Deep-sky 13 to 18 Dec 2012

Presented, organized and catered for by ELF Astronomy

Disaster loomed large on the horizon when, on the preceding weekend, the Norwegian weather site,, predicted a very high probability of rain over the deep-sky weekend and, in fact, quite a lot of it too. Lynnette and I, very despondently, decided to phone and e-mail everybody on the 9th December and give them the option of pulling out or coming along and sitting around all weekend talking, eating, drinking and watching the rain.  Unfortunately deposits had already been paid to Bergwater so, when Ian, Brett and Leslie decided to pull out they also lost some cash.  The rest of us decided to carry on regardless but then, as often happens in cases like this, the weather forecast began to change, looking more and more promising as we crawled closer to the weekend.

Eventually we did lose the Friday night due to clouds and on Saturday night, which started out well, it clouded over around midnight so we packed up and went to bed.  Then, as often happens, it cleared shortly after we left the field of battle, but nobody had the energy to trundle out the telescopes and set up again.  Sunday night was good although there was some very high level moisture and the odd patch of thin clouds. Monday night was the best one but, unfortunately only Johan, Marietta, Lynnette and I were there to enjoy the good viewing conditions.  Nobody reported any problems with dew on any of the four nights and there was no wind to bother us.  I did observe some odd variations in Jupiter’s brightness during a short photo-session on Sunday evening but I have reported on that elsewhere.

So, all in all, those of us who decided to brave the rain that had initially been predicted, got a much better deal than they had bargained for.  Leslie and Brett actually considered coming through when the weather forecast improved on the Saturday, but then decided not to, for fear of gate crashing the party.  Perish the thought; we would have loved to have been gate crashed.

As part of plan B, in anticipation of being cooped up inside all weekend, I took along all my outreach posters and dollied up the dining area and I also brought along a batch of TED lectures to entertain the troops while they watched the rain we had all expected. For background music we had, amongst others, the Allegro Galactico with its amazing combination of Mozart, Astronomy and the adventures of Don Quijote de la Mancha and his long suffering servant Sancho Panza.  This is a delightful musical combination masterminded by the Spanish astrophysicist, Dr. Juan Ramón Pardo-Carrión. He is not only an internationally renowned scientist, but also an accomplished musician in his own right. In addition he but holds the office of vice-mayor of his home town, Fuentealbilla, where he is in charge of education and culture.

At stargazing events there is always something interesting in the way of either telescopes or gadgets and this weekend was no exception. Johan Swanepoel brought along that amazing 20 inch monster of his and I never cease to marvel at the way the whole thing folds up into a fairly large wheelbarrow which is then wheeled up the ramps into that tiny pickup of his. Marietta is a very able assistant and has quite clearly learnt a lot over the years, not only about the big telescope and where all its bits and pieces go, but also about astronomy in general.  Perhaps she should bring along one of their other telescopes and do some astronomy herself, although that might force them to buy a larger pickup!  I could not help noticing that Alan Cassels, like Johan an engineer, watched very attentively and asked lots of questions during the assembly process.  I am afraid Rose is going to have to keep a close eye on Alan and check up on what exactly he is doing when he disappears into their garage for extended periods.

While on the subject of gadgets, I must say that I was impressed with the very nifty and sturdy binocular mounts that Alan made for himself and Rose.  Even more impressive, however, was the very innovative, backlit drawing table mounted on a tripod which Alan has put together.  Maybe we should, in future, have a “Best Astronomy Related Thingy” competition? The first prize will be the privilege of making each one of us one of the winning Thingies as a gesture of appreciation for the fact that we voted for it.

The daytime temperatures were up in the high 30’s and the fans were all going flat out all weekend. The thought crossed my mind that with all that sunlight we should try and entice some of the solar viewing enthusiasts to come along next time.  The more energetic members of the group had ample opportunity to sunbathe, walk and also to swim in the dam – the swimming pool was unfortunately undergoing treatment for a serious case of algal bloom.  Evan, so it seems, has definite aquatic talents as he reputedly swam across the dam at least twice during the course of the weekend.  Perhaps Evan could popularize an astronomy triathlon with hiking and swimming as the first two items and finding 70 or 80 of the 100 Messier objects in one night as the third.  I am visualizing competitions at section level followed by an inter-section national championship meeting perhaps coinciding with SCOPEX and then an official South African (ASSA accredited of course) team competing internationally.  Imagine the excitement of going to the Stellafane Convention or the Texas Star Party to compete.  Sorry guys I forgot to take my frog pills this morning, but I am better now.

One unusual perk we had during the weekend was that the lady who runs the show on the farm, Christine, gave us free access to her small, but heavily laden nectarine orchard and also to the large apricot orchard. That was an unexpected but very nice addition to a pleasant weekend of astronomy and other activities.  Christine’s only restriction was that we were not allowed to take more than a pickup load of fruit away with us!

Bergwater Lodge has a number of advantages over Night Sky when it comes to hosting a deep-sky event or any other event.  The accommodation is good, the rooms are large with one double and two single beds, the bathrooms are more than adequate and all bed linen, towels and toilet paper are supplied.  ELF Astronomy does the catering for all meals and also supplies the all night coffee/rusks and soup/bread in the winter, so attendees only have to pack their clothes, toothbrushes and telescopes.  The only disadvantage of Bergwater compared to Night Sky, especially as far as the Southern Star party is concerned, is that the number of people that can be accommodated is limited.  Night Sky can easily handle 70 and possibly even 100 people but Bergwater can only take a maximum of 36 people if attendees are prepared to share rooms but, if people do not share, that figure could drop down as low as 12.  The unfortunate implication of this limitation is that attendance for all future events at Bergwater will be capped.