Visitors to the Observatory – 19 September 2019

MMAO - Visitors from the United States

A small group of Americans visited the Ailanga school and were pleasantly surprised to discover a fully operational, astronomical observatory on campus! They didn’t have much time, but Eliona, Zacharia, and Pandaeli gave the a quick tour. We look forward to the day when we open to schools, safari tourists, and the general public on a regular basis.

An Ambassador’s Story, by Eliatosha

MMAO - Eliatosha's story

This just in from Eliatosha Maleko, instructor at Ilboru Primary School and Astronomy Ambassador for MMAO, his summary of the month working on the completion of the observatory and installation of the telescope.

“I am very happy to express my sincere gratitude and happiness to you since I started my participation in the Astronomy about 10 years since … It is amazing and Astronomy [has] changed everything in my life and the people surrounding me, especially my students.

Through my learning all those years I have learned how to work with people of different areas and especially to show passion [for] Astronomy [and this] makes my students to love to learn as their curious to know more and more.

In my three weeks astronomical participation with Mr Kai, I have learned many things and especially, culture of different people all round the world, learning especially on how to take very small and minor measurements … I have learned to take things seriously and never to ignore [the details].

Moreover [we worked in] time management so that every thing should be done in time, and [to share] passion and humbleness to to people of different ages and to listening to them as through them we learned many things.

I have learned to say “I don’t know” as a way to learn more … it doesn’t matter you’re title, the only thing to say [is] “I don’t know”.

Finally I thanks everyone especially Astronomers Without Borders, UNAWE, and their facilitators and donors for their support … especially to Telescopes to Tanzania Pastor Chuck, Sue, Dan, Mike, Kai, and Mponda for their great, great support, encouraging and participation to make sure that students enjoy learning and to explore more our sky.

Together we can enhance learning and improve Astronomy in Tanzania.” –Eliatosha

MMAO - Eliatosha's story

An Ambassador’s Story, by Elineema

Elineema Nassary describes the thirty days of our working together as follows. “I experienced many things during the mounting of [the 12”] telescope at MMAO. I learned that we are all learning, and no one knows everything. I learned that a good scientist knows three words ‘I DON’T KNOW’. Let us learn together. [W]e all shared knowledge during mounting the telescope and sometimes we engaged students to work with us.

“I also experienced that I have to work for the future generation and not for my benefit. Therefore we volunteered our time and even our liquidity in order to fulfill the mission of our beloved, late Pastor Chuck and mama Sue to come true. Yes it has happen. What is following is living in the Chuck’s idea of inspiring our students to love science.

“[F]rom my fellow who we were together during mounting the telescope, especially from Kai, [I learned] to be very careful on everything I am doing, not to answer direct question if you are not 100% sure on it, [and] also reading and do[ing] more research on what you are learning. Moreover, be clean and keep everything on its position and be slow in fixing things.” –Elineema

An Ambassador’s story, by Zacharia

From the airport in Nairobi, I reached out to the ambassadors asking for their experience in the thirty days working to bring our observatory to life.

This just in from Zacharia Mjungu, a teacher at Ailanga, one of the astronomy ambassadors. Edits are in [brackets], per his request.

“Here is my story I can tell, for the past one month working in the observatory. It has been a great opportunity to me that everyone was involved … given [a] chance no matter the background or whatever the case may be. I came to realize that learning is a process that need[s] to be practiced day by day as we have been doing under [Kai’s] guidance.

Through [his] perspective “we are all learning together, no one knows everything” especially [concerning the] universe, and the perspective of allowing anyone to ask questions. “No such a thing is a stupid question, only stupid people who don’t ask questions,” Kai would say.

At first it was hard for me (maybe for everyone else) to catch up with the process but as [the] days [went] by, I came to realize that it was a right thing to be involved fully, [for] no one else was to do it for us. Instead we were part of the process (we are still doing it) not just for Kai, but l felt it was our responsibility and everyone who is willing to learn, teachers and students all together.

This really opened up my mind to see things in different angles and realized that through astronomy we can build the best educational system in our country and make great critical thinkers and achieve more in everything. I have a lot to tell but this is what came to mind and I think the most important part of all we have accomplished in one month is “TEAMWORK SPIRIT”. We worked together as a team. (Pardon for my English) you can edit it. [Much] more to learn.”–Zacharia

Arm wrestling for a discount, dancing in the observatory, and my departure

Yesterday, Saturday, August 24 found us engaged from mid morning ’till 3 am when the taxi took me to the Kilimanjaro airport.

At 11 am Elineema, Thomas and I went to town to trade a like-new inkjet printer for a simpler, more robust laser. We have come to rely on the hilarious and incredibly engaging stationary shop owner Miqdad. During our prior visit (Thursday) we enjoyed fresh bananas and juice while his employee located a large plastic tarp, tool box, and RAM for Zacharia’s laptop. He saved us hours of time, which is greatly appreciated.

I had asked for a discount to support the project. He hesitated, wanting to but knowing it would cut into his margins. I challenged him to an arm wrestling match. I win–10%. He wins, full sticker price. He reluctantly agreed, both of us bragging a bit before we clasped hands. With employees and customers looking on, I got the discount!

I enjoyed a late lunch with the OSEO board of directors and then a return to the observatory yesterday evening after packing my bags at the lodge. Eineema remained with me until 3 am when he escorted me to the airport before returning to his home near Usa River.

Elineema and I worked with limited conversation, engaged in cleaning up one of the OSEO laptops, copying my full music library, collimating the AWB 5″ reflector telescope (again), fabricating the telescope cover, and a few odds and ends.

I have introduced my associates to Bach, Mozart, Dead Can Dance, Enya, Annie Lennox, Toto, Styx, and more. In turn they introduced me to the Observatory Shuffle, a dance one can enjoy while working on a telescope, tools in hand.

I have come to appreciate and thoroughly enjoy the kind of friendship the people of this region of the world provide. It is sincere, deep, and long-lasting. No social network can replace what we share in person, hand-in-hand working for a common goal.

I admit to feeling tremendously alone today, despite being surrounded by people at the Nairobi airport as I await my flight to Cape Town. I already look forward to my return to Tanzania, the observatory we have built, and the students who crave the knowledge and experience this project affords.

A time to reflect

Today (Friday) is my second to last day in Tanzania. Sunday morning I fly to Cape Town, South Africa where I will reside for ~2 weeks, working from an apartment and the South African Astronomical Observatory. I will miss this place like never before, for here at the base of Mt. Meru I have found a new home. Rev. Majola, Chairman Thomas Mbise, and astronomy ambassadors Elineema, Eliona, Pandaeli, Zacharia and Eliatosha have become good friends in addition to colleagues and conspirators in all that we do to improve science education in this country. We have become a team, accomplishing what was surely impossible in an impossibly brief twenty odd days.

Last night we stopped and looked around us at the elegant, functional, profoundly unique “spaceship of the imagination” we have created and realize that nothing like this exists anywhere in East Africa. The Mt. Meru Astronomical Observatory is more than just a building, it is a place for exploration of the unknown. In the coming years we will say again and again “I don’t know!” and then work to find the answers together.

Asante sana to the late Chuck, Sue, Mponda and the OSEO board of directors for making this possible, to the students who delight us in their enthusiasm to learn and never stop asking questions, and to my new friends for welcoming me to your part of the world. This is just the beginning!

Reduced Play in the RA, Setting Circles Aligned, and Observation

MMAO - Eliatosha rebuilds a 5" reflector telescope

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!

Ubuntu, the Moon at MMAO, and a Night of Observing

MMAO - Bringing the Moon to the observatory

Yesterday saw a whirlwind of activity, morning ’till night. Zacharia was successful in his first installation of Ubuntu and installation of the ExFAT ‘fuse’ driver. You know you have a true geek in the making when you get a high-five following first use of the command line! He then copied ~200GB of data from a shared backup drive and is up and running, with LibreOffice a welcomed replacement for Microsoft’s monopoly on this part of the world.

Thomas, Zacharia and I went to Arusha to purchase a plastic tarp to protect the telescope, magazine boxes for the library, two binders for our myriad NASA photos, user manuals, and info packets; double-sided foam tape to fix the massive 8 x 1.5 meter LROC print of Tycho Crater to the wall (thank you ASU SESE!), and a toolbox for our now substantial workshop. Eliona brought students from his school for a tour of the observatory and then sorted three years of New Scientist magazines into the new filing system–thank you!

We worked into the night, closed up shop after dark only to find the stars had come out. Eliona and Elineema departed (they live further away and must be certain to catch the last matatu) while Zacharia, Pendaeli and I remained. We were able to conduct an extensive test of the Orion 5MB CCD camera (and are quite disappointed) and our first drift test (results to be posted at another time, after confirmation of our findings).

Rebuilding telescopes, selecting eyepieces

MMAO - Rebuilding portable telescopes

Today Eliatosha, Eliona and I rebuilt the 3″ Celestron refractor and a smaller, longer focal length Meade refractor telescope. It took a few hours to fully disassemble, clean the lenses, and put them together again. But the end result, the Celestron in particular, is stunning. The quality of the image is simply magical.

Then we tested a dozen eye pieces in each telescope, finding the ideal combination. For the Celestron, in fact, the Celestron brand 25mm and 12mm eye pieces delivered the best image. In the Meade, with a noted lower quality we decided to retain the higher quality Meade eye pieces for other instruments.

The final assembles are now color coded with electrical tape such that if a part is misplaced it will readily find its home position.

It feels good to bring these instruments back to nearly factory conditions. They won’t be used if the images are not bright and crisp. Now, we have two dozen eye pieces to clean, test, sort, and store; some for use, others saved for future telescopes.

I am amazed by how many instruments we have in all, ten years of Chuck, Sue, and others bringing telescopes to this country. Thank you!

Spring Cleaning and Building a Reticle

MMAO - Home made reticle eyepiece

Today we completed the sorting of the Organization for Science Education and Observatory (OSEO) office at Ailanga Secondary School, taking all tripods, telescopes, and eye pieces to the observatory for cleaning and repair. There, we watched three videos on using the “drift method” to complete the alignment of our telescope, but were once again foiled with cloud cover this evening, only a few start pushing through from time to time. We cleaned and validated operation of all four OSEO laptops, and will tomorrow install Ubuntu Linux on one of them, one remaining with Windows, one with Eliona, and the fourth placed in storage in the office, as a backup.

While hoping for the clouds to clear, we built our own reticle eyepiece from a single strand of a plastic twine. It worked. Tomorrow we will superglue it such that we have this for alignment testing, in addition to use of the CCD camera and monitor.

The hi-light was when an elephant came into the compound this evening, just as a half dozen girls from the school were walking to the observatory. We heard both at the same time and raced outside with my headlamp to spot the elephant as it departed. The girls seated themselves on the floor and immediately dove into the library.

I feel I have accomplished something grand every time a student picks up a book and reads and then asks questions. Tonight, we discussed black holes, how they form and how they affect things around them. We used our bodies and a headlamp to demonstrate a gravitational lens and discussed how even light can be bent, or pulled totally in.