The Gearings Point Astronomy Education Display

The Gearings Point Astronomy Education Display

Hermanus Astronomy Centre

The Gearings Point Astronomy Education Display

The Hermanus Astronomy Centre (HAC) designed and oversaw the fabrication and installation of an Astronomy Education Display inside the Whale Watching Ring at Gearings Point adjacent to the Old Harbour (GPAED) in Hermanus during 2022.

This was the culmination of a 13-year-long saga that started with the approval of a proposal for an Astronomy Education Centre and Observatory by the Overstrand Municipality (OSM) through re-zoning on 1st September 2019. The execution was delayed by insufficient funding, for which an application was submitted to the National Lotteries Committee (NLC) in Jan 2010. A grant was received from the NLC in March 2014, by which time a Consent Use application instead of the already approved re-zoning was required by the new development scheme of the amalgamated OSM. An appropriately revised proposal was submitted, and only finally turned down in Nov 2019. Two years were lost due to COVID, but a revised proposal for an Astronomy Education Display at Gearings Point (GPAED) was submitted to the NLC in Dec 2021 and finally approved on 7th April 2022.

The GPAED is a permanent display of 36 astronomy education tablets covering 21 different topics, which give an introductory but comprehensive overview of Astronomy.

In addition, the Trig Beacon area has been substantially enhanced with interesting educational features. These include: 

• A 3m Analemmatic sundial flush with the paving.

• North, East and West vertical sundials against the trig beacon plinth.

• An explanation of origin of the Equation of Time (EOT) with an EOT components graph and an EOT analemma also against the trig beacon plinth.

• A tablet with arrows pointing towards granite ‘V’-slots over which the sunrises and sunsets can be viewed at the Cardinal point equinoxes and solstices.

Image 1

Figure 1 shows the Whale Watching Ring at Gearings Point before the GPAED upgrade.

Image 1

Figure 2 shows the Analemmatic sundial with the North vertical sundial and EOT components graph against the trig beacon plinth, with the educational tablets against the Whale Watching Ring wall in the background. The activity induced by the Analemmatic sundial makes it the star of the show. 

Image 1

Figure 3 shows the North and East vertical sundials with the EOT diagrams below them. Note the rubber gnomons preferred to SS to mitigate accidental injury risk.

The Educational Tablets

The educational tablets’ topics vary from a description of the structure, composition and evolution of the universe on the East side of the Ring, whereas those on the West side relate to practical observational aspects.

The East side tablets take one on a journey from Earth, the Moon, The Sun, the Solar System, our Milky Way and other galaxies and clusters of galaxies to the Large-Scale Structure of the Universe. There are two historical tablets covering Ancient Astronomy and Pioneering Female Astronomers. Finally, there are some elementary cosmology tablets: The Big Bang, the Cosmic Pie, Stellar Evolution & the Origin of the Elements.

The West side practical tablets describe the functioning and use of The Eye, Binoculars and Telescopes as observational aids, together with tablets describing Space Telescopes and phenomena they observe (as of 2022).

There are tablets describing Celestial Objects in the Southern Skies (popular among Northern Hemisphere visitors), Tips for Observing, The Celestial Sphere and Zodiac, Sky Maps and how to use them, Astrophotography and finally a status summary of Space Exploration and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (once again as of 2022).

The educational tablets are 560W x 795H mm 316L Stainless Steel (SS) sheets of 2 mm thickness mounted at 60° onto pre-cast concrete slabs at about 100 mm above the paving, to read like a 2.7x enlarged A4 portrait page when standing in front of them. Black and White “printing” is achieved through chemical etching onto the SS tablets, whereas Colour diagrams or photos are Reverse Printed onto 3mm Perspex covers and mounted 7 mm above the stainless steel.

Security was a prime concern for an outdoor display at a very popular venue containing over R300,000.00 worth of stainless steel. The most secure and practical design was to machine (eliminating grip) and tap M8x70 SS Coach Screws, which were then epoxied into mounting slab holes with strongest SS/Concrete mix available from ABE. 3mm Perspex colour printed (where applicable) covers were then screwed and Locktite-ed into the taps in the Coach Screw heads with M4 button head screws.

Figure 4 shows the M8x70 coach screws, installing the 300+ kg mounting slabs by forklift, marking, and drilling the holes.

Figure 5 shows the filling, sealing, and temporary mounting of the tablets. 

Final cleaning, screwing, and Locktite-ing was only done after the epoxy had fully hardened and installation was complete. The first tablet installed was read by a Haitian tourist within two minutes of completion!

Project Sequence

The sequence of the project elements was dictated by its nature:

Approval of a Site Development Plan. Despite receiving written approval of the project from the OSM in March 2019, it was almost accidentally learned that a site development plan was required for approval by the OSM’s Building Control Officer as well as the Local Heritage Committee early in May. This in turn required an urgent survey of the site, draughting a site development plan, and submitting it to the relevant authorities. The Local Heritage Committee’s enthusiastic approval was obtained on 14 July.

Science Editing of the educational tablet drafts. This was crucial as the drafts were compiled by various members of the HAC committee, all amateurs, and each with a different approach and style. Although scientifically correct, the drafts were not uniform in style or layout and definitely not reader-friendly and reader-attractive. Prof Mike Bruton, who was involved in the design and construction of double-digit science centres throughout Africa and the Middle East, did an outstanding job of converting the amateur drafts into a reader-friendly and reader-attractive format with uniform style and layout within 6 weeks on 12th July - a truly Herculean undertaking! Successfully crossing this first hurdle was effectively a Go/No Go decision point to go ahead or abandon the project as a potential white elephant. Mike Bruton’s excellent work was significant.

Graphic Design of the edited tablets was the next sequential stage of the project, which was initially completed by the end of July, but there were final tweaks as the project team became aware of them.

During July four parallel processes were initiated:

• The detailed design of educational tablets to incorporate the most secure fixing for valuable SS tablets in an outdoor display. Machining of the M8x70 SS coach screws against vandalism added substantial costs, but the final design works well.

• The detailed layout design for the chemical etching of the Black & White text onto SS and Reverse Printing of all colour diagrams or photos onto Perspex. This process was intensely interactive and was only finally signed off for production on 9th September and the final delivery was received on 22nd November.

• The design and casting of the pre-cast mounting slabs, were completed in September.

• Casting of the foundations for final installation in situ (completed by the end of July).

Final Installation. This was started on 25 October and finally completed by 25th November. It was back-breaking hard work for the three GPAED committee members (Deon, Derek and Pierre) with assistance of two builder’s hands.

October/November was still a tourist high season for overseas tourists, which elicited many discussions and compliments. The apparently most knowledgeable of these spent about two hours exploring the display, asked many questions and offered many opinions, and finally pronounced it a world-class display.

Figure 6 gives a panoramic view of the complete Gearings Point Astronomy Education Display.

Educational Tablet Examples

It is impossible to give a comprehensive overview of all the educational tablets’ content in an article of this nature. This article is therefore limited to a few examples of tablet designs, which will give an indication of the content level, together with one photo of an installed tablet to show what the final product looks like.

The complete set of educational tablets can be found here under the Centre Activities tab.

A YouTube link to a recording of a comprehensive overview of the GPAED project from its conceptual to final installation is available here.

The website also contains a pdf transcript of the YouTube recording.

Since completion, the display has proven to have achieved one of its primary objectives: Attracting the attention of all visitors to the Whale Watching Ring, the single spot that gets the most visitor feet of any in Hermanus.                                                        

Only time will tell the extent to which the main objective of stimulating an interest in astronomy in particular, and science in general, has been achieved.

It is a fantastic educational facility which adds significant educational and tourism value to the Gearings Point area. The Hermanus Astronomy Centre must now endeavour to stimulate the use of this facility by schools or community interest groups as much as possible. 

The Gearings Point Astronomy Education Display

Hermanus Astronomy Centre

The Hermanus Astronomy Centre is a non-profit organisation that covers the celestial space stretching from Rooi Els to Gansbaai. Although focussed on the Overstrand area, Hermanus Astronomy Centre welcomes members from all areas of the globe who have a passion for the Moon, stars, planets, Galaxies,...

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