Report on the Spring Southern Star Party: October 04th to October 06th 2013.
The Spring Southern Star Party could be very briefly summed up by stating that on Friday everyone arrived, but the clouds got there before them. Then on Sunday everyone left, while the clouds hung around until Monday.
Fortunately the Southern Star Party, as presented by ELF Astronomy and Star People, is a fully fledged star party and not just a star gazing excursion. At the Southern Star Party we present a full supporting programme of talks and other activities as well as the star gazing activities. Just in case the weather lets us down, we always have a supplementary programme in reserve – the ubiquitous Plan B. So, for this overcast weekend, it was Plan B all the way.
Lynnette, Snorre and I went through on Wednesday. Along the way we stopped off at the Pitkos farm stall to buy wine and have two of Francis’s delicious, hot roosterkoek with sliced biltong and melted cheese washed down with freshly brewed coffee. At Night Sky Alan and Rose had already set up camp and Alan had done some observing the previous night. On Thursday afternoon Anneliese Carstens, from Bonnievale Verhuring, arrived with the marquee tent. She was accompanied by one male and one female assistant and I was rather dubious because, not only did I think there were too few people to do the job, but I thought the stiff breeze would make the tent unmanageable. I set up the camera to record the process, and potential “disaster” as a time lapse sequence, with shots at 1 minute intervals. Four hours later they were done without any mishaps, although there had been tense moments and I went over to the camera to look at the photos. To my dismay I discovered that I had pressed the shutter button instead of the start button to start the process, so my sequence consisted of exactly one photo showing a wide expanse of green grass, a pickup truck and trailer with three people in a huddle next to the vehicle. I was very eloquent about my mistake, but most of that was unprintable.
On Friday the clouds came in accompanied by a chilly wind. Alan and Rose pitched in with Lynnette and I to get the stuff in the tent organized – banners and posters put on display, the projection wall set up, coffee table laid out, sale table contents unpacked and the admin table organized. Then Alan and Rose kindly lent a hand to get the gazebo set up for Auke and the tent pitched for Fritz so, when the first guests rolled in, everything was ready for the show to roll. Without Alan and Rose’s willing hands, Lynnette and I would have been really hard pressed to get everything done in the available time. Thanks guys!
On Friday evening we lit the fires and everybody had a quick braai before Leslie ran us through his collection of astro-photos explaining where and how he had taken them. Then Auke took over, using the same photos to highlight a plethora of interesting astronomy information about the various objects. This was followed by Christo Rademan, who spoke about the work on robotics that he is carrying out for his M-thesis in the Engineering Faculty at the University of Stellenbosch. No stars unfortunately but lots of thick low clouds and the odd drop of rain as well.
On Saturday morning it was still overcast, windy and chilly. We started off with a very short official word of welcome followed by the Pub Quiz, compiled and run by quizmaster Auke Slotegraaf. The winning team was a bit of a surprise as it contained no recognized astronomers, amateur or otherwise, but Fritz, Jana, Toekie and Gys were very worthy winners, especially if one takes into consideration that at least one of the other teams had treated the quiz as an open book affair. Well done, and we hope you will all be back at the 2014 Autumn SSP to defend your title.
After the Pub Quiz and coffee, Christo Rademan talked us through their IAU-funded Africa-outreach in which their group went all the way form Stellenbosch to Uganda and back. After this Fritz van Zyl from Orms North in Bellville spent time pointing out the most common errors that people make when they buy cameras and also why they probably make these errors. After another coffee break Edward spoke about the Early History of Rockets and Space Flight, after which we all went outside for the group photo. The photo-session was followed by Auke’s talk, Operation War on Light Pollution and, while that was in progress, Lynnette and I lit the fires for the braai.
Probably due to the chilly and overcast weather, the convivial atmosphere around the fires resulted in the braai lasting much longer than planned and we only got going again at around 20:00 with Edward’s talk on the Odyssey of Life, which highlighted the role stellar evolution had played in forming the key elements required for life, as we know it on Earth, to function. This was followed by Rubini’s magic show presented by Brett du Preez, winner of the Dalin trophy at the Cape magic Circle in 2013. Time constraints imposed by the late start of the evenings proceedings meant that we had to cancel the intended discussion forum on the formation of OWL. This is the acronym for “Operation War on Light Pollution (South African Dark Sky Survey and Light Pollution Monitoring), an organization that is to be launched with the specific objective of combating light pollution.
On Sunday morning Alan and Rose again pitched in to help take down all the trimmings in the tent and leave it ready for Anneliese and her crew to cart away. Everyone else was also packing up and the group slowly trickled off, eventually leaving only Alan, Rose, Lynnette, Snorre and myself in sole possession of the whole Night Sky Caravan Park. After taking down the gazebo and Fritz’s tent, once again with the much appreciated assistance of Alan and Rose, Lynnette and I spent the rest of the day packing up and loading the trailer and the Vito so that we would be able to leave fairly early on Monday as I had a dentist’s appointment and Lynnette had an appointment in Somerset West. Just before we left, Anneliese and her team rolled in to take down the marquee and this time I had the camera set up and started correctly to record the 40 minute exercise. The three of them made it all look so easy.
By the time Lynnette, Snorre and I left, Alan and Rose had also started breaking camp. We made a brief stop at Pitkos for the obligatory roosterkoek and coffee and were still on time for my dentistry exercise as well as Lynnette’s appointment in Somerset West. We even managed to fit in a flying visit to Auke as well as unload most of the stuff from the Vito and the trailer before going to bed. The sorting and packing away, however, only took place on Tuesday.
We think this SSP was a success, despite the unfavourable weather. Judging by the comments on the feedback forms the participants agree with us. We sincerely hope that we will see all the new faces, that were there this time, at the Autumn SSP in 2014. Snorre probably enjoyed the SSP more than anyone else. The wide open spaces and the endless supply of birds, which he never gave up trying to ambush, left him exhausted by sundown every day.
We are indebted to our sponsors Waltons in Stellenbosch, Andrie at Eridanus Optics, Orms North in Bellville, Elf Astronomy and SAASTA, for their invaluable support. Auke, Lynnette and I would very much like to find a sponsor who will be prepared to fund the presentation future SSP events. We would like the SSP to become the premier Star Party in Southern Africa but need a strong financial backer to achieve this.
At the Spring SSP there were, once again, various prizes to be won. Here is the list of prizes, donors and winners.
Prize: A Galileo Scope
Donor: Christo Rademan and the African Outreach Safari
Winner: Emmy Olivier.
Prize: A voucher for an A2 canvas print.
Donor: Orms North, Bellville.
Winner: Jannie Nijeboer
Prize: A R100 cash prize.
Donor: Elf Astronomy.
Winner: Eddy Nijeboer
Prize: A special deck of unusual playing cards.
Donor: Auke Slotegraaf.
Winner: Micheal Kloos
Lynnette deserves a great big thank-you for all her hard work to get the SSP up and running. She is, without doubt, the administrative face of the SSP. Lynnette has all the information at her fingertips and knows who goes where, pays how much and what for. She is the one who worries about all the little details that Auke and I tend to gloss over, but which can easily upset the whole apple cart, if not attended to. Lynnette is the one who makes sure the SSP does not run at a loss and also makes sure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed before the Star Party starts, thank you Lynnette.
You can read more about the event at the Southern Star Party website www.southernstarparty.org
For a pictorial view of the Spring 2013 SSP please go here.
Fritz van Zyl also posted some pictures in Dropbox which you can view here.