weather for the last week and that the sole purpose of going to Sutherland was to look at the largest (joint) telescope in the world, yes? Well guess what? The weather was absolutely terrible! We may actually have been on the top of Ben Nevis for all we knew! Visibility was zero, it was foggy and cold and to top it all off it started raining!

The general mood in the camp was one of disappointment but we decided that we would still go to our booked tour at 1130hrs and visit the site before deciding whether to return for our booked evening of stargazing.

We had breakfast and some coffees and all piled into Carl and Ursula's VW Kombi for the 15 minute journey to the South African Astronomical Observatory, home of SALT and many other large telescopes. It was going to be even colder here at an altitude of 5741 feet so we wrapped up warm.

We arrived at the visitor's centre and spent some time looking at the interesting exhibits. Our guide arrived and explained a little about the site and what we would be visiting before we all got back into the Kombi and headed up to the top of the site and the large telescopes.

We entered the 1.0m Elizabeth Telescope built by Grubb Parsons in England in 1962. Our guide explained that telescopes on this scale are not what we would immediately think of as being a telescope, basically you cannot look through it! The light collected is refracted by the 1m mirror and sent back into the some highly complex optical equipment which is displyed as data on a computer screen! These large telescopes basically measure temperature and any images that are produced are actually photographs! All very interesting.

Next up was the short drive over to SALT for a tour of the world's joint largest single optical telescope, how exciting, even if we could hardly see it from the outside!

Once inside the difference in scale was apparent. We were standing next to a high tech control centre in the base of the building and the base of the telescope was stil two stories above us! It was just a shame that we were not allowed to feed the astronomers!

We climbed the stairs admiring the images which had been captured using this and other telescopes from around the world until we reached the viewing area. Wow, what a contraption, it looked like a giant meccanno set with a collection of huge mirrors at its centre. Apparently this is a very good telescope, but we wouldn't know anything about that would we!

It was a very interesting way to spend a couple of hours and we all headed back to our accommodation with a chaned perception of what astronomy actually is.

Carl and Ursula provided us with a mexican feast for lunch and the tequilla helped to warm us up and start the party mood!

The most amusing part of lunch was watching Ninja desperately trying to stop the burning caused by the chilli she had bitten into. Thanks to our collective suggestions she had tears running down her face as she held a piece of cheese to her lips and wiped sour cream around her mouth! Priceless!

UPDATE - NINJA CLARIFIES . If you are interested click HERE to see the chilli that Ninja is talking about! Sneaky indeed!

After lunch everyone relaxed and eventually some of the party fell asleep! Carl Ursula, Elaine and myself decided that we would take a trip to the local pub and sample at little of Sutherland life. We walked out of a the deserted streets into a packed pub! This is obviously what people do on a Saturday here! We had a few drinks and noted that there seemed to be a whole clip of rifle ammunition lying on the bar next to someone's wallet, we were definitely in a rural community!

Back at base everyone was stirring and ready for more food and drink. The decision was taken that there would be little point returning to the observatory as even the best telescopes in the world can't see through thick cloud cover!

Ninja and Stoffel made a delicious table of greek snacks and chicken and beef kebabs before we all settled down for an hilarious game of Cranium. The more we laughed the more we drank, the more we drank the worse we got at the game and the more we laughed. We definitely recommend this game for parties, it's hilarious! We played until our jaws ached and we could not keep our eyes open any longer!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So happy to see that you updated the blog even though you are back in the UK - and please note that we already miss you terribly! For the record I would just like to state that I had TWO of Carl and Ursula's vicious habaneros (not the pips, but still) and I declare it to be very sneaky sneaky vegetable (fruit?) because the burning started about three minutes after I had the last one - or had the tequila worn off by then? ;-)

Cheers from Ninja (who is not usually a chillie-sissy!)