April 13, 2014
Today I’m continuing with my series of posts about my October 2013 visit to the small town of Sutherland in South Africa’s Northern Cape province. Sutherland is home to a South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) research station that contains many telescopes, including the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). You can read Part I of this series here and Part II of this series here.
Today I’m going to share some pictures from our visit to the SAAO Visitor Centre, which has several museum-like displays. We started our official tour of SAAO / SALT by visiting the Visitor Centre and watching a 20 minute or so video about the universe. Then we went and toured several of the telescopes, which I’ll write about in my next post in this series. After touring the telescopes, we had an opportunity to look around the Visitor Centre displays, which included several astronomy displays and also a geology display that included a meteorite (I believe) and many interesting fossils. I spent some time looking through the astronomy displays, but I spent most of my time checking out the geology display. Thus, most of my pictures are of the geology display! Don’t worry, though… there will be plenty of astronomical telescope pictures in the next blog post in this series.
In the entrance to the geology display, there was a fairly big iron meteorite– at least, I assume that’s what it was, since I didn’t see any explanation card. I took a picture with the presumed meteorite:
The geology display had many fossils and bits and pieces of information organized by geologic time. The display included this neat poster showing continental reconstructions (“continental drift”) over the past 900 million years:
Many of the other geologic information signs had a little continental reconstruction on the bottom of them, reminding the viewers of the state of the continents at that particular geologic time. The display highlighted various fossils, primarily from the nearby Karoo region, from different geologic times. The oldest of these fossils were the stromatolite fossils:
Stromatalites are pretty neat. They are layered, accretionary, sedimentary structures formed by biofilms of micro-organisms, such as blue-green algae. Stromatalites were formed billions of years ago by some of the earliest lifeforms on Earth, and they are still formed by micro-organisms at several places on Earth today. Stromatalite fossils may not look like much, but as a geologist I find myself awestruck every time I see them.
Here are a few other informational signs and fossils for different periods of geologic time:
Last but not least, I want to share two pictures of a plaque titled “Pangea Reunited”. I really liked this little plaque. The inscriptions on the plaque read:
Pangea is the name given to the single continent which existed about 200 million years ago. Evidence for this has been discovered in rocks and fossils in Africa and other continents of the world. Sediments and rocks associated with Pangea have been assembled from all continents of the world, symbolically reuniting Pangea at the beginning of the African Renaissance and the dawn of a new millennium.
This Permian rock, representing part of the Pangean super-continent, was excavated a the groundbreaking ceremony associated with the Southern African Large Telescope on September 1, 2000.
I think it’s really wonderful that the SAAO museum contains so much geology information and that the SALT ground-breaking ceremony paid tribute to Pangea. The SAAO telescopes, including SALT, are located in a remarkable geological location– I’ll be sharing some more information and pictures about the geology of the Karoo region in future posts in this series. I think that it is wonderful, and very important, that the researchers using the SAAO telescopes to study other interesting parts of the universe– perhaps other little rocky planets where, perhaps, there may also be life– are reminded of the wonderful little rocky planet on which their telescopes are perched. At Sutherland, there is much to see by looking up into the sky… but there is also much to see by looking down toward one’s feet.
Speaking of looking up into the sky, stay tuned for the next post in this series… I’ll be sharing some pictures of some of the SAAO telescopes!