An exciting visit to the KAT-7 site: Day 2.3 Site to Klerefontein

In the mid-afternoon, there was suddenly a mad rush to drive back to Losberg in order to see the rugby match between the touring British/Irish Lions and South Africa, being played in Durban. The guys who are currently living at Losberg had been trying to set up a DSTV antenna earlier today, but I don’t think they got it working in time for the match.

Dawie (the site manager) offered to take a group of non-mad-rugby-supporters to see some rock paintings along the way back to Losberg. About halfway back to the base, he stopped at the side of the road and then led us up a gentle slope at the foot of a flat-topped mountain, to a couple of large black boulders. Some of these had a shiny flat surface, as though they had been split apart many centuries ago.

Rock paintings on a boulder

Rock paintings on a boulder

Dawie pointed out two rock paintings on this boulder: On the top section of the rock, barely visible, was a white animal (a horse perhaps? its head is to the right); he said that this dated back to ancient times. Below it were two tall thin figures – a man and a woman – that look like they have been scratched into the rock; these are more recent.

A man and a woman

A man and a woman

We walked over to another boulder, which also had a painting of some sort of white horse on it (it’s in the centre of the photo below, with the head facing to the left). I’d love to know how old these are, and what was going through the mind of the painter at the time!

A white horse?

A white horse?

Dawie explained that there were many more of these paintings all over the area; he also added that there were large old quiver trees all along the top of the flat-topped mountain above us.

One of the boulders nearby had lichen growing on it. At first glance it looked as though someone had rubbed a bit of colourful chalk onto the rock.

Lichen growing in/on the rock

Lichen growing in/on the rock

But if you zoom in more closely, you can see it was definitely lichen:

Lichen growing on a boulder

Lichen growing on a boulder

Richard took a little group photo, showing Nina and Niesa, Anja, Reggie, Simon C, Adrianna, Tony, Dawie and Ian.

Group photo

Group photo

We met up with the rest of the group at Losberg; they were rather disappointed that the DSTV wasn’t working, and that there’d be no rugby watching tonight. So we climbed back into the bakkies and the VW minibus, and drove through to the support base at Klerefontein.

Here is a screen capture of the area from Google Maps, using the satellite image; I have tried to add the waypoints in more or less the correct locations:

Klerefontein support base

Klerefontein support base

There are several buildings at Klerefontein, including three cosy looking houses where the site manager Dawie is staying, and a couple of large sheds a little further along a gravel road. And then there is this beautiful gable house:

The newly renovated office building

The newly renovated office building

This houses the impressive, newly renovated offices of the MeerKAT project. We had a look inside – it looks fantastic! Appropriately, two little meerkat are standing guard at the entrance.

Meerkat standing guard

Meerkat standing guard

We explored the surroundings a little and came across this pretty dam in the little valley adjacent to the house. Both the dam wall and the surface of the water were covered in a carpet of fallen leaves, and the water level was so high, that it looked deceptively as though you could just step out onto the carpet and walk across the water.

But I didn’t try that. 🙂

Beautiful dam

Beautiful dam

Thereafter, we returned to the large shed where supper (a spit braai) would be served. A road led up the hill behind this shed, and up to the C-BASS (C-Band All Sky Survey) dish on the top of the hill. Keen to see as much of the surroundings as possible before it was too dark to see, we marched up the little road.

Looking down towards the shed

Looking down towards the shed

The 7.6m C-BASS dish has only recently been installed here. It is a collaboration between SKA South Africa, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory and Rhodes University, and Caltech, Oxford University and Manchester University. The second antenna that will be used for this survey is located in California, at the Owens Valley Observatory.

“The C-BASS project is intended to undertake an all-sky, total power and linear polarisation measurement to obtain a precise map, in the C-Band, of the Stokes parameters of the Galaxy. Whilst this map will be important for astronomy in general, its main function is to enable extrapolation of measurements of the total power and linearly polarized emission of the Galaxy to the bands that will be used by the Planck satellite. One of the major objectives of Planck is to detect the B-mode in CMB polarisation, which requires very precise subtraction of the Galaxy foreground.” (SKA Newsletter no. 10)

C-Bass antenna

C-Bass antenna

This photo gives a better indication of the scale of the antenna:

C-Bass antenna

C-Bass antenna

Frozen almost solid by the icy wind on the top of the hill, and with the light rapidly fading, we trudged back down the hill to the warm shed, where we found a wholesome meal waiting for us. Our caterers, led by Magrieta, had prepared a feast: a lamb spitbraai, homemade roosterkoek (baked rolls) with butter and jams, a cauliflower and broccoli salad, a mixed salad, and a dish of baked potatoes in some sort of creamy sauce. YUMM!!! Dessert consisted of malva pudding with custard.

A delicious supper

A delicious supper

Tummies full and eyes heavy (well, perhaps that didn’t apply to the youthful and high-spirited engineers at the camping site who, by all accounts, played cards until the early morning hours), we were ferried home safely by Chris, who had successfully sorted out the tyre issue of this morning.

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