HEMELLIGGAAM or THE ATTEMPT TO BE HERE NOW (CHAPTER ONE)
TOMMASO FISCALETTI AND NIC GROBLER
FACE IN THE HOLE, SA NATIONAL SPACE AGENCY # 1, HERMANUS, CAPE TOWN
The connection between distant heavenly bodies, the Earth and our own bodies inadvertently creates a reconfigured awareness of our environment.
REST STOP ON R27, NORTHERN CAPE
SALT, SAAO, SUTHERLAND, NORTHERN CAPE
The R27 road passes through exceptionally desolate areas and is one of the main routes from Cape Town towards the SKA project site.
‘My first three years, I was working with a team as I was undergoing training. From there on, most of the time, I was on my own. Sometimes for 14 hours straight in winter. Just me, a CD player, my night lunch and coffee.’
FRANCOIS VAN WYK
Night Assistant and service observer, South African Astronomical Observatory, Sutherland.
SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) at the South African Astronomical Observatory, just outside Sutherland in the Northern Cape. It is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world - so powerful and sensitive that it could spot a candle flame on the moon.
WILHELMINA BOSTAANDER, CARNARVON, NORTHERN CAPE
DIE HEMELBLOM # 1 (FROM "DIE HEMELBLOM" BY JAN RABIE, 1971), CARNARVON, NORTHERN CAPE
I’ll just tell them it is a thorny tree, it can get stuck into your clothes - you have to pull it out. It goes so deep into your skin that you need to rip it out - it is very dangerous plant. I don’t even want to get close to it and I keep my distance when I water it. It will pierce straight through your clothes into your skin - the thorns are that sharp.’
The same species of plant that was chosen for the photograph of Die Hemelblom was found growing in front of Wilhelmina Bostaander’s house in Carnarvon. Photograph inspired by Die Hemelblom, by Jan Rabie, first published 1971.
‘For now it was just strange. Only later it would become frightening.'
'Only in the morning, when the daylight crossed over the highland rocks and fynbos, they saw how strange and otherworldly the hemelblom was. The seeds that fell the previous afternoon shot up incredibly fast, each on a lump of roots that didn't enter the ground, but just gripped the ground from above. In one single night each plant became fully grown and was spreading seeds so that new plants would shoot up. In one night the hemelblomme multiplied a hundredfold. For now it was just strange. Only later it would become frightening.'
From Die Hemelblom (The Heavenly Flower) by Jan Rabie, 2nd edition 1974, Tafelberg, first published 1971. Translated from the original Afrikaans by Nic Grobler.
Photograph inspired by Die Hemelblom (The Heavenly Flower), an Afrikaans sci-fi novel by Jan Rabie.
HEMELBLOM (1971), CARNARVON, NORTHERN CAPE
The Hemelblom was sent to the earth by a concerned galactic council to ensure the survival of life on earth in the face of a new world war. The plant was specifically grown to remove the poisonous elements introduced by humans - feeding on pollution it would rapidly cover the earth and wipe out most of humankind but leave a new earth covered with fresh fertile soil.
OFENTSE LETEBELE, IZIKO PLANETARIUM PRESENTER, CAPE TOWN
Ofentse Letebele is part of the team working to translate some of the old Planetarium shows to the new Digital Dome system.
NEW PETROL STATION, CARNARVON, NORTHERN CAPE
SKAAP, CARNARVON, NORTHERN CAPE
“Greetings, Earthling. We come in peace. Take us to your leader.”
- Alien in an old Petrol pump joke. Petrol pump found in the small town of Carnarvon near the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) site - where there is an international collaboration around building the world’s largest radio telescope.
‘To me he was the ultimate perfection I found on earth, of love and faithfulness and virtue. And I lost him, and I miss him dearly...’
JAKHALS (LANGENHOVEN'S DOG), KLAARSTROOM, WESTERN CAPE (From Loeloeraai, by CJ Langenhoven, 1923)
'To whom shall I dedicate this book? It is about a being who is not human, who is higher than man - an unattainable superior.
I think I will go to the opposite - and then I will not have to look very far. I lost a friend a long time ago - a friend that I loved and who loved me. I will never see him again forever; but forever I will never forget him. Now, after all these years, there is not a day that passes without his image coming before me and I'm grieving about him. To him I was the higher being - a Loeloeraai of a higher existence. To me he was the ultimate perfection I found on earth, of love and faithfulness and virtue. And I lost him, and I miss him dearly. . .
I dedicate this work:
To the memory of
MY FRIEND AND DOG, JAKHALS’
From the dedication of Loeloeraai, CJ Langenhoven, 4th Edition 1929, First published 1923. Translated from original Afrikaans by Nic Grobler. Photographs inspired by Loeloeraai, CJ Langenhoven.
Loeloeraai is a visitor from Venus, who spends about two weeks with a family in Oudtshoorn. They end up going on a small trip to the moon before Loeloeraai returns to Venus.
NEELSIE AND JAKHALS (FROM LOELOERAAI BY LANGENHOVEN, 1923) KLAASTROOM, WESTERN CAPE
THEO FERREIRA, PLANETARIUM MANAGER, CAPE TOWN
‘…This is strange because we are looking at objects develop, seeing them as they were a very long time ago.’
‘What makes this system so powerful is that you can leave the earth - you are not stuck on the earth anymore. Traditional planetarium shows are stuck on the earth looking up at the night sky, now we can fly away from the earth and travel through the universe, moving out into space - right back to the beginning. We don’t actually have data sets that go that far back, but be can get really close, looking at some of the galaxies billions of light years away from us and, of course, when you are looking at those galaxies you are looking back in time - into the past. This is strange because we are looking at objects develop, seeing them as they were a very long time ago.’
CHRIS FORDER'S TELESCOPE, CEDERBERG ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY, WESTERN CAPE
‘Time is nothing to them, time is everything to us.’
‘We got music going - we try to keep it to calm music, so that we are not too excited. If you get too excited then things start going wrong and you start doing stupid things. You must just keep calm the whole time while you are imaging. After all, the stars will wait - if you don’t get them tonight, you can get them tomorrow night. Time is nothing to them, time is everything to us. '
Amateur Telescope builder.
WANDA DIAZ-MERCED, ASTRONOMER, SAAO, OBSERVATORY, CAPE TOWN
'Do you want to hear it? It is nothing spectacular. But you’ll get an idea of what happens during the eclipse. Maximum brightness, first contact, second contact… getting close to totality - It doesn’t go completely silent because you will always have some light. We were able to get our sensor to be sensitive enough to detect luminosity. My friends at the University of Harvard were able to achieve minus 1 lux of sensitivity, that means it is a little bit more sensitive than the human eye.'
WANDA DIAZ-MERCED, OBSERVATORY, CAPE TOWN
Wanda was a post doctoral fellow at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town and currently works with the Office of Astronomy for Development(OAD) where she has led the OAD project AstroSense since April 2014. She helped develop sonification methods that allow us to listen to the stars. Her research in this field started after losing her sight as an undergraduate at the University of Puerto Rico.
‘If we start sharing those experiences, those practices, those stories - it is one way in which we can unite our people.’
SIVUYILE MANXOYI, SAAO, OBSERVATORY, CAPE TOWN
‘It is in the nature of Astronomy, because stars are visible everywhere - irrespective of where you are. Maybe in the early hours of the morning or the evening you will be able to see stars, so the whole population of the world, each culture has developed a certain relationship with the stars. Because everyone has a relationship with the stars, they have named stars according to their culture using their own languages and have developed traditions and ceremonies that are linked to certain stars and planets. So I think it can form a basis for humanity, the world, to say that we all have a relationship with the stars and we have used stars for different purposes. If we start sharing those experiences, those practices, those stories - it is one way in which we can unite our people.’
KAROO FYNBOS, BETWEEN CALVINIA AND WILLISTON, NORTHERN CAPE
OLD ANALOGUE WORKSTATION, PLANETARIUM, CAPE TOWN
‘But all in all you are part of the universe, you know, the universe is you, the universe is me...’
'I’ve learned a a lot about stars by coming here. I knew enough stars before so that I could point out a few, but here I got to learn more about them - about stars, what they are, what they are made of and so on. How they come about and into being. Before we were just learning names and constellations but here we were going deeper into it. Usually I just looked at them - without any understanding. Just you know, like if you looking at a tree that is standing there, you know that it is a tree, it is just there, it is a tree, you don’t really know what it does or anything. So I’ve got to learn more about stars, who they do and what their significance are in our lives and in the lives of everything around us. I understood that things were big you know - like the earth has got to be big, and South Africa has to be big - but without understanding that there were even bigger things out there. You know when you look at the sun, from a distance, like when it is on the horizon before it sets. You are not exactly sure where it is and how it relates to you and your life - you just know it is something that is out there. You are so far away from it, you don’t actually know that is very big. You could fit like a million earths into the sun - that is how big it is. It is hard to grasp. You know you are part of this world, but the universe can feel like something else - far from you. Even at night, you are thinking: there is the universe and here am I. But all in all you are part of the universe, you know, the universe is you, the universe is me, the universe is around - the space we are living in is the universe. This is not just earth and your life and then the universe is over there - you are in the universe. So in terms of understanding the whole universe like that. Ja… ja… a very very big place you know - really no one can understand how big it is, like fully understand. You can talk numbers, like 13,7 billion light years - what is that? You don’t know, but it’s big, something very big.’
LUZUKO DALASILE, IZIKO PLANETARIUM PRESENTER, CAPE TOWN
This is a transition area between Planetarium entrance and the Planetarium dome - An area where the viewers eyes are given some time to adjust to the darkness that they will be in when inside the dome.
ABIE MAKOK, CHURCH WARDER, CARNARVON, NORTHERN CAPE
SAAO # 1, SUTHERLAND, NORTHERN CAPE
'We are leaving a memory - an inheritance through the SKA. We are staying positive because a change is coming into the land - so that many people can see. We heard about changes in Sutherland, and now it is happening here as well. Many are negative but they perhaps do not know what is really happening. For our children this will help them, to go into a direction to study, at the University. They spoke about this at the meeting, going in this direction for the youth. For the future I'd love for the children to learn, and not struggle with work, to get a bursary and to study further.'
‘Then you look at Saturn with the nice rings around it, it looks like a sombrero - that is just unbelievable.'
'With the 1.9m we were looking at the spectra itself. Like looking at a prism, we used diffraction gratings where you could shift the light and look at different parts of the colour spectrum - from there you can tell from what stars were made of and so forth. Just doing star gazing, especially if you look at Jupiter and Saturn, it blows your mind away. If you look at Jupiter it looks like a solar system on its own. The big mother planet with a few small moons around it, and from time to time you see one of the moons disappear. Then you look at Saturn with the nice rings around it, it looks like a sombrero - that is just unbelievable.'
FRANCOIS VAN WYK
Night Assistant and service observer, South African Astronomical Observatory, Sutherland.