Trials and Tribulations of a Video Camera on a Telescope

Trials and Tribulations of a Video Camera on a Telescope

I am trying to put together a setup that will enable us to project astronomy images directly for public viewing at outreach events. The idea is to use a Meade Autostar (D= 114mm, F = 1000mm & f/8.8) in combination with a modified Samsung SCN-2000 high-resolution camera. The modifications to the camera were done by Martin Lyons in Somerset West.

The basic system works and I have put a video on YouTube which can be viewed here as an example of my first efforts.  Unfortunately, the altitude drive on the Meade packed up so this is not a tracked image.  I just got the Moon in the picture and then started recording as the Moon drifted across the screen.

The next step is to have the drive repaired and then I can develop the system further.  Please keep coming back to see how I am faring.

The birds, the bees and other inhabitants of the Bergwater Lodge area

This is not intended to be a complete compendium of the insects, birds, animals and plants at Bergwater Lodge.  It is far to small a collection to pretend to be anything even remotely like that. These are photos taken during the course of the recent Deepsky event presented at Bergwater Lodge.

A panoramic view across Pietersfontein dam from Bergwater Lodge on a rainy day. Southeast is on the extreme left and Northwest on the extreme right..
Mouse trails like this one crossing the road, are everywhere in the veld marking their main foraging trails.
The white fluffy stuff is a fungus growing on the plant and it apparently secretes a sweetish substance which the ants then collect.
After the first showers of rain these termites sent their new queens and the males out to undertake their nuptial flights and start new colonies
Three South African Shelducks (Tadorana cana & Afr. kopereend) touching down on the dam.
African Shelducks skiing to a stop after touching down
A Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix, Afr. Suidelike Rooivink) resplendent in his breeding plumage
Equally hansom is the Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus, Afr. Swartkeelgeelvink)
The impressive folding of the mountains on the far side of the dam bear silent testimony to the unimaginable forces that shaped the present day landscapes millions of years ago.
Nest of a pair of Rock Martins Ptyonoprogne fuligula, Afr. Kransswael)
The Rock Martins (Ptyonoprogne fuligula) attending their chicks.
Castor oil Plant or Castor Bean (Ricinus communis, Afr. Kasteroliboom). The plant originates from the Mediterranean region and its seeds are extremely toxic and one crushed seed will kill a child. The name Ricinus is a Latin word for tick; probably so named because the seed has markings and a bump at the end that resemble certain ticks. The common name “castor oil” probably comes from its use as a replacement for castoreum, a perfume base made from the dried perineal glands of the beaver (castor in Latin). Its other common name is palm of Christ, or Palma Christi, given because castor oil was reputedly able to heal wounds and cure certain ailments.
The seedpods of the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
This scruffy looking individual is a Pied Starling (Lamprotomis bicolor, Afr. Witgatspreeu) and he is every bit as shifty as he looks.
These brightly coloured insects are Millipede Assassin bug nymphs (could be Ectrichodia crux) and here they are typically feeding in a group on a large millipede.
A friendly Cape Wagtail (Montacilla capensis, Afr. Gewone Kwikkie) patroling for insects.
Nest of a Common Hous-martin (Delichon urbicum, Afr. Huisswael). If you look very carefully the tip of a chick’s beak can just be seen peeking over the edge to the right of the white mark on the nest.
One of the parent Common House-Martins.
The Common House-Martin nest again, but this time with three beaks peeking over the edge.
A luxurious Sweet Thorn (Vachellia karroo, afr. Afr. Soetdoring) of which there are several stands along the banks of the dam
Yellow inflorescence and thorns of the Sweet Thorn. As you can see getting tangled up in one of these will not be a “sweet” experience.
A Ten-spotted Ground Beetle (Termophilum decemguttatum, Afr. Kooipister or Oogpister). They are able to squirt concentrated acetic acid which, if it gets into the eyes of either humans or pets, can blind them if very prompt action is not taken.
Female Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus, Afr. Klein Rooibandsuikerbekkie). The male was terribly camera shy.
Marianne Delport says she thinks this is a young Verreaux’s Eagle (Witkruisarend), so I’ll stick with that until corrected. Marianne has Facebook page “Cape Eco-Tours”, go and have look
A large bee, probably a Carpenter Bee, visiting Lavender flowers
A Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera subsp. capensis) hard at work.
One of the many Aloe-species (Aloe microstigma) in the area.
This gecko lives in the kitchen. Officially named Bibron’s Thick-toed Gecko (Pachydactylus affinis, Afr. Bontgeitjie or Skurwegeitjie) he is very agile and also ultra-cautious so it took a great deal of patience getting it to “pose” for the picture.
Onece again thanks to Marianne Delport this is apparently a Jangroentjie (Malachite Sunbird, Vectannia famosa) in its “eclipse plumage.

Deepsky Event 27 December 2013 to 05 January 2014

Deepsky Event 27 December 2013 to 05 January 2014

 Thursday 26 December 2013

We intended packing on Wednesday evening and then leaving at 06:00, or by the latest at 08:00 on Thursday.  The best laid plans of mice and the Fosters often don’t materialize and we eventually pulled away at about 11:00.  Going to bed at 05:00 was not a good idea!  We stopped briefly at the Pitkos Farmstall to buy the second half of Auke’s Solstice present and also at the Affieplaas Farmstall where Lynnette bought a really delicious old style Melktert.  No, this was not a Milk Tart, it was a proper old fashioned South African Melktert.  We arrived at Bergwater and after finding Christine’s well hidden house keys and assuring Lynnette that the mouse in Christine’s bath would not object to her using the toilet, we fed the dogs and the cats, collected the keys to the Lodge and then drove to the Lodge.  Next followed the unavoidable and seemingly interminable schlep of unloading the Vito and packing everything away, but eventually that was done and we could sit back, enjoy the view and relax.

After supper we just sat outside and enjoyed the gradual transition from daylight to the Karoo night with the breathtaking horizon-to-horizon display of stars.  We spent the evening outside with our star charts and binoculars refreshing our memories about the constellations, watching satellites and enjoying the majestic passage of the galaxy as the Earth turned us through the night on our way to the next sunrise.

Before going to bed I took a set if photos of NovaCen, but forgot to take the dark sky readings.

A prime example of how not to mount outside lighting.
Thorn trees in flower reflected in the dam
Enchanting sunset

Friday 27 December 2013

Today Auke and Iain are supposed to arrive.  I walked down to Christine’s house, using a short cut through the olive orchard, where I came across a nice big puffadder.  The obligatory hasty detour around the snake was too stressful for my aging sandals, resulting in two broken straps (much to Lynnette’s delight).  After that reptilian episode I fed the cats and dogs and gave them fresh drinking water.  I also caught the mouse and threw it out the back door.  The cats were puzzled by the fact that it appeared to be raining mice but, while they gathered their wits, Bella, the Dachshund, pounced and claimed it.  Still no sign of either Auke or Iain and, because there is no cell phone contact, the only line of communication is Christine’s land-line, but she was away for a few days so nobody could contact us or leave a message.

Friday night was another excellent night for stargazing and, before going to bed I remembered to take a set of dark sky readings and also another set of photos of NovaCen.

 Saturday 28 December 2013

There was still no sign of Auke or Iain.  Lynnette and I drove down to Christine’s house and, while I fed the cats and dogs, she phoned Auke from Christine’s land-line.  It turned out that a close family member had been taken ill, making it impossible for him to leave home.  Saturday evening was cloudy and not suitable for stargazing.  In the early hours of the morning I did, however, manage to get some nice pictures of the crescent Moon and Saturn in the pre-dawn sky.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Power outage for about one and a half hours from 08:00.  Leslie arrived on schedule later in the afternoon and set up his equipment.  The evening was nice and clear for stargazing and astrophotography and before going to bed I took another comprehensive set of dark sky readings.  Leslie’s efforts for the night produced a good shot of the Horse Head specially for Lynnette and a stunning image of NGC 1232 in Eridanus. I managed to get to bed by 04:30.

Saturn accompanying the waning Moon in the pre-dawn skies

 Monday 30 December 2013

Ludwig and Sandy arrived.  Ludwig was still recovering from a very nasty bout of summer flu, as a result of which his voice still faded from time to time and in general he still looked much the worse for wear.  Christine returned from her holiday tanned to crisp and as garrulous as ever. After the late afternoon braai an initially promising evening for stargazing slowly changed for the worse as the clouds moved in.  By midnight it was clear that stargazing was not on and we packed everything away. By the time Leslie had packed everything away he decided that there was no point in going to bed for a few hours so he got in the car and left for home. However, before leaving, he presented Lynnette with a beautiful black and white picture which he had taken of the Horse Head, one of her favorite images in the night sky.

Tuesday 31 December 2013

Lynnette and Christine went off to Montagu which took several hours.  While there Lynnette phoned Iain and discovered that he was in hospital but that he was being released that day and, when he heard Alan and Rose were coming he said he would also come out on the 2nd of January.  Lynnette also bought four watermelons for R10 each from a neighbouring farmer and replenished our bread, Bitter Lemon, Jeripigo and braaiwors supplies. Ludwig looks marginally better this morning, but I think he should stay out of the night air so stargazing is probably not advisable for him.  We invited Christine around for a New Year’s Eve glass of Bubbly and hopefully Ludwig and Sandy will join us.

Christine did not turn up for the braai or the bubbly.  The rest of us had supper inside to keep Ludwig out of the evening chill and shared a bottle of red wine.  Actually I drank some, as did Lynnette but Ludwig abstained as he was on antibiotics and Sandy doesn’t drink.  After super wrapped up warmly and we sat around talking under the stars, touching on astronomy and a host of other topics.  I took a set of photographs of NovaCen around 01:00 after Ludwig and Sandy had gone to bed and then set up the camera to do a 3 hour exposure so I could get some good star trails.  I forgot to take the dark sky readings.

We subsequently heard that Sandy went down with the flu after they got home and Ludwig had to be hospitalized with pneumonia and a collapsed lung.  Hope they recover soon and fully.

View of the Lodge from the Northwest
Weird and wonderful folds in the mountains on the far side of the dam.

Wednesday 01 January 2014

Ludwig and Sandy left after 11:00 and Lynnette and I have the Lodge to ourselves until Alan and Rose, and hopefully Iain too, arrive tomorrow.  Today is really hot and I measured 41°C at 12:00 but the wind has shifted to the West and I am holding thumbs that it won’t bring clouds this evening. Damnation by 14:00 it was almost completely clouded over.  Christine’s son-in-law, Raul, came round to fetch the portable braai and brought me a bottle of his home brewed and distilled Peach Brandy.  Christine pitched shortly afterwards and then the whole clan had a braai down at the pool.  Raul has bought himself a smallish Rubber Duck with which he intends going fishing at Witsand so he and a friend spent some time on the dam trying it out..

In the meantime the wind freshened considerably and turned back to the Southeast.  By 19:25 most of the clouds had departed leaving only a layer along the Langeberg Mountains and scattered remnants low down to the South and North.  Lynnette and I parked ourselves outside and spent time doing some more brushing up on our constellations.  I had the camera set op to do a long exposure hoping to get a good star trail photograph. The clouds reappeared and showed up as gaps in my star trail photograph.  The exposure for the star trail photograph was a bit short at 5800s and all the star trails were virtually straight lines.  After taking SQM-readings we went to bed at around 03:00.

Thursday 02 January 2014

Christine turned up with more watermelons and examples of two varieties of sweet melon for us to try out.  Alan and Rose pitched at around 14:00 with the news that Iain would not be coming as he was not feeling up to it after his stay in hospital.  No sign of Christo and Monique and eventually they did not pitch at all.  This Dark Sky event will go down on record as the non-arrival Dark Sky.  We opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the arrival of 2014 with Alan and Rose.  Viewing started off well with a beautiful clear sky.  Later on a few high level clouds moved in and by 02:30 we all decided to pack it in.  Although the cloud cover wasn’t extensive it was sufficient to make one keep on having to change targets, which was a nuisance.  No dark sky readings were taken due to the clouds.

A time-lapse of the observing area before we packed up

Friday 03 January 2014

When we woke up at around 10:30 the inside temperature of our room was already a warmish 38 degrees Celsius and it did not get any better towards midday.  Two sets of guests moved in and despite our reservations they were very well behaved as far as the use of lights was concerned.  Once again we had good viewing conditions and everybody kept busy doing some serious observations.  Lynnette decided to hunt for the 3 galaxies in Fornax and found two of them, sketched them and will discuss them with Auke once we are home again.  We did some stargazing with the guests when they got back from their braai with Christine’s brother.  We were rather chuffed to see that they had actually prepared red torches so as not to destroy our dark adaptation.   By 00:30 a thin mist like haze had crept up slowly all round and appeared to be intent on covering the entire sky so, after taken a series of shots of NovaCen and two 30sec exposures of the SMC/LMC area, we packed up and went to bed with the temperature in our room still a very warm 31 degrees.  No dark sky readings were taken due to the clouds which, by now, had left only a few stars around Crux as a consolation prize.  Between 02:00 and 05:00 we had several light showers of rain which helped to cool things down a bit.

Spectacular sunset
The crescent of the waxing moon setting

Saturday 04 January 2014

We woke up to cloudy skies and considerably cooler weather.  By 11:00 the clouds had started to break up and we had patches of blue sky which would hopefully get larger as the day wore on.  Initial hopes of clear skies were dashed later in the afternoon when more clouds moved in from the West.  The clouds provided a spectacular sunset but stargazing was out of the question. Everybody decided to have an early night and get some extra sleep.

Sunsets are spectacular but the clouds were not welcome

Sunday 05 January 2014

It rained lightly during the night and cooled the area down quite a bit.  It was partially cloudy throughout the morning and most of the afternoon as well as the early evening. We decided to take a walk and visit Christine, and after a nice cup of coffee we set off to the local cell phone hot spot the see if there was any cell phone reception.  Alan and Rose packed up during the morning and by lunchtime they were ready to leave. Lynnette decided to take an afternoon nap and I ventured off to the dam to take some photos of the local birds. Definitely no stargazing tonight due to heavy rain clouds and after having a light supper we stayed in our room and entertained Snorre, much to his delight!  Christine came to visit around 20:30 and we discussed our plans for Monday. By 10:30, as the Moon was setting, we went outside and found that the sky was clearing and would probably clear enough to do some astronomy by midnight.  The expectations about the sky clearing were far too optimistic, in fact it simply clouded over more and more.

Lynnette trying out the technology at the cell-phone hot spot

Monday 06 January 2014

Nice cool morning but an overcast day.  Christine came around at about 10:30 with the news that it was expected to start raining at 16:00 and keep on raining right through Tuesday with flood warnings for Wednesday.  Lynnette and I discussed this and decided that even if we really rushed it would take about 90 minutes to pack everything and load up the Vito so we probably would not be able to leave before 18:00.  If it started raining we would be driving home in the rain and gathering darkness which neither of us liked the thought of.  Nevertheless we decided it would be a good thing if we loaded the telescopes and related equipment before it started raining, if it started raining.  Yours truly, who was keeping an eye on the weather decided it did not look all that much like rain, so loading the telescopes could wait until a little later.  In the meantime I got stuck into processing some photos and totally ignored the weather but, at 15:50 on the dot, it started raining.  One can never seem to trust these weather people to be accurate; I mean 15:50 is not 16:00, is it now?

Initially it was quit gusty and stormy, but then it settled down and rained softly but steadily for the rest of the afternoon and through most of the night.  Shortly after the rain started a number of the local ant colonies decided to undertake their nuptial flights and all the birds in the vicinity took the opportunity to boost their protein intake.  By 22:30 we began to wonder about the two low-water bridges we’d have to cross to get back to the tarred road and head home.

Tuesday 07 January 2014

It rained steadily all night and quite heavily at times, but by 08:00 it had started to abate.  As expected, both bridges on the road out were under water and with more rain still falling in the catchment areas, it seemed unlikely that we would get out any time soon.  To make the final loading as speedy as possible, we took advantage of a break in the weather to load the telescopes and as much of the other stuff that was not likely be required into the Vito.  Lynnette went with Christine to her house to use the land-line and let all and sundry know we would not be home today as planned and possibly not tomorrow either.  News arrived of a dam broken in Robertson and a bridge washed away there too, with potential road closures in Bonnievale due to flooding.

It was wet and getting wetter all the time
A waterfall in one of the side-kloofs feeding into the dam
The main stream feeding into the dam was in full spate
A waterfall high in the catchment area tells of more water yet to come

During the afternoon I walked down to the dam wall to photograph the overflow, which had also decreased somewhat during the day as the flooding in the rivers subsided.  The doomsayers, however, predict that the rain which had fallen during the day would be augmented by heavy rain during the night and this would cause the depth of the water over the bridges to rise again by the morning.  I think we will just have to wait and see and try and get reliable reports as early as possible in the morning so that we can finish loading the Vito quickly and get out of the valley while the going is good.

The dam overflowing
Water flow below the dam. This would contribute one half of the low at the second crossing to get back to Montagu
The arrow indicates the high water mark during the infamous 1981 floods, so we still have a long way to go this time around

Although it rained very little at the Lodge during the day, it appeared still to be raining lightly in the mountains to the North, Northeast and East, which is where the rivers currently flooding the bridges get their water from, so it looks as if we are in for a day or two longer here.  Later in the afternoon news arrived that the water levels had dropped sufficiently to allow vehicles, with very high ground clearances, to cross the flooded bridges, but it was still unsafe for vehicles with low ground clearances, like the Vito.  The Vito would most likely float and we could end up cruising down the river, and it wasn’t even Sunday afternoon anymore.

The birds did not seem to mind the rain at all
The weaver birds are a very colourful and vociferous group
For the geese it was an opportunity to practice landing in formation

Wednesday 08 January 2014

Somewhere around 01:00 the thunderstorms let fly with a vengeance and continued all the way through to around 04:30 or thereabouts.  Blinding lightning flashes, rumbling thunder and for the closer lightning strikes there were rafter shaking thunderclaps and all of this to the incessant drumbeats of very large raindrops on the Lodges galvanized iron roof.  All in all, quite an impressive performance, reminiscent of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries or perhaps, more appropriately of Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain.  Poor Lynnette slept very little.  She’d hardly doze off after one peal of thunder when the next one would jerk her rudely from her slumbers.  Snorre decided that the safest place in the midst of all this din, was as close as possible to me on the bed.

When the day dawned it revealed a very wet Bergwater Lodge and Pietersfontein Valley.  Judging by the inflow into the dam we assumed correctly that the road out was impassible and this was confirmed during a visit to Christine later in the morning.  It also transpired that the road out of Montagu through Cogman’s Kloof was in danger of being closed, which would mean that, even if we could leave Bergwater Lodge we would very likely have to go out via the Koo, the N1 and De Doorns, unless we were prepared to drive back to Cape Town via Barrydale, Tradouw;s Pass, Swellendam and the N2.  Around lunch time Christine took as down to the first flooded bridge and it was immediately obvious that the Vito would not make it across.  The flooding at the second crossing was more extensive so we really only had one option – stay put.  In the late afternoon a vehicle actually got through but was unable to get back again because the flow in the second river had increased.

The first of the rivers to cross on the way to Montagu still had a lot of water
There was no way we were going to take the Vito through this lot

The weather forecast predicted heavy rain for the late afternoon and during the night.  By late afternoon the buildup of very dark threatening rain clouds was quite impressive and we began to worry that the storms during the night might bring not only heavy rain, but also hail.  In a bout with large hailstones the unprotected Vito would come a very poor second indeed.  Christine came around in the evening to report that the latest weather forecast on the TV predicted widespread heavy rains with extensive flooding during the next 24 hours.  Hello Friday – maybe – and hold thumbs that there is no hail!

I popped out at 22:30 to find it was clearing slightly and managed to get some decent shots of the slightly older than first quarter Moon.  Perhaps we can head home tomorrow!

Thursday 09 January 2014

We had some rain during the night and the weather was still partially cloudy by 08:00 but gradually cleared until we were left with just a few scattered clouds by late afternoon, most of them to the Northeast, East and Southeast.  The wind was refreshingly cool and quite gusty at times from a Northerly to Northwesterly direction.  Early reports were that the rivers were down enough to allow vehicles with a fairly high ground clearance through and the general opinion was that, if no more rain fell in the catchment areas the Vito should make it by tomorrow if the the water levels drop a little further.  While Lynnette was preparing supper I caught the kitchen’s resident Bibron’s gecko so Lynnette could have a closer look at it.  After supper we walked down to Christine’s house and had tea with her.  She drove us back at about 22:30, but it really was a lovely evening with very few clouds about, Pity the telescopes have been loaded as tonight might have been a good night to brush up on our moon knowledge.

Friday 10 January 2014

Lynnette woke me at about 01:30 to listen to the sound of potential disaster – rain!  It rained very lightly until about 05:00 and then started to clear slowly.  After surveying the surrounding hills with the binoculars I decided that the rain had been too light to increase the runoff enough and raise the water levels in the rivers appreciably so we decided to pack up and go.

Snorre perched on an observing chair absolutely transfixed by his first view of a horse
The horse that fascinated Snorre

Christine arrived with her staff to start cleaning the Lodge while we were loading the Vito  and confirmed that the rivers had not risen.  While changing the linen in one of the unoccupied rooms she called us over to show us how the mice had chewed up the pillows and bedspread, also urinating on them and leaving yellow stains and a very unpleasant smell.

We left at around 11:00 making our first stop at Kotie Kriel’s place to pick up a crate of freshly picked peaches.  Next stop was to pick up the watermelons and sweet melons at another farm and then it we had to tackle the two flooded bridges.  These turned out to be far less of an obstacle than we had expected and we were well and truly on our way home.

Acting on Christine’s recommendation we stopped off at Pinto’s Butchery in Robertson, where Lynnette bought a variety of sausages as well as biltong and dried wors.  Maybe dried sausage is eaten elsewhere in the world but here in South Africa it is dried wors.  I can, by the way, really recommend Pinto’s Strandlopers!

Next stop was the Pitkos Farm Stall where we had coffee and roosterkoek with biltong and melted cheese while Snorre sat in a tree pretending he was a leopard.  His tree sitting only laste until the local red ants evicted him.  After that we headed home to the dreary task of unpacking and putting everything back where it belongs.

The Vito with Snorre up a tree where he was shortly to be evicted by the resident colony of red ants
Lynnette pouiring the coffee before we get stuck into Francis’s roosterkoek with thinly sliced biltong and loads of melted cheese

I will be posting more photos of the wildlife in a separate post and, as soon as I have processed them I will also be posting the astrophotos that I took.  I am preparing a post about the SQM-readings we have taken in the past as well as those taken at Bergwater on this trip.