As promised, I attended Scopex on Saturday, and took some pictures and notes. The overall tone of the day was not so different from previous expos, so I was able to get right in to enjoying the afternoon. I was a little disappointed to have missed the first half of the day, though. I had to attend my wife’s stork tea party, as we’re expecting Junior Astronomer in a few weeks (side note: Expect a break in transmission for a while after that!). I arrived after noon, bought a raffle ticket, and headed to the lawn where I found the organisers busy presenting awards and prizes. For a full list, visit the official ScopeX website here.
First stop was the display hall, featuring posters and displays from professional research organisations alongside astronomy projects submitted by learners at local schools. Next door to this was the food tent, providing traditional fair at bargain prices! From there I stopped by the West Rand Amateur Radio Club, who had erected a hand-guided directional antenna, which they were hoping to use to communicate with an Amateur Radio Satellite as soon as it passed overhead. I had a nice chat with a few of the members who seemed very keen to help me find a local club and get licensed as a ham. I may even take that step, in a few years.
All this was just a prelude to what I considered the meat of the expo: The Amateur Telescope Making exhibits. ATM’ers from all over the country converge on ScopeX every year to show off their handiwork. Some showed rough-and-ready 6″ newtonians, pieced together from whatever scrap materials were handy. Others displayed incredible craftsmanship, producing telescopes that were technically innovative, or beautiful, or both. Johan Swanepoel’s pair of 20″ lightbuckets dominated the field with their sheer bulk, and gorgeous wooden finish. Many of the telescope on display were still works in progress, but all were an inspiration to complete my own telescope project.
Several vendors were present as well, showing off their products, but this was less interesting to me personally – good equipment costs money, which I don’t have to spare! My day ended by attending two talks in the main auditorium. The first was a talk titled “Space Weather: the impact of space weather on human activities”, delivered by Kobus Olckers. Kobus is a Space Weather Officer at the South African National Space Agency, and shared an enormous amount of information on how the Sun affects almost every aspect of modern life. He did a masterful job of balancing the enormous risk posed to our technology, with a calming message that we should not fear the Sun’s effects, merely be prepared for the inevitable problems. Sadly, he had so much to share that he ended up over-running his time, and was forced to skip a lot of material. If I get a chance to meet him, I’d love to have those gaps filled in.
The second talk (the last of the day) was a question and answer session, hosted by Case Rijsdijk and Prof Matie Hoffman. I’ve been present at similar panels before, and was pleasantly surprised at the sophistication of the questions fielded, and the ease with which the panel handled them. Questions were answered in tremendous details, without ever losing the non-scientific members of the audience.
The end of the Q&A session marked the end of ScopeX for me. The final event of the day was the starparty, where visitors would get a chance to look through the various telescopes on display, but the weather failed to cooperate. The sky was resolutely overcast by the time the party was due to begin.
ScopeX 2011 was definitely a huge success. My congratulations and thanks to the organisers for putting together a wonderful day, when I could meet like-minded fans of astronomy and telescope making, and learn something new and useful. I’m looking forward to the next year’s show!
Edit: For another perspective, here’s a link to Auke Slotegraaf’s report.