Podcaster:  Dr Jacinta Delhaize and Dr Daniel Cunnama

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Title: The Cosmic Savannah Ep. 25: A Year In Review

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@cosmicsavannah (twitter, facebook & instagram)


In this the final Episode of Season 2 of The Cosmic Savannah Podcast, Dan and Jacinta look back on the past year, and some of their favourite episodes which includes:

  • Near-Earth Asteroids (Ep. 1) 
  • Results of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) (Ep. 5)
  • Stargazing trip under African Skies (Ep. 7)

They also talk about astronomy events to look forward to:

  • James Webb Space Telescope
  • Mars Rover
  • Gravitational Waves

Bio: Dr Jacinta Delhaize and Dr Daniel Cunnama are astronomers based in Cape Town, South Africa. Jacinta is a Research Fellow at the University of Cape Town. She spends her time using huge radio telescopes to study gas and black holes in distant galaxies. Daniel is the Science Engagement Astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory. He likes to use large supercomputers to create simulations of galaxies. Both Jacinta and Daniel love to promote the incredible astronomy happening across the African continent.

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Jacinta: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah with Dr Jacinta Delhaize

Dan: [00:00:08] and Dr. Daniel Cunnama. Each episode, we’ll be giving you a behind the scenes look at the world class astronomy and astrophysics happening and Africans skies.

Jacinta: [00:00:17] Let us introduce you to the people involved. The technology we use, the exciting work we do, and the fascinating discoveries we make.

Dan: [00:00:24] Sit back and relax as we take you on a safari through the skies.

Jacinta: [00:00:31] Welcome to episode 25 everyone. It’s the last of season two

Dan: [00:00:36] and our one year anniversary.

Jacinta: [00:00:38] Yeah. We actually missed our one year anniversary. We forgot

Dan: [00:00:43] as long as we both did it’s ok.

Jacinta: [00:00:46] Yeah. haha right.

March 31st was one year since the day we launched The Cosmic Savannah. And what a ride.

Dan: [00:00:54] Yeah, 25 episodes so we’ve averaged one every two weeks then.

Jacinta: [00:00:59] Yeah, 25 episodes. It’s pretty good.

So I hope you’ve all been enjoying it. And in this episode we are just going to have a chat and reminisce about our favorite moments over the past year and have a chat about what’s happening in astronomy here at the moment and what is going to happen in the next year. Hopefully.

Dan: [00:01:21] Yeah, and obviously as you can hear, we’re recording over Skype again, because of the lockdown and covid outbreak.

But one of the really cool thing, one of the astronomy stories, well, astronomy related stories that came out in this last week, which I don’t know if many people have seen, is that the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, who we talk about quite frequently. They run the MeerKAT radio telescope, which is a proudly South African project in South Africa, and they have been appointed to manage the development and production of 10,000 ventilators by the end of June. So they’re running the national ventilator project and obviously using all of their engineering skills and experience making world class technology and innovative development to do something to help this crisis. Which is pretty, pretty cool.

Jacinta: [00:02:14] Yeah. I think that’s fantastic.

I was reading the article you sent. I loved the quote. One of the astronomers said, if we have the skills that put the MeerKAT together. Why can’t you use them to put together a medical capacity? And I thought that was fantastic.

Dan: [00:02:30] They’re not just running it themselves. They are getting input from companies who are volunteering their services around the country and to provide a hundred percent local parts because obviously parts for ventilators at the moment are in dire need across the world.

And there’s a lot of competition for these parts. So to create these things from locally manufactured products is really going to be quite exciting. And as I said, we have about 6,000 operational ventilators in the country at the moment. But we’re going to need a lot more than that. And the plan is to produce 10,000 of these things by the end of June.

And beyond that, possibly many, many more. Very, very cool. And people often ask us, what’s the point of astronomy? This is, this is a wonderful point of astronomy. We can be very, very proud of the skills we’ve developed as the human capacity we’ve developed in producing the Meerkat telescope. Which are now getting directly used for something which is incredibly important to the country right now.

Jacinta: [00:03:28] The people who work for SARAO have a whole range of skills, from large scale project management with lots of complicated parts to engineering expertise, design expertise, the whole, the whole range. It’s so great that it can be applied in this case.

Dan: [00:03:45] Alright. Right. So exciting news to start us off.

Jacinta: [00:03:47] Yeah.

Dan: [00:03:49] So we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite episodes from the last year and season.

Jacinta: [00:03:55] Well, I put a list together of mine, but I don’t see any of yours on there, or unless you have the same ones as me.

Dan: [00:04:01] I think some of them are the same, not all of them. Certainly. The first one on the, on the list was our first episode on near earth asteroids.

Which is still one of my favorites. I think it was very, very cool. People love talking about asteroids. I love talking about asteroid.

Jacinta: [00:04:15] Yeah, and asteroids that can hit the Earth.

Dan: [00:04:17] It’s actually a big asteroid coming past on the 29th of April. I’ve had a couple of queries about it. Oh, really? Are we all going to die.

The answer as usual is no,

It’s a big one. It’s, it’s over a kilometer across. But it’s gonna. It’s gonna miss us by 16 times the distance to the moon. It’ll be a cool thing to observe, and there’ll be definitely be telescopes trained on it as it comes past, but near asteroids. Yay.

Jacinta: [00:04:47] Yeah, that’s super cool. And so back at the start of 2019 when we talked to Nick Erasmus in episode one, he said that ATLAS was going to be built in Sutherland.

So are there any updates on that?

Dan: [00:04:58] Yeah, absolutely. Uh, I saw just this week that the concrete has been laid, the foundation has been laid for the telescope and we are expecting the dome in the next month or so, and then the telescope will arrive before the end up the year. So just to remind our listeners that ATLAS stands for asteroid terrestrial impact last alert system.

There are currently ATLAS telescopes in Hawaii, which monitor any small asteroids. From about two meters up to about a hundred meters, which are going to impact the earth on a time scale of up to two weeks. So less than two. So it’s, it is a real last alert system. It’s just picking up the things which are coming in very, very fast and are likely to hit us.

And we will be getting one of those in Sutherland at the SAAO by the end of the year and then we will be covering the Southern hemisphere, which is not being covered up until now. And once that’s installed. The ATLAS telescopes will basically have full 360 degree coverage of the skie, and we can see these kind of things coming.

Jacinta: [00:06:04] Yeah, we can see them coming from anywhere now. That’s very exciting. Cool.

Dan: [00:06:09] Oh, that’s very cool. And obviously as that project progresses we’ll speak to Nick again and some of the other people involved. I’m sure some very exciting science is going to come out of it too.

Jacinta: [00:06:18] Yeah. Can’t wait. I might cut in some snippets from these episodes.

So listeners, you may in a moment be able to hear some of Nick Erasmus speaking about the asteroids, but as we’re recording, I don’t know what we’re going to do.

Nick: [00:06:33] Currently, ATLAS consists of two telescopes that are situated in Hawaii, and they scan the sky every night to discover new asteroids.

The problem with only having them in Hawaii is that you can mainly only cover the Northern hemisphere. So ideally you want to put these telescopes all over the globe, North and South, and also different latitudes so that you can cover 24 hours a day. And South Africa has been earmarked to get one of these because we are pretty much exactly opposite to Hawaii in terms of North South and also we have exactly 12 hours time difference. So South Africa is the ideal place to have another one of these telescopes to, to have full coverage. These asteroids when they come close to us can become super bright. We’re really looking at the ones that are just about to hit us. So the ones that are coming really close to us.

ATLAS is supposed to catch those. To give  you an idea ATLAS is designed so that it can detect a hundred meter diameter asteroid with a three weeks warning notice and a ten metre diameter asteroid with two days notice.

Jacinta: [00:07:33] Another of my favorite episodes was, again, back in the beginning, episode three, when I spoke to Dr. Griffin Foster about doing SETI searches with MeerKAT. So searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, which I didn’t realize was actually a dedicated thing happening with MeerKAT

Dan: [00:07:50] yeah. That’s very cool. Everyone loves aliens. Or at least the thought of aliens. You know, you have this, the most powerful radio telescope in the world now.

It’s something that people have dreamed of being able to get hold of. Jodie Foster had had the last one in contact, the VLA and the dream is to be able to pick up alien civilizations or alien contact through one of these big radio telescopes. Whether we do that or not with MeerKAT remains to be seen.

Um, I’m not convinced, but I do think it’s a very, very cool thing to be investigating. And we have all the data. It’s all streaming through, so we might as well take a look.

Jacinta: [00:08:25] Yeah, it’s called the Breakthrough Listen project, and it just piggybacks on the rest of the observation. So there’s hardly any time, I think, dedicated actually towards that.

So it doesn’t really take away any other science time, but it’s still looking through all of the data. And you might as well, you might as well look.

Dan: [00:08:41] So did you, I mean, again, there’s so much data, more data than the astronomers know what to do with right now. So anybody who’s prepared to look at it for any sort of signal, whether it’s from extraterrestrial intelligence or not, they may discover something very interesting.

Griffin: [00:08:56] And over this last decade, last 20 years, it’s been this boom, and we now know that there’s planets everywhere. Most star systems have a planet, if not many planets. And the fact that we know this now is kind of an exciting thing. This idea that of course there’s so many planets. I mean, it seems so obvious now, but we now have this evidence and an obvious question next is, what’s on these planets?

Do they have atmospheres and do they also have life? And people are, are kind of moving from finding planets to now figuring out what these planets are made up of.

And this is a really great moment because at the same time, this kind of brings. Forward, the idea of doing SETI again, I think this discovery of exoplanets has really boosted the interest in SETI again. Three years ago, this kind of interest built to a really phenomenal event.

The breakthrough initiatives, which is this organizationfounded by some fairly interested people, but also fairly rich people. They wanted to fund science to look for life beyond earth in a number of ways. And the initial project is called Breakthrough Listen and Breakthrough Listen is a project.

It’s funded over 10 years. It’s been going for three years now to use radio telescopes to look for signatures of advanced life on other planets.

Jacinta: [00:10:12] Have there been any updates from Breakthrough Listen, do you have any updates?

Dan: [00:10:15] Not as far as I’m aware. I don’t have any personal updates and I know that Breakthrough are supposed to be having a meeting here in South Africa in October, but I imagine that that’s probably going to be canceled or postponed in light of the current situation.

Jacinta: [00:10:31] I guess a lot of things will have to be postponed.

Dan: [00:10:35] The next one on your list, and definitely one of my favorites was episode five the Event Horizon Telescope where we spoke to Dr. Roger Dean, Professor Roger Dean.

Jacinta: [00:10:44] He’s a professor now.

Dan: [00:10:46] That was a, obviously an incredible event, the unveiling almost a year ago to the day of the first ever image of a black hole or the material just around the black hole.

And that image I think has been seen, it was insane, by like four and a half billion people in the world or something. Uh, some more than half the world’s population have seen that image now. Very, very exciting astrophysical event, something which is, you know, it doesn’t get much bigger than that. And yeah, we were very fortunate to speak to Roger about his role in it and South Africa’s role in it himself and his students.

And he explained to us how it all worked and how they managed to achieve this incredible thing.

Roger: [00:11:27] The image that was made. It was a, it was a complete ring, which is basically what we call the shadow of the black hole. But what we were seeing is light in the immediate vicinity of that boundary layer, which defines the point of no return when you enter the black hole and exit our universe.

There’s a sharp feature at this boundary point. So there is a point at which light disappears from the universe, if you will, or at least from our view of it and that which does come to our telescope and eyes. And that is a sharp feature known as the black hole shadow. On cosmic scales this is a fairly nearby giant, what we call elliptical about 55 million light years away.

And essentially at the center of this gargantuan galaxy lies a very, very massive black hole. And that was the image that we unveiled yesterday.

Jacinta: [00:12:19] Yeah. It was such a privilege to be able to put out an episode on this and to already have a podcast so that we could talk about it, because really it was a once in a lifetime thing to be around for something that big to be announced.

And we also spoke to Dr Rhodri Evans in that episode, who was speaking about the plans to build the African millimeter telescope, the AMT in Namibia. And how that will be incorporated into this whole event horizon telescope, hopefully to enable it to hopefully image the black hole at the center of the Milky way, Sagittarius A*

Dan: [00:12:55] yeah I think that in the next year, well, hopefully in the next year or two, we’ll definitely be seeing more coming out of the event horizon telescope. I think it was a very successful project and as you say, we don’t have an image of our black hole, Sagittarius A*. Well, let’s hope we get one soon.

Jacinta: [00:13:12] Yeah. Actually, you and I were were tricked by an April fool’s joke this year weren’t we? Hook line  and sinker.


Dan: [00:13:21] re-posted the media advisory. That there is going to be an announcement from the EHT, and I was convinced that they were going to announce the Sagittarius A*. Only to realize that the announcement was on the 10th of April, 2019, not on the 10th of April 2020


Jacinta: [00:13:40] I already contacted Roger to ask for another interview about it, and he said, Oh, I think you’ve been tricked.

Dan: [00:13:47] That’s some solid reporting by us

Jacinta: [00:13:53] And that’s why we need to follow up on our sources. On a completely different note, I loved episode seven when we spoke to Dr Tonya Edwards and Dr. Simon Bihr who had just taken an incredible journey riding their bicycles from Germany all the way to Cape Town through Africa.

Uh, and they told us all about the incredible things that they saw. Ah, the animals, their experiences, the people, the night skies that they saw with pristine, dark skies of Africa, which again, and again we keep saying is, is such an amazing commodity that Africa has. And Tanya was also telling us about her work using the gamma-ray telescope, HESS in Namibia.

Simon: [00:14:37] We had, I think two highlights about the stars and the sky. The first was the Sahara desert in Sudan. There is just no one around you. You have like three, 400 kilometers of nothing than just sand. So the sky is extremely dark. We were fortunate at that point it was also a new moon, so we had no moon in the way.

And then you can just see… It feels like billions of stars. It was fantastic. You see the Milky way all the way to the horizon, and we even saw the zodiacal light, which is something I’ve never seen before.

Tanya: [00:15:13] In Namibia was I would say was the next best sky that we saw. Namibia is a lot of desert and yeah, very few villages and the sky was incredible, actually, so incredible that sometimes it was hard to distinguish the Milky Way from the rest of the sky because there were just so much light around, so many stars around.

I probably saw more of the night sky cycling through Namibia. Professionally, when you’re there, you’re obviously working at night, you’re doing a lot of long shifts. Of course, that’s why you’re there. But we could just camp in the middle of nowhere in the desert. We didn’t have to be close to any facilities or any big roads. We took very small roads through an Namibia. So I would say probably cycling, we saw a much more.

Dan: [00:15:56] Yeah, I mean, that was a, that was a very nice episode. Nice to take a step into the beauty and the awe that astronomy inspires and celebrate the African skies. Another one of my favorites, which I’ll go into straight away, is episode 14 where we visited Kruger, the Kruger national park in South Africa.

That was obviously very, very special. Being able to see the game. We went on game drives, see the stars and the national park like that. And just spend a few days talking about astronomy in such an incredible location, obviously I’m South African, and I love Africa and the Kruger and everything that goes with it, but it really is a very exciting thing.

And being involved in astronomy and being able to explore those incredible places it’s really quite special

Jacinta: [00:16:44] As a non South African, as an Australian, it was my first experience going on, well, we call it safari, but the correct term is game drive. I don’t want to show my foreignness too much.

I was so excited to see all of the animals and yeah, as you said, we got to watch the sunset over the savannah and watch all the stars come out and the moon. And it was breathtaking.

So night is starting to set in on the savannah,

Dan: [00:17:13] We’ve turned down the lights. We have big game lights to scan the bush for eyes so that we can try and find which animal owns those eyes.

Jacinta: [00:17:23] We saw quite a spectacular sunset. It was very red.

Dan: [00:17:26] It was beautiful. So now we’re looking for the nocturnal animals. There’s like a day-night switch where the whole different group of animals come out at night. They live in the dark and hunt in the dark, and we’re looking for those. No.

Jacinta: [00:17:39] Wow. We’ve just turned off the lights and the moon is rising.

And it’s orange, bright orange. Incredibly beautiful. This is the real cosmic savannah hey Dan?

 Also in that episode, Dan. It was all about a conference that you have put together and I must say you did an excellent job and we were talking about simulations, which we don’t get to speak about that much, even though it’s your field.

We very much biased towards observational astronomy, but yeah, we got to spend the whole episode talking about the simulations of galaxies that are being produced at the moment and really cutting edge stuff.

Dan: [00:18:16] Yeah, it’s obviously my field and we spoke about it a little bit in episodes eight and nine.

Talking about simulations with my previous supervisor Romeel who obviously co-organised us the conference with me. We should definitely catch up with Romeel and some other simulators about what’s going on in that field. And maybe next year we can have another conference.

Jacinta: [00:18:37] Well, I wouldn’t mind. Since we’re talking about going on excursions.

I also took The Cosmic Savannah on a, on an excursion to Australia in episode 11 and 12. I was there for a conference about HI – neutral hydrogen gas, which is what I work a lot in. So of course those were a couple of my favorite episodes because I got to introduce the listeners to Australia and the exciting work going on there and how there’s so many collaborations between Australia and South Africa, both technically with the building of the SKA in both countries and also scientifically. We collaborate so much with each other, particularly in my field of, HI astronomy, and it’s developing so rapidly this field right now with all of the data being pumped out of MeerKAT and Australia’s ASKAP telescopes. Papers are flying out the door, which is very exciting, and we’re detecting, we’re detecting neutral hydrogen gas in galaxies out to much further distances than we previously have in larger quantities, so I won’t say too much more because many of the papers haven’t been published yet, but we hope that we can talk about it more in the next season.

Dan: [00:19:45] The next one on your list here you have is episode 13 where we focused on my place of work at the South African Astronomical Observatory and all of the things going on here and spoke to my boss, Professor Petri Vaisanen. It’s something obviously very close to me. It’s kind of hard to look at it from an outside perspective.


Jacinta: [00:20:04] you’re being too coy. I mean, it was actually one of our most popular episodes ever. It was amazing to hear from the director of the South African Astronomical Observatory, Petri. And he told us all about his plans for the future of the SAAO. And there’s some really cool futuristic sounding things in there. An intelligent observatory, robotic telescopes, AI deciding what these telescopes are going to look at and when and, and SALT 2.0

Dan: [00:20:35] I guess, some pretty exciting things happening.

Petri: [00:20:42] At the moment, we’re in the stage of essentially doing a three year pilot project, changing a subset of our own telescopes in Sutherland to be flexible. So some of them still need human intervention to change instruments, for example. And we need to get away from that.

SALT already does. It takes 15 seconds to go from spectroscopy to imaging. Just a click of a button on the monitor, but some of the other telescopes don’t do that. You actually need a team of people to come in the afternoon to change the instruments. So we need those changes to be automatic, remote so that you can do it from anywhere, making them remote observable from Cape town, which already happens partially.

And then lots of intelligence and software development. I know it’s a buzz word, and you know, politicians use it for, for their own purposes, but it does remain true that all of this connects very well with what’s called the fourth industrial revolution and whatever it means in practice. The whole concept fits so well with what countries like South Africa want to do in the future.

Raise the level of hi-tech. Raise the level of how do you do technology, merge human-machine, human-algorithm interfaces. It’s, it’s an exciting application of these kinds of projects. Studying space, studying the universe, studying how the universe really deep down works in the framework of this could be a fourth industrial revolution type of a project.

Dan: [00:21:57] I should also mentioned that I’m busy building a visitor’s centre here in Cape Town. So hopefully by October we will have a world class visitors centre with some exciting exhibits so that they can display some of this science and technology that we are using.

Jacinta: [00:22:10] Yeah. And I’ve seen some of your plans and it’s looking really, really cool. You’ve put in a huge amount of work on that, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that manifest in real life.

And then we can have people come and visit the visitor center, check out the stuff we’re doing.

Dan: [00:22:25] Yeah. That’s very exciting.

Jacinta: [00:22:26] Another very popular, actually, our most popular episode to date was episode 19 which was about the Molo Mhlaba which is being run in the Khayelitsha community. And we spoke to Honey Phali and Dr Margherita Molaro who are running that project. They won a prize for their efforts and Honey got to go on a trip to Japan, to a conference there run by the international astronomical union where she presented the project and learned a lot about how other people around the world are helping with education in astronomy and inclusivity. And things like this. She seemed to come back with a lot of amazing fresh ideas. It was also really awesome to chat with the small girls who are participating in the program and hear their enthusiasm and hear their singing and watch a concert by them.

So I had a lot of fun with that episode.

Dan: [00:23:23] Yeah, it was very cool episode and it’s an amazing project, as you said, some very impressive work and something which I hope continues long, long into the future.

Jacinta: [00:23:32] That was also the first episode where we have included some translations into Xhosa and Sesotho. We haven’t managed to do any further episodes in different languages yet, but that is certainly a plan for the future.

So I thought that was also really cool.

Honey: [00:23:49] So historically, the face of science has always been a man, and it has always been white. So we are trying to change the face of the science and where science is made. When we started with Thope foundation  we wanted our girls is to have confidence, to see science, to see the application of science in their day to day lives.

Because you know the perception with science and mathematics, it’s always that it’s a difficult subject and you must only be in like town schools to be aceing in the subject. And it’s not, it’s not the truth. So we wanted to inspire those girls and mentor them to participate in science.

And we’re doing that. And in astronomy, because Africa’s booming in astronomy. So we went to place as many girls, motivate them, encourage them, in the field of astronomy, that’s our mission. And also in addressing the challenges that we have in South Africa. The high femicide. And you know, South Africa is not a safe country.

So going to Tokyo to experience a country where there’s so much peace. There’s safety, it gave me hope and I came back with like a different perspective and I’m someone who would believe that it’s probably politics that would change our country, but it’s actually not. No amount of politics would change that.

It’s us citizens of South Africa being patriotic about our country and saying we love it. We’re going to take care of it.

Dan: [00:25:26] Another great episode I thought was the interview with Dr Fernando Camilo, who is the MeerKAT chief scientist. Now MeerKAT has been operational for going on two years now, and there’s a lot of data that’s being collected.

A lot of it’s been handed to the scientists who have run a lot of analysis and are now starting to push out papers and publish the discoveries, which is very exciting. That one of the first ones was the one we featured in episode 22 which was the discovery of these enormous bubble-like structures that go on for hundreds of light years.

Above and below the Milky way, the disk of the Milky Way, getting blown out by the center of the galaxy. Some very, very cool discoveries. Some cool images too. That went along with it and just a, a great example of the incredible science, which is going to be coming out of out of MeerKAT and Fernando spoke to us about that, that particular discovery, but then also the incredible achievement that is MeerKAT.

How it came to be and the incredible discoveries which he sees coming out of it in the next decade.

Jacinta: [00:26:32] And these super bubbles coming from the center of the Milky Way, were the first example of an unknown unknown that MeerKAT discovered. So Meerkat was obviously built for certain science purposes, as a very powerful radio telescope.

But one of the most exciting things you can do with these new instruments is just turn them on and look at the sky and see what you see. And there’s probably going to be things there that you didn’t plan to see. You didn’t build it to see because you didn’t know they were there. And that’s why we call them unknown unknowns.

And we didn’t know these bubbles existed, and then MeerKAT found them. And that was really momentous and it was one of the first things that it did. So the future is looking really positive in terms of what else we’ll find out there.

Dan: [00:27:13] Yeah, absolutely. And which leads us basically into episode 23 which was also about MeerKAT.

Some of the exciting discoveries coming out of that where we spoke to Professor Patrick Woudt, who is the head of astronomy at the University of Cape Town and his project Thunderkat where they are also using MeerKAT to look for transient events, so things that are happening either on very short scales or varying over time, and they’ve recently observed a black hole objecting material and close to the speed of light. Again, making a very, very large ejection of material across the sky. Just another incredible discovery coming out of MeerKAT. And I think that we are going to be inundated with such discoverie in the next few years.

Jacinta: [00:28:00] Patrick also spoke about the fact that this year is the 50th anniversary of the department of astronomy at the University of Cape Town, and it’s also the 200th anniversary of the South African Astronomical Observatory – SAAO. And you are heading up the celebrations for that, Dan. Now, of course, everything has been suspended for a while due to the Corona virus outbreak.

Are there any updates on your end for that?

Dan: [00:28:24] Yeah, so at the moment, I’ve been having many, many meetings about contingency plans for the events that were due to occur in October. We had planned the launch of the visitors center, which I alluded to earlier, and that will still go ahead. Because we can still continue construction and things, but in terms of having a large astronomy festival and getting thousands of people in one location, that seems very unlikely in October, the same goes for the big astronomy symposium, which we were planning to hold.

So those events are most likely going to be delayed. And we are targeting two dates, potentially either March next year or October 2021 so we may have to delay by a full year. Obviously we don’t really know what’s going to happen with the pandemic and how it’s going to evolve. So we’re keeping close tabs on that and trying to plan as much as we can around that so that we can continue with these events and still hold a successful celebration.

Jacinta: [00:29:20] Of course it’s a shame and we’re sad that it has to be suspended like this, but we are also very thankful and grateful that we are all safe at the moment, and we know that it comes first. People’s safety and health, and we want to make sure that that’s the absolute top priority.

Dan: [00:29:38] Yeah, no, for sure. And you know, astronomy will always be there.

Jacinta: [00:29:42] The stars aren’t going anywhere. Unless a few of them go supernova in the meantime,

Dan: [00:29:48] and some of them just zip across the sky. But you know, let’s not get into specifics.

Jacinta: [00:29:55] Well, there are transients. That’s what Patrick was talking about in episode 23 things that suddenly go bang and then don’t do it again.

But I think there’ll be more opportunities for us to find them. So in this, in this lockdown, SALT has also been suspended. It’s operations. And we don’t know when that will go ahead. But do you know of any recent advances with SALT? So

Dan: [00:30:17] there’s a couple of things with SALT. The SALT has always been remotely operable.

And that will continue. At the moment we did shut down primarily because  we weren’t planning to have anyone on the site in Sutherland, and so that shut down will go on for as long as the lockdown does, and we can get people back to Sutherland, then we can continue remote operations as we need and sort of keep the number of people there to a minimum.

In terms of science and technology advances, we do have funding, which is currently on a three year scale to build new instruments for SALT. So we’re building one new instrument for SALT called MAX-E, which will be a highly efficient spectrometre. And that’s in design phase at the moment and doing a critical design review and yup, that should be online in a couple of years’ time.

Jacinta: [00:31:05] very cool. I think Petri did mention that in episode 13 as well. I think, look, all of the episodes I’ve really enjoyed, it was hard to pick a few, but those are our personal favorites. So during our hiatus, if you are bored and you, you want your fix of The Cosmic Savannah, we salute you. And these are the ones that you can maybe go back and check out.

So now onto things to look forward to. In 2020/2021 what are our plans, Dan, for new episodes? I’ve got one in mind.

Dan: [00:31:36] Well, obviously I mentioned earlier, ATLAS is, that’s a very, very exciting thing for me and for the observatory. It’s an amazing telescope funded by NASA, hosted by us. It’s a great collaboration and it’s, it’s going to discover some really cool stuff on very short timescales, which is going to be exciting.

Getting a notification that this thing’s coming and it’s going to be here in eight hours, you know, that kind of stuff is going to be very, very cool. I’m looking forward to that coming online and we will sit and talk about that more. A couple of other things. The big one for me, for a year’s time now, which seems very hard to believe because of the, the amount of delays it’s undergone is the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Jacinta: [00:32:16] Yeah. This has been delayed for years and years and years, and we’re all very excited about it and Oh, it would be so great if it actually launches next year.

Dan: [00:32:27] Yeah, so it’s scheduled to launch on the 30th of March, 2021 we actually spoke about Hubble and James Webb in episode 17 about that, you know, everyone loves the space telescope.

Hubble is like the world’s favorite telescope and James Webb is going to be so much bigger and more exciting than Hubble. It’s going to have a slightly different science case and looking at slightly different things, but in terms of astronomy projects and things coming, it’s definitely one of the most exciting things on the horizon.

Jacinta: [00:32:59] Yeah. I think I mentioned also on, on episode 17 that I actually got to see the James Webb Space Telescope being constructed when I visited NASA Goddard in 2016 and the big solar panels were open, which are golden, and it was facing me, and it was just so breathtaking and how reflective they are. So yeah, really, really cool to see this Hubble 2.0 launched.

And we’re looking forward to even more and more and more gravitational waves being detected. LIGO is absolutely pumping them out. There’s 67 gravitational waves that have now being detected as of early 2015 they had never been detected ever before. And then finally one was detected back then, and since then, just more and more and more have been pouring in. LIGO the, oh gosh, what does it stand for Dan?

Dan: [00:33:50] Laser interferometer gravitational wave observatory.

Jacinta: [00:33:55] That would be my guess as well. That is now in stage three of operations and since then has really ramped up the number of detections. We haven’t actually done an episode on gravitational waves yet. Dan, we must fix that.

Dan: [00:34:08] No, we must fix that. We did speak about it with Petri, abut SALT’s involvements in the neutron star merger.

But yeah, we should do a dedicated episode on gravitational wave astronomy.

Jacinta: [00:34:19] Yeah. You’ve been saying that ever since we started the podcast, so we really need to get onto that.

Dan: [00:34:23] Okay. Episode one. Season three.

The other thing I thought was pretty cool though, it’s not directly astronomy, it’s just space, is that NASA is sending up their next Mars rover in July this year and they are on track for a July launch and that rover, which is following in the line of Spirit and Opportunity and

Jacinta: [00:34:45] Curiosity,

Dan: [00:34:46] Curiosity. Is called perseverance.

And yeah, it’ll be going up and a brand new Rover on Mars. The other ones have done a long time and done very, very well. But you know, these things on mars always discover some cool stuff, and I think that, I just think landing rovers on another planet is super cool

Jacinta: [00:35:04] it’s epically cool. I want to watch it.

Oh, it will be so exciting. Yeah,

Dan: [00:35:10] And especially how they land them

Jacinta: [00:35:12] yeah, exactly.

The parachute.

Dan: [00:35:15] Yeah, there was a time when they landed on the full and rolled around and they opened up like, they don’t do that anymore. Now it’s like this thing comes in and it’s got a heat shield and then it’s got a parachute, and then it’s got like this, like helicopter thing, which it’s not a helicopter, but it’s got jets.

Jacinta: [00:35:32] It’s like a jets and they’re like, yeah, it like balances itself and then it lowers itself down.

Dan: [00:35:37] Like a sky crane. Yeah. It’s like this thing flies in at thousands of kilometers a second or thousands of kilometers an hour and then stops two meters above the ground. Which is just insane. And then it lowers the rover down on a crane. Like, argh!

Jacinta: [00:35:57] Well, we’ll be watching for sure when that happens. Have you, have you ever seen the curiosity rover’s unofficial  Twitter account Sarcastic Rover? I’m such a fan. It’s hilarious. And it really, it gives you a different, a different perspective on, um, on life, on Mars

Dan: [00:36:21] and the loneliness

Jacinta: [00:36:22] and well, it’s relevant because we’re all in isolation at the moment. So maybe we can take a few lessons on how Curiosity is dealing with it out there. But anyway, I think we should maybe wrap it up for this episode and this season.

Dan: [00:36:36] Yeah, I think it’s been a very successful last season last year, and we look forward to the next one.

Jacinta: [00:36:42] Yeah, and I think we just want to really thank you all for listening, all of our listeners for your feedback, for your comments and reviews. We really, really appreciate it. Feel free to keep getting in touch with us on social media or by our website contact page. We love hearing from you and in the time during our hiatus we will be training up some astronomy students who would like to help volunteer with The Cosmic Savannah. We’re going to teach them some podcasting skills, and they might even be creating their own mini episodes, which depending on how it all works out, we might be able to publish here on The Cosmic Savannah during the hiatus to give you something to listen to.

And the other thing that we’re doing is trying to work through creating the transcriptions of all of the episodes so that you can read along as you’re listening. This is to improve accessibility. So you can go to the show notes of each of our episodes on our website to read along.

 And in that respect. I’d also like to give a big shout out to our dedicated team of volunteer regular transcribers, which includes Sumari Hattingh, Brandon Endelbrecht, Lynette Delhaize, who is my mum. Hi mum! And also recently joining the team is Alison Munn, who has a lot of professional experience in transcribing and has kindly volunteered her time to us.

So thank you very much. And also thank you to the UCT astronomy department for coming on board with sponsorship and they are paying for part of the software that we use for the editing and the transcription. So thank you very much for that.

Dan: [00:38:18] And if you’re looking for some other astronomy related podcasts to keep you busy while we’re on hiatus, we can definitely recommend a couple.

Kechil Kirkham on Fine Music Radio does a regular weekly feature called Looking Up where she talks to somebody about astronomy related things, things that are happening currently, and interviewing astronomers around the country. Also, The Urban Astronomer, Alan Versfeld. Who runs a very successful podcast, very interesting stuff, and he does good interviews, again, with students, postdocs, and researchers around the country on the exciting work they’re doing.

Jacinta: [00:38:53] Yeah, definitely. Check those out. All right. I think, Dan, that that’s it for the episode and for the season.

Yeah. It’s been amazing. Thank you all very much for listening again, and we hope you’ll join us for season three of The Cosmic Savannah.

Dan: [00:39:12] As always, you can visit our website, where we will have transcripts, links, and the full archive of our episodes. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram @cosmicsavannah That’s savannah spelled S-A-V-A-N-N-A-H

Jacinta: [00:39:29] Thank you to all of our volunteers who have helped out throughout the last year, including Thabisa Fikelepi for social  media, Mark Allnut for music production, Janus Brink for Astro-photography, and Lana Ceraj for graphic design.

Dan: [00:39:41] We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation and the South African Astronomical Observatory as well as the University of Cape Town astronomy department to help keep the podcast running .

Jacinta: [00:39:52] You can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, and if you’d like to help us out, please rate and review us and recommend us to a friend

Dan: [00:40:02] and we’ll speak to you next season on The Cosmic Savannah.

Jacinta: [00:40:12] Bye!

Dan: [00:40:12] Bye

Jacinta: [00:40:19] Thank you all very much for listening again, and we hope you’ll join us for season three of The Cosmic Savannah. [Crash and laughing]

My blanket is falling down!

Dan: [00:40:31] There we go, there’s your blooper!

Jacinta: [00:40:33] It clearly knows that it’s the end of the season and it doesn’t want to hold out. It was supported by a wand, a Harry Potter wand, and it’s just fallen down.

Let’s try that again.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy

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