On December 23, 2023 Kai, Elineema, and Mponda simultaneously received an email from the contact form on this website. It was from David Tan, an engineer who owns and operates a cafe in Dar es Salaam. He asked for a visit to the MMAO observatory. Given the close proximity to Christmas, Kai attempted to relieve Elineema from the transit to and from MMAO with a polite dismissal, but David was persistent and Elineema was excited to observe too! Perhaps they’d catch Santa’s sleigh in the telescope or another Christmas supernova. Nonetheless, they came together for a very special observing session, as David describes.
David writes, “It’s not at all often I come up to Arusha, so when it came to me that I had once read about an observatory at Mt. Meru, I felt strongly that I had to visit – lest it take a few more years before a next first visit and connection with the observatory.
The night we spent at the observatory was full of magic. There was a full moon rising exactly above Mt Kilimanjaro. We were all spellbound. I’m extremely impressed with all the work that’s been put into the observatory and the team who brought us to the observatory that night. Thank you!
Mr. Rashidi Mkwinda with his students at Nshupu Secondary School in Tanzania were observing the sun using a Telescope as shown in the pictures and videos.
It was indeed a beautiful afternoon, with about two hundred students participating in observing the Sun 🌞 .
The main debate was however why the Sun appeared to be yellow using the Telescope, but in hindsight, the sun appears to be a mixture of blue and white and some said it was colourless.
To clear the confusion and enhance understanding, participating students were instructed to seek answers from various books and articles.
As these observations are going on at Nshupu secondary, we hold on to what these students will find to be the true colour of the Sun.
Twelve teachers from Nshupu Secondary School in the Arusha region paid a visit to Mt. Meru Astronomy Observatory. It was the first visit of its kind with so many teachers at once observing the night sky at the observatory.
The visit was organized, by the academic office of the Nshupu secondary school lead by Mr. Rashid Mkwinda. It was the first time the teachers closely observing the heavenly bodies using a big telescope.
The late Chuck Ruehle, the man behind the observatory establishment would be pleased to be there for this moment. Though we can’t fill his presence, we believe his spirit is cherishing this moment with us all.
It was his vision, for the observatory to be the center for science education and learning. This day was for sure a starting point for that.
Teachers’ first light experience was decorated with an observation of the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus using both big and small telescopes at the observatory.
Craters of the moon and color patterns, Jupiter’s moons, and Saturn rings are some of the good memories of the day that will remain with teachers for long. It is certain, some of the experience will be used in the classrooms to foster learning.
Discussion on their experience is already ongoing on Facebook where more teachers are inspired to visit the observatory to experience their first light.
Useful suggestions were also provided by the teacher to enhance the observation experience. Being the first time the observatory receive that big number of teachers, it was recommended to connect the big telescope with the LCD screen in the observatory for easy observation.
This could also address the challenge for tall people who had squit to observe through the eyepiece for shorter ones not to reach the eyepiece. We welcome experiences from other observatories on how they managed to address similar challenges.
After a long, difficult year, the Mt. Meru Astronomical Observatory is once again open for business and inviting schools to attend.
Pendaeli Nassary writes, “We received 41 students and two teachers from the Akeri Secondary School.”
Ambassador Mbise writes, “I was very happy to visit the observatory for the first time with my friend Elineema Nassari. I wish not many days to visit there [again] with students from our school, [such] that they can see the good things that were done at the observatory.”
Astronomy Ambassador Zacharia Mujungu, instructor at Ailanga writes, “This past Saturday we enjoyed the first clear sky after an unusually long, long period of rainfall. I and Pendaeli hosted Form One students at the MMAO observatory. They were so excited to observe the Moon and Venus through the telescope for first time in their life. This big smiling faces is the indicator that this telescope is the cornerstone for science revolution in Tanzania. We feel indebted to do more and go extra miles to make it available to all students in the country, [working to] change the classroom learning environment by encouraging hands on activities (DIY), not just test scores.
Yesterday afternoon I reinstalled Windows on the observatory laptop, as we had issues with a virus. It is working much better now. I also re-installed the Orion CCD camera software, then attached the camera to the Celestron spotting telescope for a test run. It is the first time we have been successful in getting quality images.
[The same night] we opened the observatory and we were able to observe the Moon, again testing our CCD camera. I was able to capture some decent images. Thereafter [we] hosted movie night with my students on the COSMOS series, with a reading session in our library. We enjoyed a good conversation about the Episode 6 story, especially [on] the issue of the photosynthesis process, and how it is important to our life on earth. The students [expressed] concern for the “Tardigrade” and its high survival rate, ability to live anywhere in any environment. The questions were How is that possible? How did it survive all five mass extinctions on Earth? This make them to be [a] very special species, among all living things ever existed in the universe.
Other topics of interest were the supernova explosions and the law of conservation of energy. In the students’ physics classes, they study only the theory, so they were so surprised to see the way Tyson bet his nose, just letting the hanging stone/ball go and swing back without hitting his face! Then, they could see that the law of conservation of energy and other scientific laws are real!
Last night MMAO Astronomy Ambassadors Zacharia Mjungu and Pendael Nassary were successful in conducting a third drift test, this time noting all parameters to make certain we can effectively interpret the results and align the telescope more accurately.
In short summary, they selected a star almost directly overhead, which at MMAO is close to the celestial equator. They rotate the reticle eyepiece such that when slewing the telescope East and West the star tracked parallel to one of the two cross hairs. They then centered the star and with the RA motor engaged, allowed the star to drift from center to edge.
With a 25mm eyepiece, it took 23 minutes for the star to move past the edge. This is very good for a hand-aligned telescope and perfect for public star parties, but for astro-photography we want to do better.
Now, they will interpret the results using the guidance provided on this website for the Southern Hemisphere, and suggest how we can make very small adjustments to the polar and/or equatorial axis.
On Wednesday, September 4, Zacharia and Pendaeli opened the observatory for a survey of four stars. The goal was to establish how far off the RA axis of rotation is due to the remaining, incomplete alignment of the telescope. If we had just one night with more than an hour of clear skies after sunset, we’d have this done and move on. But such is astronomy. For all the understanding of the workings of the world, we do not (yet) control the weather (which is probably a good thing).
I have included the observation notes (top), as an example of how important it is to record data points for every experiment, no matter how seemingly simple or irrelevant to the long-term goal, as that history helps us prepare for the future endeavors.
The starting position (not noted) was the star Antares. As such, the RA and Dec coordinates were a perfect match. They then moved the telescope through 3 other stars before returning to the Antares again, all remaining on the Home side of the pedestal.
Clearly, we have a misalignment for the RA values do not match. This is not a drift test, rather a pointing test, but it does give us clues. The smaller errors are within the expected tolerance of a hand-placed telescope before advanced alignment techniques. The substantial error on the final measurement is likely a misreading of the RA setting circle or the circle was not set tight and slipped.
When next we have a clear night for at least one hour, we’ll conduct our final drift test and then determine how to adjust the mount alignment accordingly.
I want to emphasize on behalf of my colleagues at MMAO that this represents their first scientific experiment of any kind outside of the classroom, perhaps at all. With my being half the African continent away, I am little more than a guide through email and instant messaging.
Therefore, I extend my pride in the instructors and students of Ailanga Secondary School who in just one month went from having used a relatively simple telescope (if at all) to operating a sophisticated instrument while working toward professional alignment in order to be more equipped to see deep sky objects such as distant nebulae and galaxies.
Last night Zacharia and Pendaeli attended the observatory in order to establish four stars in the “home” position of the 12″ telescope for both RA setting circle and drift alignment tests.The following is Zacharia’s summary of the observation session:
“Tonight Pendaeli and I found stars to locate at our home position in order to test properly our RA setting circle and compare the time difference between [the computer software] Stellarium and that of the RA setting circle, which we will do tomorrow. We learned that [the rotation of the] RA setting circle matches exactly to our clocks when we were tracking stars. That’s awesome for us because we didn’t know [this] before! And [as previously] noted … objects drift off the center … another test to be done soon.
We selected four stars: Antares, Acrab (a double star), Dschubba, and ‘pi Sco’. These will make the tasks of our RA setting circle tests and drift alignment much easier.
Most exciting for us, we viewed our first double star! Stellarium noted that Acrab should have two stars orbiting each other. While they were not clear through the 40mm eyepiece, when we inserted the higher power 32mm we were able to see a clear separation between the two stars. Amazing!
That’s what we accomplished. Ahsante sana!”
Yesterday was a whirlwind, go-go-go attempt to cross off as many final items from our TODO list.
We returned to the issue of “play” in the RA arm and axis of rotation, reducing it considerably with a tighter configuration of the friction clutch and application of nuts on the back of the rear plate. We yet need to return to the front plate and insert brass bushings, but this will require a proper mill and press, and more time. We will engage the Arusha Technical University for this endeavor later this year, perhaps when I return.
Zacharia and Elineema fabricated pointers for both the Dec and RA setting circles, mounting them using existing tapped holes while Eliatosha and I rebuilt his Celestron-AWB ‘One Sky’ 5″ reflector (the same model as the one I worked on a few days ago). We fully disassembled the entire instrument, cleaned it top to bottom and reassembled. We then tested and selected the two best eyepieces, a 25mm and 12mm Celestron. The end result brings this telescope nearly back to factory quality, only a few permanent, light mineral stains on the mirror without resolve.
I completed my review of all the eyepieces, packaging them for storage at the OSEO office as we simply do not need two dozen eyepieces at the observatory. Now, each telescope has color coded (using electrical tape) eyepieces and an associated tripod mount. We have six telescopes in all, the 12″ Cave-Cassegrain, Celestron-AWB 5″ telescoping reflector, 3″ Celestron spotting scope, a 2.5″ Meade refractor, and two small Galileo refractors which we have decided are best used without a tripod, just by hand for first time explorers of the night sky.
I was excited to find in one of the boxes a solar filter which I taped to the inside of a light reduction cover for the Celestron spotting scope. Now we have the ability to safely view the sun using our second highest quality telescope. It works beautifully!
We observed for roughly two hours, in and out of cloud cover and conducted our first “drift” test. Our setting circles were calibrated for the first time and they are spot-on. We can use the circles to bring the telescope to within the field of view of our spotting scope using, which is about all you can ask of these devices without an optical encoder and computer control. We are proud of our effort and know we have done well. With limited tools and our creativity for in-house fabrication, we have done fantastic, high-quality work.
I am proud of us all!