March 5, 2014
This is the first in what will be a series of posts about my recent visit to Sutherland, a small town in South Africa’s Northern Cape province. In October 2013 my husband Jackie and I visited Sutherland for a long weekend. Sutherland is famous because it is home to the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) research station, which has a number of telescopes that are used for astronomical and astrophysical research. The most famous telescope located at Sutherland is the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. Jackie and I visited Sutherland as part of a Star Trek club (yes, Star Trek club– we’re proud Star Trek fans!) event. Along with our fellow Trekkie friends, we toured the SAAO facility. We went on a daytime tour and visited the museum and also some of the large telescopes. Some of us wore Star Trek uniforms/costumes on the tour, and I think (and hope) that we delighted some of the other visitors with our attire. We certainly ended up posing for quite a few pictures! In addition to the daytime tour, we also attended an evening stargazing session during which we peered through some smaller telescopes that have been set up for educational purposes– the big telescopes are reserved for proper scientific research at night.
In addition to touring the SAAO research station, Jackie and I also spent some time exploring the wonderful little town of Sutherland. In addition, we spent some time exploring some of the impressive geology that can be viewed along the approximately four hour drive to Sutherland from our home in Cape Town. To reach Sutherland from Cape Town, we drove over the Cape Fold Belt and saw some highly impressive folded and uplifted sedimentary rocks. After we trekked (see what I did there?) across the Cape Fold Belt, we reached the flat, empty roads of the Karoo desert region. During the last two hours of our drive, we only passed one other car. Geologically, the Karoo region is home to the Karoo Supergroup, a stratigraphic unit that covers two-thirds of South Africa and consists of a sequence of sedimentary rocks that are intruded, in many places, by igneous rocks, including some impressive dolerite dikes. The Karoo region is also covered in many places by the Dwyka tillite, which was deposited by widespread glaciation.
In subsequent posts, I’ll discuss SAAO and SALT and some of the geology that we observed along the way to Sutherland. Today, I want to share a few pictures of the town of Sutherland. At first glance, Sutherland looks like many other small towns in the Karoo. There are small shops, cafes, a restaurant or two, guest houses, schools, and churches– and even the PEP store that is found in most South African towns, both large and small. My husband and I joke that the presence a PEP store, which sells inexpensive clothing and other items, marks the difference between a village and a town in South Africa.
However, after Jackie and I spent some time walking around Sutherland, we quickly realized that Sutherland is no ordinary small town in the Karoo. Rather, the town has a decidedly astronomical flavor. See for yourself:
My favorite example of the astronomical theme found in the town of Sutherland is a cleverly named cafe:
The name of the cafe is “Halley-sê-kom-eet”, which has a double meaning in Afrikaans. The cafe’s name obviously refers to the famous Halley’s Comet. In Afrikaans, “Halley’s Comet” is “Halley se komeet”. However, “Halley sê kom eet” means “Halley says come eat”. Adding a little hat above the one e and adding a space turns an astronomical reference into instructions to go eat some delicious Afrikaans food. The instructions worked– Jackie and I ate at the cafe a couple of times during our visit to Sutherland.
Well, that’s all I’ll share in this post. Stayed tuned for more about Sutherland!