Pre-season special: What’s been happening?

A catch-up with Dan and Jacinta

We are thrilled to announce that The Cosmic Savannah Podcast will be returning for its 5th season! Get ready to join us for another captivating journey through the cosmos.

Over the past four seasons, we have explored awe-inspiring topics, from distant galaxies to enigmatic black holes and showcased the remarkable research happening right here in Africa.

As we embark on our 5th season, we are eager to dive even deeper into the mysteries of the Universe. Prepare to be captivated as we interview renowned experts, discuss groundbreaking studies, and unravel the complexities of our cosmic surroundings. Our goal is to make astronomy accessible and engaging to all listeners, regardless of their level of expertise.

In this pre-season special, Jacinta and Dan sit down to chat about what we’ve both been up to over the past few months and what we’re looking forward to in the new season, including the SKA Construction Commencement Ceremonies, the James Webb Space Telescope and Jacinta’s rockstar performance at TEDxMandurah!

Stay tuned for updates on our website, social media channels, and your preferred podcast platform.

Jacinta and Dan attending the SKA Construction Commencement Ceremonies in Australia and South Africa

Watch Jacinta’s TEDx talk

Stunning images from the James Webb Space Telescope


[00:00:00] Dan: Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah with Dr. Daniel Cunnama

[00:00:08] Jacinta: and Dr. Jacinta Delhaize. Each episode will be giving you a behind the scenes look at world class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.

[00:00:17] Dan: Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do in the fascinating discoveries we make.

[00:00:25] Jacinta: Sit back and relax as we take you on a safari through the skies.

[00:00:33] Dan: Alright. Welcome back.

[00:00:35] Jacinta: Hi everyone. Welcome to this pre-season special.

[00:00:39] Dan: Yes, and a little bit of a preview of what’s coming next. A little bit of summary of what’s happened while we’ve been away. Thank you for your patience. We are back and a new season will be coming soon.

[00:00:49] Jacinta: We don’t have a guest today. It will be just Dan and I rambling on, and we do know that it’s been, what, nearly a year, I think, since the end of season four, but we have had a lot going on in the meantime and so we are very excited to be able to be able to come back and to have a season five for you.

[00:01:08] Dan: Yeah, I think astronomy hasn’t stopped and I think there’s a lot going on, a lot that we can chat about. And we did have the inter season special as well on the, the commencement of the construction for the S K A, which we can talk about now. And yeah, there’s a lot of exciting things coming.

[00:01:26] Jacinta: Yeah. So for those of you who are new to The Cosmic Savannah, welcome. To those of you who are still with us, our loyal listeners, great to be able to talk to you again. But for the new listeners, Dan, Who are you?

[00:01:39] Dan: Who am I? Uh, I’m a man who wears many hats. Actually, I never wear a hat.

[00:01:45] Jacinta: What hats are you wearing at the moment?

[00:01:47] Dan: Just my hair, so, so I am the science engagement astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory,

which is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and we have our telescopes up in Sutherland in the Northern Cape about four hours from Cape Town. And we are a national facility of the National Research Foundation. We operate all of the optical telescopes for the country, and we provide that service to astronomers around the world.

So what I do, I am communicating science. I do a lot of stakeholder management, and some of the hats I’m wearing other than when I’m doing podcasting is also helping organize conferences, astro tourism strategies, and whatever else is going on in terms of science engagement in the country. Yourself?

[00:02:36] Jacinta: I was just waiting for you to ask me who I am.

Oh, of course you were. I didn’t wanna introduce myself. No. So, uh, yes. I’m Dr. Jacinta Delhaize and I am a lecturer of astronomy at the University of Cape Town. And it has been a long time coming, but I have finally gotten my visa and I’m finally back in South Africa. If you were listening to season four, you’ll hear that most of that was recorded from Australia where I got a little bit stranded.

I am from Australia originally, but now very excited to be back in Cape Town in person, and we are recording today, it was gonna be our very first day back into the studio since I think season two. But unfortunately due to illness we decided to social distance anyway, not covid, but I’m getting on a plane in a few days and I didn’t wanna catch catch bugs.

[00:03:25] Dan: Whatever bug I have.

[00:03:27] Jacinta: Yeah, so we are actually each recording from our own offices and we’ll see how this audio goes.

[00:03:33] Dan: Alright, so now you know who we are and what we do. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s happened in the last year.

[00:03:40] Jacinta: Yeah, exactly. Well, so The Cosmic Savannah is a podcast about Afrocentric astronomy. So we try and talk about astronomy and astronomers and instruments and research coming from the African continent or related to the African continent.

It is somewhat biased towards South Africa and Cape Town just because that’s where we are and that’s where we have access to interview people. But we do try and talk about a wide range of things. But of course we are all part of the international community and so it also is relevant to talk about international things and there’s been a whole lot of international things going on and also in our own lives.

Right, Dan?

[00:04:16] Dan: Yeah, absolutely. So maybe we should start, we did mention the the SKA commencement ceremony, which we both attended. You were still in Australia. You attended the groundbreaking in Australia for the construction of the low frequency array, and I was in Carnarvon in South Africa for the commencement of construction of the mid frequency array.

So the SKA will be one of the largest science projects ever undertaken. A huge radio telescope, uh, with about 200 dishes in the mid frequency array across South Africa and Africa, and then hundreds of thousands of small low frequency antenna in Western Australia.

[00:04:54] Jacinta: Yeah, exactly. So it was kind of fortuitous that we were each on the continents that are going to host the SKA for the construction commencement ceremonies.

So we each got to go to the respective ones in those continents. And we don’t call it the groundbreaking ceremony because a key aspect is that building of the SKA doesn’t really involve breaking the ground very much. It has quite a low impact on the environment itself. And so that was represented by these really beautiful digging sticks that the First Nations people of Australia presented to the director general and other, other people.

But we didn’t need to dig the ground.

[00:05:28] Dan: Apologies.

[00:05:29] Jacinta: Anyway,

[00:05:29] Dan: thank you for correcting me. I did that on

[00:05:31] Jacinta: no worries.

[00:05:31] Dan: purpose, I’ll say.

[00:05:33] Jacinta: Oh, you were just, you were just like passing the ball to me. Right? Just leading. Leading, leading me in. But we, we won’t spoil too much about that. Our first steps. So of season five is going to be all about the audio that we recorded from these construction commencement ceremonies, and you’ll hear the excitement,

uh, my frequent squeals as, uh, were in the plane flying over the, the land and I can see the precursor telescopes there and landing there. Just being there was so super cool. I’ve always wanted to visit. So, yeah, it was really, really cool.

[00:06:07] Dan: And for those of you who did listen to our last episode, I did actually get cake on a plane.

[00:06:12] Jacinta: Oh, you did? So it was Dan’s birthday that day, um, that he flew to the, the SKA ceremony and he was joking that he would take cake on a plane. And you did.

[00:06:22] Dan: Well, I didn’t take it. It was actually there for us. So happy days.

[00:06:26] Jacinta: So it was definitely your birthday.

[00:06:27] Dan: I’ll post a photo.

[00:06:28] Jacinta: Definitely your birthday cake there,

right, Dan?

[00:06:30] Dan: No. No, absolutely. Especially for me.

[00:06:32] Jacinta: Especially for you.

[00:06:33] Dan: Good. Alright. Should we do a little rapid fire? What have you been up to? What’s coming next? What’s exciting?

[00:06:38] Jacinta: Oh yeah, that’s a good idea coz we’ve been up to a lot. So if we don’t do it rapidly, we’ll talk for an hour. Alright, you go first. What have you been up to, Dan?

One major thing.

[00:06:48] Dan: Ooh, one major thing. I went to Northern Ireland for the Northern Ireland Science Festival. I was invited over there to talk about some of the indigenous astronomy work we’ve been doing here at the Observatory. We made a planetarium film in 2021.

We are installing various, uh, exhibits in our new visitor center in Cape Town, which we’ve been working on, where we are representing indigenous Khoi constellations. And they will be on the ceiling. That ceiling has actually completed now, and it’s looking amazing.

[00:07:17] Jacinta: It’s incredible. I got, I got a sneak peek and oh my goodness. I can’t wait for the center to open because, oh my gosh, it’s so, I would just walk around there and look at the roof the whole time. It’s sparkles as you move past, you see the constellations as they’re defined in the local law and oh, it’s so special.

[00:07:37] Dan: I think we might be able to do sleepovers like they do at the aquarium.

[00:07:39] Jacinta: Oh cool. That’d be awesome.

[00:07:43] Dan: Yeah, so that’s really, really good. And I, I got to visit Northern Ireland. Talk a little bit about that.

There was some talk about indigenous Irish astronomy, and we had a few good conversations about that and some nice presentations. The other exciting news on that front, on the indigenous astronomy front, is that the film we shot, we shot in the Kalahari in collaboration with the local community, the Khomani San people. And they haven’t seen the film that they helped create. And I just last week heard that an application for funding was granted to us from the International Planetarium Society to take the film and a mobile planetarium up to the Kalahari, where we will spend a few days showing the entire community of the film.

[00:08:28] Jacinta: Oh my gosh.

[00:08:29] Dan: I know, right?

[00:08:29] Jacinta: That is so special. Wow.

[00:08:31] Dan: So I think that’s gonna be really cool.

[00:08:32] Jacinta: Yeah, that’s really cool. Really cool.

[00:08:35] Dan: Right? Your turn. Go.

[00:08:37] Jacinta: Uh, okay. So I think, I think in season four I kept talking about how I was about to give a TEDx talk and that I did do it and I really enjoyed it. It was really great. So the recording of that talk has now been released and so we can chuck it on the website for this episode, the show notes. And I was really proud of that. I think it was, it brought together a lot of concepts that we’ve talked about on this podcast, and in fact, a lot of ideas that I heard about first through some of our guests about how we can use astronomy to improve the world. To achieve the United Nations sustainable development goals and how exciting the SKA is going to be in radio astronomy and how that’s all gonna help.

So if you’re interested in this at all, I would love it if you could go ahead and, and watch my talk. But other than that, I mean the big thing that’s been occupying my time is becoming a lecturer for the first time. Turns out it’s not easy. Turns out it’s a lot of work, but I have really loved it. So I lecture the undergraduate third year course in Galactic and Extragalactic astrophysics, and it was a big learning curve for me.

Definitely in terms of, you know, I had to learn a lot of concepts that I then was going to teach. But it’s certainly helped my work a lot. Uh, and, and I really enjoyed the teaching as well. I found it really rewarding and the students were really great and they were really engaged. Yeah, that’s been taking up a lot of my time and also supervising my research students that I have now has been a new experience for me, but also really fun and getting to meet them for the first time in person when I came back to South Africa. It was really great. It’s uh, so weird to see a person in 3D when you’ve, you feel like you know them so well, but you’ve only seen them online. And I went to a conference for the first time in person, which was great.

[00:10:23] Dan: The first time in person. The first time since Covid, I assume.

[00:10:27] Jacinta: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, yeah. I have been to in-person conferences in my career, but yes, the first time since Covid, and that was held here in Cape Town, that was our regular PHISCC meeting, which stands for Pathfinders or I can’t remember now. Pathfinders, something about H I, SKA.


[00:10:46] Dan: a lot of C’s in it.

[00:10:48] Jacinta: Something committee? Uh, yeah. Okay. I’ll have to look it up. Anyway, we’re gonna do an episode on that as well. But it’s all about hydrogen gas, which is one of my main research fields, and so it was really great to see the whole community come together to discuss that in person again. All right, so that was not super rapid from me, but Dan, throwing back to you, tell our lovely listeners about the bootcamp that we ran.

[00:11:09] Dan: Yes, so we’ve previously run a bootcamp where we got a whole lot of interested science students and postdocs who wanted to get involved in podcasting. And we ran another one late last year where we got, I think just over 20 students and postdocs from around the country and

[00:11:28] Jacinta: And professional scientists as well,

[00:11:30] Dan: and professional scientists, yes. From around the country in various fields. We had marine biologists, we had all sorts. And we had a two session bootcamp where we first chatted through how to go about making a podcast and you know, science communication techniques.

[00:11:46] Jacinta: I think we had about 60 people registered for that one actually.

[00:11:49] Dan: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And then the second workshop involved the students and attendees rather, putting together a little podcast, a little three or five minute snippet about what their podcast is about and interviewing someone. And those we gave feedback on and some of them were brilliant, hilarious. And I think we’ll try and incorporate one or two in as little snippets in some of our next episodes or as standalone things, uh, just to give people an idea of what else is going on there. And yeah, it was super fun.

[00:12:19] Jacinta: Yeah. Hopefully we’ll manage to put some little mini episodes in to show you those episodes that they made. Just as a little, little fun side note before our proper season five starts. And that bootcamp we ran this time was in collaboration with the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, SAASTA.

[00:12:36] Dan: Right. Um, moving swiftly on .Science.

[00:12:39] Jacinta: Yes.

[00:12:39] Dan: What’s gone on in the last year?

[00:12:40] Jacinta: Well, I mean, for me the most exciting thing was that the James Webb Space Telescope, JWST, has started doing science. So it’s obviously, last year it was, well, I don’t know. It was the year before, I think, it was actually launched. It, it had its long trip to its home and then it had a long time to be calibrated and to set up and everything. And then it finally started doing science.

And my goodness, the science that it’s pumping out, the first images were just so stunning. And if you haven’t seen them, you must go and see them. We’ll put some of them on our, on our website. This is, you know, looking at infrared light. Looking at the very distant universe in pristine detail, even better than what Hubble could manage.

And yes. Oh my goodness. Go and check those out. I can’t stop gushing. But it was kind of annoying because I had just finished writing all of my lecture notes, my lecture course for for extragalactic astronomy. And then James Webb started, like papers started coming out. Every single day there was several on the archive presenting new results from JWST, which completely changed the field, and I was like, no, wait. Slow down. So I had to put a caveat to my students that this is what we know about extragalactic astrophysics before June, 2022, because…

[00:13:56] Dan: at time of writing,

[00:13:57] Jacinta: because it’s all changing very quickly. So yeah, it’ll be exciting to give my lectures this year and incorporate all of the cool discoveries that James Webb has done.

[00:14:06] Dan: Yeah, for sure. I mean, incredible telescope, you know, sitting out in deep space now essentially, and taking incredible images of, of the, the distant universe and, and also nearby, you know, there were some incredible shots of some of our planets, uh, Jupiter, and then also looking now at exoplanets, analyzing the atmospheres of these.

We’ve found water. You know, it’s just an incredible instrument and as you say, there’s stuff coming out every single day. We talk often about the deluge of data that, that us as astronomers are dealing with. It seems like we keep building better and better observatories and telescopes, and nobody thinks about what are we gonna do with all this data?

It gets handed to us poor, old, overworked astronomers. Here, do something, but like,

[00:14:52] Jacinta: yeah. Yeah, that’s where we have students try, help us do all that work. Yeah. Alright. And there’s been some advances in space science as well.

[00:15:03] Dan: Uh, yeah, as, as you know, all too well, and I’m sure the listeners do too, I do love a bit of space and rockets, so there’s been some cool stuff going on.

The DART mission, which was a, a mission to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid and try and redirect it happened last year. And they successfully changed the course of this asteroid only very slightly, but if you crash into an asteroid far enough out, you only need to move it by a a fraction of a degree and it’ll divert it away from collision course with Earth.

That’s what we need to do. This one was never on a collision course from Earth. So we chose one which was fairly safe and tried to deflect it, which was successfully achieved. And the observatory here in Cape Town was, was very involved in that and actually got some of the first and only images of the impact itself. A plume of cloud, which was a lot of plume of dust and gas, which came out, which was a lot bigger than was expected. So yeah, we crashed something into an asteroid and moved it.

[00:16:03] Jacinta: It’s pretty cool.

[00:16:05] Dan: It’s pretty cool.

[00:16:07] Jacinta: And uh, speaking of rockets, there was also Starship.

[00:16:09] Dan: Yes. Yeah, very exciting. The Starship first, sort of, orbital attempt went off. The world’s biggest firework. The world’s biggest rocket that you know, the most powerful rocket that’s ever been built, bigger than the Saturn five.

And the plan is for a fully reusable one. Although this one was not re reused, if anyone did watch it. It managed to clear the launch pad which was success number one. It managed to get through like the maximum dynamic pressure, which is a very big test for it, managed to do that. The first stage and second stage did not separate.

The pointy end of the rocket started to point down instead of up, and then from there the detonation sequence began. Um, and it was blown to pieces intentionally.

[00:16:54] Jacinta: Boom!

[00:16:56] Dan: Very, very cool. So that it didn’t hurt anyone. But I think that, you know, two major stepping stones. The next one I think is, is hoping to go up in July to try and get into to orbit, and this is all in an attempt to get humans back to the moon and then to Mars. So hopefully by the end of the decade we’ll have people on Mars.

[00:17:15] Jacinta: Well, that’s pretty exciting.

[00:17:16] Dan: I know, right?

[00:17:17] Jacinta: By the end of the decade. Wow, that’s so soon.

[00:17:19] Dan: Yeah. 2030 ish I think.

[00:17:21] Jacinta: Oh my gosh. And uh, what about the moon?

[00:17:24] Dan: Yes. So there was also the Artemis mission. So NASA have built their own space launch system, uh, where they are launching a capsule similar to Apollo, but obviously way better now, 50 years later.

And in an attempt to sort of test this out, they sent out Artemis one, where an unmanned capsule was sent out into space, around the moon and came back to earth, splashed down and everything went perfectly. So that’s testing their systems to get people back to the moon. The interesting thing is that the, the Artemis mission has to work very closely with SpaceX because NASA is not building a Luna Lander.

So they will be sending this capsule up to the moon where it will dock with a, I think it’ll actually actually dock in low-Earth orbit, the halo sort of project, which is a Luna transfer, they will bus the people across to the astronauts across to the moon where they will dock with a Starship, a SpaceX Starship, and that will land them on the moon and take them off again.

So a lot of things have to come together, but super exciting. Like the future of space and, yeah. Yay, space! Woo! Rockets.

[00:18:35] Jacinta: So we need, we need Starship to not explode so that it can shuttle the astronauts. Right?

[00:18:40] Dan: Sure. But I mean, you know, like, this is why we do it. Build it, blow it up, keep testing until it doesn’t blow up.

I, I saw, I saw when I was looking, I was doing some prep that SpaceX launched 61 reusable rockets last year, so you know, more than one a week. Oh wow. And they’ve had something like 113 landings consecutively of the Falcon Nines. So they don’t make a mistake anymore. It’s incredible. Like they’re landing these things, as I’ve said many times, on floating barges in the middle of the ocean. It’s ridiculous. What a time to be alive.

[00:19:13] Jacinta: Alright, alright. That’s enough rapid fire, which was very un rapid. Alright, what’s coming up in season five?

[00:19:20] Dan: Yeah, so there’s a lot happening, as we said in, in space and in hopefully a few things exciting coming from us.

One topic which we are gonna be talking about soon, is Breakthrough Listen. We spoke about Breakthrough Listen in one of our first episodes with Griffin Foster, which is big piggybacking on Meerkat to search for terrestrial intelligence. And this project has just received an additional wave of funding, so it’ll be continuing and and growing.

And they are integrating with MeerKAT and will with with SKA in terms of how to identify signals of extraterrestrial life if they indeed exist. So it’s a moonshot. If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s, it’s, uh, welcome back to us.

[00:20:06] Jacinta: Bet you miss those. So it’s usually me that does the terrible puns.

[00:20:10] Dan: Uh uh. But you know, it’s, I guess it’s worth looking if the data’s there. Anyway, we’ll find out more about that in this season of The Cosmic Savannah.

[00:20:20] Jacinta: Yes, of course we will have all of the audio from the SKA construction commencement ceremony and we’ve got a whole bunch of other topics, but we won’t promise things that we haven’t recorded yet, just in case. I am actually heading off this weekend to the University of Oxford in the UK where I will be based for the next month or so. I’ll be there to research with a group of international collaborators and work on some MeerKAT data, which will be really fun.

I mentioned that just because we are hoping to have a new guest co-host on The Cosmic Savannah, who we won’t introduce just yet, but we’ll let them introduce themselves when the moment comes. So that when Dan or I are traveling, we can keep the podcast going. We can release episodes in a timely manner. And of course, just to have this amazing extra person who is gonna add a lot to the podcast as well.

[00:21:10] Dan: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very exciting and I think for the longevity of the podcast, as you say, we need some new excited people and some new voices for you to listen to and some exciting new insights and maybe new jokes even. Who knows?

[00:21:24] Jacinta: Oh, no one can do puns as lame as mine, I think.

Alright. I think that’s enough. That’s just us talking to you for a long time.

[00:21:36] Dan: You’re pretending it’s short and actually turning out pretty long. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:21:40] Jacinta: Alright. I think we’ll end there, so hopefully it’s not too long until we actually start the next season and we look forward to speaking with you again.

[00:21:49] Dan: Absolutely. Yes. So I hope you’ll join us on the next episode when that is, but hopefully soon.

[00:21:56] Jacinta: In the meantime, you can visit our website,, where we’ll have the transcript of this episode, some links, some pictures, links to my TEDx talk and other stuff relating to today’s episode.

[00:22:08] Dan: You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @cosmicsavannah.

That’s Savannah spelled S A V A N N A H. You can also find us on YouTube where audio only episodes are uploaded with closed captions, which can be auto translated into many different languages, including Afrikaans, isi-Xhosa and isi-Zulu.

[00:22:26] Jacinta: Thanks to our audio editor Jacob Fine and our social media manager, Sumari Hatting.

[00:22:31] Dan: Also to Mark Allnut for music production, Michal Lyczek for photography, Carl Jones for Astro Photography, and Susie Caras for graphic design.

[00:22:38] Jacinta: We’re grateful to acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, the South African Astronomical Observatory, and the University of Cape Town Astronomy Department.

[00:22:51] Dan: You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, wherever you get your podcasts. And we’d really, really appreciate it if you could rate and review us and recommend us to a friend,

[00:23:00] Jacinta: and we’ll speak to you next time on The Cosmic Savannah.

[00:23:05] Dan: P.S We have stickers! So if you see us,

[00:23:07] Jacinta: oh, we have stickers.

[00:23:08] Dan: We have stickers. We have Cosmic Savannah stickers.

[00:23:09] Jacinta: Come get our stickers!

[00:23:10] Dan: Come get our stickers.

[00:23:12] Jacinta: Bye!

[00:23:13] Dan: Bye.