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Complete write-up of the 7th ASSA Symposium
Written by Gerrit Penning, October 2006. All Photos by Hannes Pieterse. Summary to appear in MNASSA of December 2006.

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The 7th ASSA Symposium was held from 28 to 30 September 2006 in Bloemfontein. It was hosted by ASSA Bloemfontein Centre, in association with Boyden Observatory.  In total, 68 people attended the symposium with an additional 8 people during the Friday keynote session. Activities during the first two days of the event took place at Boyden Observatory, 26 km east of Bloemfontein near Maselspoort. The Observatory lent itself very well to presentations in the recently completed stellar auditorium and its dark skies offered astronomy enthusiasts an opportunity to experience some star gazing and telescope viewing during the Thursday evening. All three days of the Symposium saw clear skies with near-perfect weather.

Thursday 28 September 2006 – Boyden Observatory

Welcome to the Symposium

Participants arrived from 9h00 on Thursday morning, old astronomy friends and e-mail acquaintances meeting around the coffee table at the auditorium’s reception area.  At 10h00 everyone moved into the auditorium for the first session. Welcoming speeches were delivered first by Gerrit Penning on behalf of the organising committee, followed by Pat Booth (ASSA Council), ending with Dr. Matie Hoffman welcoming the participants on behalf of Boyden Observatory and the Boyden Science Centre.

All photo descriptions from left to right.

Braam van Zyl, Jacques van Delft and Chris de Coning (back: Willie Koorts and Prof. Aylva Schoch) enjoying coffee.

Ian Jamieson and Dr. Matie Hoffman at the auditorium reception area.

Andrie vd Linde, Kobie van Zyl, Margie Rehbrock, Tim Cooper before the Symposium started.

Gerrit Penning opening the Symposium in the Boyden Auditorium.

The audience in the auditorium during the welcoming speeches.

Close-up view during the welcoming.

The New Amateur Astronomer
The first speaker was Phillip Coetzer (ASSA Bloemfontein), delivering a presentation entitled “The New Amateur Astronomer”. Phillip showed the audience what today’s amateur astronomers have at their disposal, with emphasis on technology. He also gave an introduction to the workings of the Discovery Space Network of Robotic telescopes. Through his presentation it was evident that amateurs now have access to equipment that puts the execution of professional-type field work in their backyards. His talk covered items such as precision mountings, digital cameras and video recorders, imagers and CCDs, software, spectroscopy and more. A tea break followed.

Phillip Coetzer presenting "The New Amateur Astronomer" in the Auditorium.

During tea break - Edward Jurua, Sollie Ramatsoane and Peneas Nkundabakura.

Chris de Coning, Chris Vermeulen and Jabi Bruwer

History of Boyden Observatory

After a tea break, participants received an overview of the history of Boyden Observatory, presented by Dawie van Jaarsveldt.  Using his special style and witty humour, Dawie unveiled some of the mysteries surrounding one of the first international observatories in the world (if not the first) and made everyone look forward to the evening’s tour of the facilities when they could come face to face with this auspicious past and rich historical character of Boyden Observatory. Uriah Boyden’s legacy lives on and has spurred great appreciation for our astronomical heritage. Not only has research at Boyden formed part of ground-breaking revelations in science, but its visitor’s book also read like a who’s who in the world of astronomy.

Dawie with an edutaining version of Boyden's remarkable history!

Matie Hoffman and Dawie van Jaarsveldt during the Q&A session of Boyden's history.

Panel Discussion: Pro-am collaboration

Dawie’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion on the theme of the Symposium. “Serious Amateur Astronomy: Linking with Professionals” came under the spotlight when the panel members, Brian Fraser, Tim Cooper and Dr. Patrick Seitzer aired their personal opinions on what pro-am collaboration means to them. It was evident that amateur astronomers have a need to contribute scientifically and that there are clear opportunities provided by professionals for collaborative projects. Although the Symposium could have benefited from the presence of more professional astronomers, various channels were identified, including international, through which South African amateur astronomers can make worthwhile scientific contributions.  The opinions of the panel members invited many ideas and questions from the audience and valuable, constructive discussions followed.

Tim Cooper (speaking), Pat Seitzer and Brian Fraser during the panel discussion.

Brian Fraser giving his account of what pro-am collaboration means to him.

The panel members listening to ideas and questions from the audience.


Lunch was enjoyed in the future Science Hall of the Observatory, neatly arranged by the caterers. The atmosphere was relaxed and it was obvious that lunch times of ASSA symposia should provide ample time for discussions and social interaction! The lunch also saw the announcement of South Africa’s short listing to host the SKA project, to the cheering applause of everyone present.

Keynote address: Tim Cooper
After lunch, Tim Cooper presented his keynote address entitled “The Contribution of Southern African Amateur Observations to Professional Astronomical Studies”. The focus was on variable stars, comet observations, meteors and asteroids. His paper made clear the efforts of the prolific South African observers of the past and our task to follow in their footsteps. Our country and astronomical community can be proud to have hosted names such as A W Roberts, Houghton, de Kock, Bester and Overbeek and we have a responsibility to continue carrying the torch they kept alive.

Deep Sky
Then Magda Streicher amazed us with sketches of deep sky objects she drew. Going through each type of object, Magda displayed bullet-proof passion for her interest in those “faint little fuzzies” that amateur astronomers so much adore. She also gave an introduction to the various ASSA deep sky lists that one can work through. A checklist, guidelines and documentation requirements all make for a perfect deep sky report. Tea break followed.

Phillip Coetzer and James Ross during tea break on the steps of the auditorium.

Herman Bonnet looking through Jacques Coronado solar telescope.

A gathering around Jacques' solar telescope.

CCDs and Astrophotography

After a tea break outside participants re-entered the auditorium for the final presentations of the day.  The session was about Astrophotography and the speakers were Pat van Heerden (University of the Free State) giving an introduction to CCD operations, Hannes Calitz (Boyden Observatory) talking on CCD image processing and Chris Middleton (ASSA Johannesburg / Sky Owls) presenting some tips and techniques in the use of astrophotography hardware. Astrophotography is obviously not for the faint-hearted and even though technology has enabled amateurs to take stunning pictures, accumulate unspoilt raw data, it still takes time, dedication and a lot of trail-and-error before you reach the stage where you feel satisfied with your efforts.

Pat van Heerden on Introduction to CCD Operations.

Hannes Calitz with a photographic plate in hand, talking about image processing.

Chris Middleton talking about astrophotography hardware.

Boyden Treasure Hunt

At 17h00 participants were informed about the guidelines of the Boyden Treasure Hunt that lay ahead. Hunters received a map and their first clue after which they dispersed on the Boyden Hill and explored the Observatory’s decades-old facilities on their own. There were 8 points and they had to answer 8 questions about the history of Boyden. Clues pointed them in the right direction.  It was a relaxed session and it enabled Symposium participants to directly experience Boyden’s unique and classic character. An evening meal was served during sunset, with beautiful views of the open Free State landscape surrounding the hill.

Treasure hunters reading the clue in the house of the 16 inch Nishimura reflector.

Writing down the answer on the observation platform.

At the top of the auditorium.

Views from the auditorium of the surrounding landscape.

Jabie Bruwer and Tim Cooper at the 13 inch Alvin Clark refractor.

The next clue, at the 10 inch Metcalf photographic refractor.

Evening meal and setting up the telescopes

During the break, amateurs set up telescopes on the observation platform. It was a sight to behold, with instruments of all types and calibers ready for the evening’s action. The platform is cordoned off from interfering lights and affords great all-round visibility.

Dawie van Jaarsveldt assisting Andrew Helsdon in setting up one really big 'scope.

Georgie van der Walt with her telescope to her right, setting up for the evening's dark skies.

Magda Streicher (left) talking to Derck Smits (right), Oleg in the centre.

Open Sky Show
At 19h00 everyone was sitting on the roof of the auditorium. Gerrit Penning and Phillip Coetzer gave participants a taste of what the Boyden Science Centre is capable of offering its visitors. The audience was taken on a tour through the night skies, with star stories of African origins thrown in between. Green lasers blazed and the projected night sky of Stellarium did its unbelievable part as always.

Tour of the Boyden Facilities

After the open sky show the audience was split into 3 groups for the tour of the Boyden facilities. Each group received a guide and was taken between the old Boyden offices and historic library (main building), the Alvin Clark 13 inch, the Metcalf 10 inch and the 60 inch UFS-Boyden reflector. At each location they were met by an expert and received background information about the historic instruments. At the main building they enjoyed some coffee & tea and had opportunity to look through the century-old books in the library.


The last session was called “Astronomy in Action” and was oriented in such a way to equip participants with some practical knowledge about astronomy. Hannes Calitz and Pat van Heerden demonstrated planet-search and state-of-the-art astrophysics with the 60 inch, the 13 inch unmasked the beauty of the deep sky under the capable enthusiasm of Magda Streicher and amateur astronomers from all over the country shared experiences and know-how on the observation platform between a plethora of telescopes.   From 21h30 participants retired to their lodgings after a full day of events and activities.

Amateur Astronomy in action on the observation platform, Thursday evening.

The 60 inch reflector, currently used in international professional research projects.

Dome of the 60 inch telescope at Boyden beneath the south celestial pole.


Friday 29 September 2006 – Boyden Observatory

Popularisation of Astronomy
The first session on the Friday morning was called “Popularisation of Astronomy”, which aimed to inform participants about the importance and rewards of educational and public outreach. Starting the session was Kevin Govender of the SAAO with a presentation entitled “Astronomy: A tool to inspire”. He talked about the SALT Collateral Benefits Programme, SAAO outreach activities and socio-economic development strategies in the Sutherland region. Gerrit Penning then gave some tips on Microsoft’s digital slideshow application, showing the “Power of PowerPoint”, especially with the aim of using it for astronomy presentations. Dr. Matie Hoffman was the next speaker, handing out Boyden’s Personal Response System consoles to the audience and testing the astronomical knowledge of the professionals and amateurs in a quiz! It was fascinating to see the audience’s opinion about the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet. He went on to talk about the national astronomy presentation competition (launched at the Symposium), presented an overview of the educational activities of the Boyden Science Centre and provided the audience a glimpse of the exciting future awaiting Boyden.  Dr. Patrick Seitzer was the session’s last speaker and gave an opinion “from the north” – how popularisation takes place at the University of Michigan and sources of funding in the United States for educational projects.  It can benefit South Africa to look at how other countries perform outreach activities.

Prof. Pieter Meintjies, Prof. Phil Charles and Prof. Derck Smits in the science hall early morning.

Kevin Govender of SAAO delivering his talk on astronomy popularisation.

What a neat little device - Jabie sending an answer with the PRS during Dr. Hoffman's session on astronomy popularisation.

Group Photo

Everyone then proceeded to the steps of the auditorium for the group photo. Our very capable photographer, Hannes Pieterse, organised participants into position and continued to remotely take various photos in quick succession. One of the 40 images was chosen as the official symposium group photo.  Go to group photo.

ASSA Future Directions
After a tea break the high profile session of the Friday program started, with Chris de Coning leading the talks on the “ASSA Future Directions”. Chris delivered an overview about the project and summarized the most important aspects of the project’s aspirations.

Keynote address: SKA/KAT, Dr. Adrian Tiplady
Following Chris was Dr. Adrian Tiplady presenting a keynote talk on the massive SKA and KAT projects. The Square Kilometer Array will be the largest radio telescope on Earth and will further add to South Africa’s growing importance as an astronomical research hub on the world stage. With stunning visuals and impressive figures he amazed the audience with the sheer enormity of the project.

Keynote address: SALT, Prof. Phil Charles
The next presentation was by Dr. Phil Charles (SAAO) with a speech entitled “SALT: the First Year”. Dr. Charles gave an overview of SALT and continued to talk about the science drivers behind the telescope, the short-timescale capabilities of the instrument for astrophysical research and the first science results over the past year. He also discussed some of the characteristics and configuration of the telescope itself as well as the workings of other instruments used by SALT. No doubt a much appreciated account of Southern Africa’s largest optical telescope.

Chris de Coning with the ASSA Future Directions.

Dr. Adrian Tiplady talking on the SKA/KAT.

Prof. Phil Charles on SALT' first year.

National media event and lunch
A special media event took place during lunch where speakers and personnel of Boyden were peppered with questions by journalists. Stories appeared in newspapers, on the radio and even on national television. The involvement of the media at the Symposium, organised by Dr. Matie Hoffman, displayed a genuine interest by the media in the astronomical happenings of Southern Africa. Participants enjoyed lunch in the science hall.

TV journalists busy interviewing Prof. Pieter Meintjies on the auditorium.

Prof. Phil Charles under the spotlight of the media.

Lunch in the science hall.

Lunch in the science hall.

Lerika Cross and Phillip Coetzer.

Ian Jamieson and Kevin Govender.

Keynote address: Prof. David Block

The first talk after lunch was presented by keynote speaker Prof. David Block (WITS) and was entitled ““The Wonders of Carbon Stars and Cosmic Dust”. He gave a fascinating account into cosmic dust research, as Director of the Anglo American Cosmic Dust Lab at WITS. The obstruction caused by cosmic dust presents a challenge for astronomers wanting to peek into the deepest corners of a galaxy, but with special techniques and instrumentation the veil is slowly being lifted.

The Sun
The afternoon tea break was followed by a speech called “The Forgotten Star in SA Astronomy” and was presented by Jacques van Delft (director of ASSA’s solar section). Jacques did not only inform the audience about the impact that the Sun has on the Earth, but also entertained all with some neat video clips and great solar graphics. He encouraged a greater understanding of the Sun’s effects on our planet and also showed how anyone can start with their own sunspot and solar flare observations (even by using modest equipment). Thereafter the participants proceeded to the 20-cm coelostat solar installation on Boyden and watched the Sun projected onto a screen. Jacques also showed solar features through his Coronado solar telescope. This session ended the day’s activities and participants went home for a relaxing late-afternoon, in preparation for the evening’s dinner.

Prof. David Block with a talk on cosmic dust.

Jacques van Delft and a speech about the Sun.

Looking through a Coronado solar telescope.

Dinner event

The dinner started at 19h00 at Kopano Nokeng Country Lodge, not far from Boyden. 65 people attended. Several ceremonies took place throughout the buffet meal, with the focus on the 10 year anniversary of the Friends of Boyden Observatory society.

ASSA awards:
Other ceremonies included the ASSA award session where certificates were handed out to various members in recognition of their valuable contributions towards the Society. Pat Booth, together with Magda Streicher oversaw the organising of the award ceremony.

Competition prizes: Prizes were also handed out: a green laser sponsored by FOTON Optoelectronics and a TheSky software package as well as solar filters provided by Eridanus Optics.

Friends 10-year anniversary: Prof. Aylva Schoch gave his 10-year report as chairman of the Friends of Boyden. The Friends played a crucial role in the continued existence of Boyden and have since helped to establish Boyden as an attractive, though still unique landmark of public affection. He also gave certificates of recognition to the patrons of the Friends, namely Prof. Francois Retief and Dr. Patrick Seitzer.  The Friends' valuable contributions to Boyden was in turned recognized by a delegate of the University of the Free State, Prof. N Heideman.

International message, Project 27: After the main course Dr. Seitzer delivered a message to the Symposium’s guests in his capacity as international participant.  He then announced the dream of Project 27: an ambitious idea to possibly re-establish the largest refractor in the southern hemisphere for educational use. The 27 inch Lamont refractor was telescope located in the Lamont-Hussey Observatory on Naval Hill in Bloemfontein from 1928 to 1975. Its main components are currently in safe-keeping in the Fire Station Museum in Bloemfontein. The dream calls for moving the telescope to Boyden Observatory and through a special, practical configuration, make it see light again.

Asteroid naming ceremony: Just before the dinner Gerrit received a phone call from none other than the first South African to venture into space: Mark Shuttleworth. He then e-mailed a special message to the Symposium to be read in time during the asteroid naming ceremony. Brian Fraser informed the guests about four asteroids discovered from Boyden Observatory in 1966, that still needed to be named. The asteroids were named after Uriah A. Boyden, Senator Alexander W Roberts, Dr. John S Paraskevopoulos and Mark Shuttleworth. All were connected to Boyden Observatory.

Mia Zeelie receiving her observer's certificate from Pat Booth.

Prof. Aylva Schoch receiving a token of gratitude as chairman of the Friends, from Dr. Matie Hoffman.

Dr. Patrick Seitzer, new patron of the Friends of Boyden receiving recognition from Prof. Schoch.

Brian Fraser, Margie Rehbrock, Chris Vermeulen and Jacques van Delft.

View of the dinner hall.

Chris Stewart, Alexander Mullinos, Andrew Helsdon, Chris Middleton.

Saturday 30 September 2006 – Bloemfontein City

Geology Department
The Saturday morning’s program started at the Geology Department on the campus of the University of the Free State. Participants were treated to some refreshments while they had the opportunity to walk through a geology museum and look at a meteorite collection. A talk was then presented by the department’s Prof. Marian Tredoux entitled “The Real ETs and what they tell us about our Planet”. She gave an informative speech about meteorites and what scientists learn from these special visitors from space.  Nico Scholtz, also from the department, then proceeded to give an account of the Thuathe meteor fall which occurred in Lesotho: numerous meteorites hitting the ground in 2002 and what geologists learned afterwards.

Brian Fraser then presented a talk as the new director of ASSA’s variable star section and called for more observers to take part in variable star research. By doing such observations the amateur can make worthy contributions to the work of professional astronomers. He was followed by Jabie Bruwer giving an account of the activities of the ASSA Garden Route Centre. Not only were the Centre’s successes evident through his presentation, but he also showed what an ASSA Centre can attain through the motivation and participation of its members.

Atze Herder inspecting some rocky exhibitions in the Geology Department, UFS campus.

From front: Sandra Bishop, Koerien Deacon and Pieter Laubscher & son at the meteor collection.

Refreshments before the start of the talk at the Geology Department.

The audience listening to Marian's talk on meteorites.

Prof. Marian Tredoux talking about visitors from outer space...

Jabie Bruwer delivering a presentation on the ASSA Garden Route Centre.

Lamont-Hussy Observatory, Dr. Patrick Seitzer keynote address

The symposium then moved to the historic Lamont-Hussey Observatory on Naval Hill, situated in a game reserve (even in the centre of a city!). The building is now a unique drama theatre which became the “Observatory Theatre” after the University of Michigan closed down Lamont-Hussey in the mid 1970’s.  The speaker who had the honour of delivering an astronomy speech in this historic observatory was Dr. Patrick Seitzer of the University of Michigan, USA. His keynote address covered an overview of the history of the Lamont-Hussy Observatory and he then proceed to give a talk entitled “Saving our Night Sky – the Problem of Light Pollution”. It was a sharp look at humankind’s own global degeneration of its dark skies. If something is not urgently done about this growing threat, the stars as seen from Earth might be lost for future generations. The presentation did however, offered solutions, looking at what is currently being done and called for solid action from both amateur and professional astronomers.  The 7th ASSA Symposium was then officially concluded, although many participants still stood outside the building exchanging a few final notes before going their own ways.

The audience inside the Observatory Theatre (previously the "Lamont-Hussey Observatory".

Dr. Patrick Seitzer delivering his keynote address in the Observatory.

An attentive audience listening to Pat talking about light pollution.

Physics students from the University of the Free attending the Symposium.

Participants lingering outside for a long time after the Symposium has concluded!

Our photographer who took all these photos - Hannes Pieterse (right) and his son Pieter (left).

Message from the organising committee

The organising committee hopes that the Symposium was a memorable event to all participants and that any positive outflow will result in practical, concrete results for astronomy in Southern Africa. The Symposium had as aim to inspire amateurs towards a serious interest in their passion, whether it be observational, through educational outreach or simply through the sheer enjoyment of having astronomy as a hobby.

The committee would like to thank everyone for their time and attendance, you made the Symposium possible. Also a thank you to all the speakers for the effort in compiling and presenting their talks. To all the many people who assisted us in the planning and execution of the event, a big word of gratitude.

7th ASSA Symposium Organising Committee

The Symposium was organised by ASSA Bloemfontein Centre in association with Boyden Observatory.

From left to right, the organising committee consisted of Gerrit Penning, Braam van Zyl, Matie Hoffman, Pat van Heerden and Phillip Coetzer. Matie was the Boyden Observatory representative & advisor and the others all members of ASSA Bloemfontein.

The first committee meeting took place on 13 June 2005, 15 months before the event. There were 19 committee gatherings up to the Symposium. First debriefing meeting held on 30 October 2006.
The number of pizzas consumed is uncertain.

Symposium Group Photo
Click to go to official group photo page.

Go back to main Symposium page

Symposium 2006 website:


All photos by Hannes Pieterse, ASSA Bloemfontein Centre.


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