Star Party – South Peninsula Astronomy Club

Star Party – South Peninsula Astronomy Club

There we were, Auke, Lynnette, Martin, Richard and I at Rocklands on the southern border of Simonstown with the South Peninsula Astronomy Club.  Lynnette and I were disgustingly late and our only real excuse was that we had badly underestimated the traffic on most of Baden Powell Drive and on the section from Muizenberg through to Simonstown itself.  The fact that Lynnette’s Mum’s hot water cylinder sprung a leak shortly before we were due to depart from Brackenfell didn’t help much either and neither did the close on gale force Southeaster en route. Peter and the rest of the group had started proceedings and just shifted us down the program. A really beautiful venue and a very nice group of people from the South Peninsula Astronomy Club.  Peter laid on sandwiches and well chilled juice for us, both of which were most welcome.

The program was an ambitious one.  Auke talked about observing guides like the Southern Star Wheel and the ConCards, both available for download from his website. Peter gave some very useful observing tips and I gave a short talk on binoculars and the pitfalls of buying and using them.  Martin spoke very entertainingly and at considerable length on types of telescopes, collimation, cleaning optical equipment and setting up a German Equatorial Mount.  Lynnette gave us some background on the Southern Star Parties and Deep Sky events organised by Elf Astronomy and Star People and also gave some interesting statistics on the number of venues we had visited and the number of people we had reached since 2008 during the course of our outreach activities.

By the end of Lynnette’s talk we had already run into telescope time and everyone dispersed to set up telescopes while Auke, Martin and I packed everything away and moved the gear out to the cars. The wind was quite a problem but I was really pleasantly surprised by the number of stars one could see.  Eta Carina was clearly visible and the Coal Sack too, although it needed some help from averted vision and a small dollop of imagination.

I took a set of  20 SQM-readings on the Volley Ball Court at Rocklands and they averaged out at 20.6 magnitudes per square arcsecond (masas) with a standard deviation of 0.00104.  This translates to a Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude of 5.88 V mags.  In Brackenfell, by comparison, the SQM-readings are around 18.6 masas which translates to 4.459 (V mags) and that is not a difference to be sneezed at.  When one turned round and faced North from Rocklands, the full effect of the city’s light pollution was evident.  The stars in the northern section of the sky were simply blotted out in the orange glow.

Here are some photographs taken at the event.

Is Peter having his doubts about these “imported experts”?
Jim Knight, a veteran astronomer, came prepared for a long haul
Martin illustrating the left-handed throttle-grip to be applied when star gazers drop something down your telescope
Martin, “,,,, and if the throttle-grip doesn’t work, give them the right elbow.” The audience is spellbound!
All attention for Martin’s talk on telescopes
Richard taking it all in. Perhaps he is thinking about the solar flare he caught on camera. Nice work Richard
This device, ladies and gentleman, is a telescope and it is not, as it may seem to you, mounted on a knee, but on a German Equatorial Mount
What! Somebody actually looks as if they are dozing off.
If he is too big for the left-handed throttle-grip use both hands to strangle him
Lynnette divulging all the secrets of the SSP and Deep Sky-events
Everybody seemed very interested in the activities of ELF Astronomy and Star People
In between listening Richard also fulfilled a secondary role as cameraman
No, Auke is not practicing a new card trick. He is deep in thought about his new project. What is it? When he comes out of the deep thought mode he will know
A ghostly figure and a wiggling Dobby
Auke in multiple exposures on the left giving advice, I think
Auke practicing his moves in the dark – at least his feet are
Auke at left doing a chair polka and Jim on the right with a headlight that does not look red, but perhaps it’s the speed at which he is moving toward me that does it.
These multiple Aukes might be useful if he could use them to get through his work backlog

West Coast Tourism Expo on Thursday 20 February 2014

West Coast Tourism Expo

ELF Astronomy attended the West Coast Tourism Expo at the Blaauwberg offices of Cape Town Tourism situated at no 1 Marine Drive Bloubergrant.  The Expo was organized by Gurshell Abrahams, from the regional headquarters of West Coast Tourism in Moreesberg, to facilitate networking between the various regions within the West Coast Tourism and also with representatives of tourism in the greater Cape Town area.  Although there was a reasonable turnout I was personally a bit disappointed by the relatively small number of people from the Cape Town Area

Gurshell Abrahams welcomed everybody and very briefly outlined the purpose of the Expo, which was really quite simple  – Network, NETwork & NETWORK!  Richard Roberts from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism then gave a short overview of the very comprehensive set of programs run by the Department on every conceivable aspect of Tourism.  He encouraged people to make use of these programs to improve their chances of success in the tourism industry.

After these two brief talks everybody tucked into the very tasty and attractively prepared snacks and liquid refreshments while they exchanged information and probably some good advice as well.  All the sub regions within the West Coast Tourism Region were represented and each sub region had very helpful, friendly and knowledgeable representatives on hand to supply any information not already present in the wide range colourful information brochures on display.

I think that the employees of Cape Town Tourism, who work at the Blaauwberg office, ought to pay an additional tax for the privilege of being allowed to work in an office with such a magnificent view.  Here are some photographs of the event and the surroundings.

The colourful banner advertising the Cape West Coast Tourism Region


The iconic Table Mountain as seen from the Blaauwberg offices of Cape Town Tourism


Lions Head and the FIFA-stadium in Green Point with a glimpse of the Twelve Apostles in the background


Candice of Cape Town Tourism on the left and Gurshell from Cape West Coast Tourism on the right


Richard Roberts form the Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT). Somehow I have this mental picture of representatives of Government Departments having to be dressed in black – Men in Black?


From all over the world the big ships come and anchor in Table Bay


The kite surfers too, come from all over the world to enjoy the one thing many other visitors dislike the most – the wind!


Anchen on the left “selling” the Swartland


Cathy from Cathy’s Tours sharing some words of wisdom
Ida and Annalie in serious conversation


A windsurfer in the foreground against the backdrop of the harbor, the City Centre and the once much debated Terrible Triplets above Vredehoek


The ladies on the right were very keen to market tourism in the Berg River area


An empty container ship and a kite surfer floating on a surreal silver sea


As always somebody gets stuck with the administration and the paperwork


Anchen debating a weighty matter


The American Army checking up to make sure nobody was trying to sneak, Bokkoms or Biltong into the USA. Sorry, my mistake! Just a Huey on a tourist flight.

Pulses and Pulsars – An introduction to time domain radio astronomy

Pulses and Pulsars – An introduction to time domain radio astronomy

Presented by Dame (Susan) Joycelyn Bell Burnell of the University of Oxford Astrophysics and Mansfield College. The presentation took place at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study’s (STIAS) Wallenberg Centre on the 19th of February 2014

I am always slightly apprehensive about attending talks by visiting academics of the stature of Dame Joycelyn Bell Burnell.  Perhaps this apprehension stems from a lack of confidence in my own understanding of the field they are going to cover in their talks.  There are also other possible issues like the quality of the presentation and how clearly the person will speak and, of course, the acoustics of the venue.  The STIAS venue does not have good acoustics and experience has taught me that academics of international repute do not necessarily speak clearly or have well laid out talks using clear and legible slides.  I had read that Jocelyn was a good presenter but, just to be safe, Lynnette and I made sure that we got seats close to the front (third row) and more or less on the centre line of the projection screen.

Jocelyn’s talk covered quite a lot of ground.  She touched briefly on her original discovery of the first three pulsars during her PhD-studies and then talked at length on the characteristics of pulsars.  She started off explaining how very high mass stars had short lives and eventually ended up as pulsars.  Dame Bell Burnell made mention of their enormous masses, all crammed into balls with 10 km radii resulting in incredibly high densities and really freakish gravitational and magnetic fields.  Jocelyn humorously sketched the possible consequences to humans if they should visit a pulsar and concluded that such a visit could definitely be injurious to one’s health and one’s credit card.  We were taken on a visit to the only known pulsar that has a planetary system associated with it and also introduced to the short lived world of the brief radio pulses that are currently puzzling radio astronomers.  Most of these reports originate from an Australian radio telescope and I was wondering whether Wombats or any of the other marsupials Down-Under squeak at around 700 Hz?

Lastly she looked at the SKA-project and briefly made mention of the greatly increased sensitivity the instrument would bring to the field of radio astronomy.  After her talk Jocelyn fielded a large number of questions on topics not always related to the subject of her presentation.

Jocelyn’s presentation was excellent at all levels.  Her ability to relate to and communicate with people was clearly demonstrated by the throngs of questioners that she patiently handled after the talk.  Her patience even extended to having her picture taken with members of the Cape Center of ASSA, including Lynnette and myself.

Lynnette and Dame Joycelyn Bell Burnell with the SKA’s Bernie Fanaroff trying to avoid the camera.
Edward and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell


Carol, Dame Joycelyn Bell Burnell and Serena

Helderberg Eco Rangers

On Friday the 14th of February Star People, represented by Auke, Lynnette and I went to the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West to do some solar viewing with the Eco Rangers.  We showed them the sun and its sunspots through a properly equipped telescope and at the same time Auke showed them how to use binoculars to project an image of the Sun and draw the sunspots.

Here are some pictures of the action.

Claidia taking roll call


The audience, some members more attentive than others


Enthusiasm, in varying degrees


Lynnette hard at work – Solar viewing is much harder and hotter than stargazing


My turn while Lynnette takes over the camera


The Eco Rangers certainly didn’t lack enthusiasm


Maybe we should get bigger binoculars?


Edward clarifies a point for Claudia


Auke and his crew hard at work on the projecting project


Corn Flakes boxes in a new role


The first sketches start taking shape


Some got the hang of it quite quickly


Lynnette taking a well earned rest


The last of the projectors finishing up while the audience watches from the safety of the shade

Stars on the Beach in Gordon’s Bay

Stars on the Beach in Gordon’s Bay

Just before 18:00 on Saturday evening the 8th of February Auke, Lynnette, Richard and I got together at a coffee shop on Beach Road in Gordon’s Bay in preparation for the advertised “Stars on the Beach” event.  Auke had prepared some very, very nice handouts about Jupiter and the Moon and also a data sheet with all the satellites that should be visible during the course of the evening.  By shortly after 19:00 we were setting op on a strip of grass between the parking area and the beach, next to the Spur.

While the Sun was setting we were able to show interested people the Moon.  Quite a few of the viewers were intrigued by the idea that they could look at the Moon through a telescope during the daytime and one heard questions like, “So that’s really the Moon?”

After sunset Jupiter also became a focal point and with a 25 mm eyepiece and a 3 x Barlow quite lot of detail was visible and it elicited many a “Wow!”.  Richard was fortunate as his equatorial platform meant that anything he set his telescope on stayed in the field of view. On my push-shove-and-nudge Dobby, one had to keep on adjusting otherwise every third or fourth person only had a blank piece of sky to look at.

Most of the other interesting objects were washed out by the light pollution.  The Orion Nebula was very faint but we could at least point out the four bright trapezium stars and talk about star formation.  The Jewel Box was a huge disappointment and the position of the Moon made the Pleiades an impossibility.

An interesting phenomenon I have experienced in the past as well, is that members of the public often do not admit they cannot see anything.  I asked one person, who was looking at the Moon, if he could see, and he replied “Yes, it’s beautiful.” However, from where I was standing I could clearly see the bright spot of moonlight on his forehead, which meant that he could see absolutely nothing!

Auke and Lynnette occupied themselves with the very necessary tasks of answering questions, taking photos, dishing out printed material and taking down the particulars of persons who expressed an interest in future events. Richard and I manned the two telescopes.  Both Auke and Lynnette lent a hand when we got tied up with a particularity persistent questioners. We all found the lights in the parking area to be a great nuisance (once again).

Overall the light pollution levels were very high and the average of 10 readings, taken at the zenith very shortly after 22:00, with the Unihedron Sky Quality Meter, was 18.11 (magnitudes per square arcsecond) which converts to a naked eye limiting magnitude of 4.16 mags.  Here are some values from other sites for comparison purposes.
Brackenfell: 18.75 & 4.58
Sutherland (town) 20.23 & 5.65
West Coast Ostrich Ranch: 20.27 & 5.67
Bergwater Lodge:  21.12 & 6.18
Paardeberg site: 21.13 & 6.19
Britstown (Karoo Star Party): 21.20 & 6.23
Sutherland (SAAO): 21.69 & 6.48
Night Sky Caravan Park: 21.72 & 6.49

The evening went off without a hitch and we only had one inebriated gent express a desire to have a look.  Actually he didn’t look that much under the influence but when he got closer the alcohol fumes were quite overwhelming and, when he bent down to look through the eyepiece, he rocked quite alarmingly.  After having his photo taken he disappeared into the darkness, probably to refuel.

All in all quite a pleasant and successful evening.  Comparing notes and numbers in the SPUR afterwards we arrived at a consensus figure of 207 attendees.

Below is a small selection of the photographs taken by Lynnette.

Richard’s scope set up and locked onto the Moon


This lady probably did not really need the ladder


Auke explaining the workings of a telescope to some of the younger visitors


The two scopes with the Gordon’s Bay and the Steenbras Mountains in the background


Beautiful sunset across False Bay with the mountains of the Cape Peninsula in the far distance and Cape Point out of sight on the left.


The lights of Gordon;s Bay reflected in the exceptionally calm waters of the bay.


The Moon taken without a tripod.
Camera: Nikon D5100
Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII
62 mm
F 5.0
ISO 400


Waiting in line to look through Richard’s scope


This particular viewer came back several times to look through the finderscope


Richard explaining a finer point to one of the viewers


The significance of the tin I can unfortunately not explain, but this is the gentleman who was more than just a few over the legal limit


Some of the last viewers and by now the wind had become quite gusty and tad chilly