Evaluation of a potential stargazing site near Montagu: December 2014

Bon Solitaire, a potential stargazing site near Montagu (33° 49’ 04”S 20° 12’ 44”E & 276 m)

How to get there is important so let’s start with the instructions. Once in Montagu one leaves the town on the road to Barrydale. At 0,4 km outside Montagu one crosses a bridge and 0,67 km after the bridge there is a turnoff to the left. One of the names on the various signposts at the turnoff is for Talana. Turn left here and follow the road. Stay on the tar and do not turn off. About 5 km after the turnoff it becomes a gravel road and 2 km after that there is a very short tarred section and the guest house is on your left. From Brackenfell to there is about 170 km.

The place is run by Christine’s daughter Ruzanne and her husband Raoul, but Christine does most of the day to day management. The accommodation is good and could at a push sleep six if there were children in the group but four adults would be comfortable in the two double beds. The bathroom is small but modern. There is a wide wooden deck, of which one half is roofed, and it has a convenient braai. There is also an inside braai for those chilly days and the less hardy souls. Braai wood can be purchased from the adjacent farm. The cottage has a fridge/freezer, a microwave, a two plate cooker/oven-combination and all crockery and cutlery. Bedding is supplied but no towels. The mobile reception is very unreliable. During the fruit season one can buy fruit from the surrounding farms.  Lynnette and I bought 10 kg of apricots from Flip and Christine Haasbroek of Lank-Gewag Boerdery just across the road from the cottage. Price for the cottage is available on request from Ruzanne. I almost forgot to say there is a television as well.

Vie from the deck in front of the cottage to the East
Looking east from the deck in front of the cottage.  There is a drop of about one metre to get to the ground and the Beefwood trees on the right also limit viewing from here. To get a telescope out into the open area will be quite an exercise
Looking south-southeast from the deck. The Beefwoods on the left are again a problem for viewing in that direction
Looking south-southeast from the deck. The Beefwoods on the left are again a problem for viewing in that direction
Looking almost directly west from the deck.  The open area is a good viewing area although the cottage blocks ones view to the north
Looking almost directly west from the deck. The open area is a good viewing area although the cottage blocks ones view to the north
A panoramic view from the garden to the west of the cottage.
A panoramic view from the garden to the west of the cottage.
Up the steps to the cottage. the incline is fairly steep.
Up the steps to the cottage. The incline is fairly steep. As mentioned one half of the deck is roofed and the other not. The outside braai is visible to the left of the steps.  In this view one is looking north
We bought apricots from this friendly couple just across the road from the cottage
We bought apricots from this friendly couple just across the road from the cottage
The Mountains to the east bordering the northern side of the road which leads to the Poortjieskloof Dam are quite spectacular when seen close up
The Mountains to the east bordering the northern side of the road which leads to the Poortjieskloof Dam are quite spectacular when seen close up. Can you see the mountain retreat somebody has built up there?
This is my idea of a mountain retreat.
This is my idea of a mountain retreat.
The outside braai and the coals are just right
The outside braai and the coals are just right
Braai is going and supper is almost ready!
Braai is going and supper is almost ready!

Covered parking for two vehicles is available just inside the main entrance, adjacent to the main dwelling. From there access to the cottage is via a well-kept, enclosed lawn and garden, with a salt water swimming pool. The garden and pool are for the use of the cottage occupants. Be forewarned that you have to carry everything from the car to the cottage through the garden and back again so a small trolley will be a great help.

A composite of the inside of the cottage
A composite of the inside of the cottage.  Inside bedroom double bed, Inside bedroom sleeper couch, Outside bedroom beds, Inside braai, microwave & hotplate/oven, Kitchen, Bathroom, Entrance off deck, Roofed area of the deck, Outside braai & open area of the deck

As far as astronomy is concerned Raoul, Ruzanne and Christine are very accommodating and switch off all outside lights as well as all inside lights facing the cottage. The garden between the house and the cottage is a safe area but the horizons are quite high from there. One could also put a telescope on the uncovered section of the deck which improves the south eastern to south-western horizons. One could also put a telescope in the open area on the eastern side of the house but, given the logistics of carrying the equipment there I would use the lawn. On our visit the clouds moved in after sunset and it was eventually completely overcast on Sunday evening in a repeat of the conditions at Kopbeenskloof. Monday evening was better and we set up the telescope in the driveway next to the main house and the cars. The area is not level but certainly workable as one has a paved surface underfoot. Seeing was reasonable given the presence of high level clouds that eventually took over after 23:00. The area is definitely dark except for two security lights in adjacent farms but it is possible to position the telescopes so that these are not in one’s direct line of sight. The dark sky readings 21,06 MSAS (average of ten readings, std. dev. of 0,030984) and 21,03 MSAS (average of ten readings, std. dev. of 0,026854) (MSAS = Magnitudes per Square Arcsecond). and all clouds had reassuring black undersides.

On a completely different note I noted that there is the start of a cactus infestation and this is something which is quite widespread throughout the Karoo areas of South Africa. These plants were imported and used as garden and ornamental plants but once they escape into the veld they become a problem and there is unfortunately the start of such an infestation in the kloof adjacent to the cottage. Go here to read more about cactus infestation by this specific plant.

A cactus plant in the garden and I think this is Cereus jamacaru
A cactus plant in the garden and I think this is Cereus jamacaru
Here plants in the veld in a kloof adjacent to the cottage can be seen
Here plants in the veld in a kloof adjacent to the cottage can be seen

I think the cottage is quite suitable for astronomy provided one does not want to work too close to the horizons, especially to the north and east. Astrophotographers wanting to cover selected objects in the open areas should be quite happy here. I think the cottage has a lot of potential for astronomers who want to take their partners or families along. As a general breakaway for a small group or for a family I think it is an excellent base given the close proximity of Montagu and Barrydale. Ruzanne’s telephone number is 072 177 3013 and is best used during office hours, given the unreliable nature of the mobile service in the area. Her e-mail address is ruzannebeetge@gmail.com.

Sunset over the Langeberg Mountains to the west
Sunset over the Langeberg Mountains to the west. The pool, covered parking and main house are clearly visible at the end of the garden

Dark Sky outing to Kopbeenskloof during December 2014

Dark Sky at Kopbeenskloof (33° 35’ 52”S, 19° 57’ 26”E & 1248 m) in December 2014

I previously reported on the venue so please go here for those details. On this occasion we left later than planned on Thursday morning because of complications caused by having the Blaauwklippen event back to back with the deep sky outing. Iain Finlay was on the road at more or less the same time and he waited for us at the Shell service station in Worcester so we could travel together for the last part of the journey. We stopped off at the Veldskoen Padstal just past De Doorns for coffee and something to eat. The Veldskoen does a very good toasted cheese sandwich and a superb cheese cake. The other items on their menu are also excellent so next time you pass there pop in and treat yourself.

The Veldskoen Padstal is a very nice stop before the long haul north if one is headed for Sutherland, for instance. We were not going that far but stopped of in any case.
The Veldskoen Padstal is a very nice stop before the long haul north if one is headed for Sutherland, for instance. We were not going that far but stopped of in any case.

Next stop was Kopbeenskloof where we were welcomed by the owner, Wouter Stemmet. If you want to know more about what Wouter and Elsabé do at Kopbeenskloof please visit their website here. There were all sorts of communication problems in the week leading up to this visit. As a result Wouter was not quite prepared for us but he quickly rectified that and we could start unloading and settle in. Despite beautiful clear skies during the day the evening turned cloudy and then went completely overcast with clouds coming in from the south east driven by a very chilly wind. Lynnette and I were short on sleep after our Blaauwklippen escapades of the previous night so we did not really complain about getting to bed early. I got up somewhere around 03:00 to check the weather but we still had clouds from horizon to horizon.

Lynnette and Iain chat on the stoep of the guest house while Snorre and I go for a walk. Note the colour of the sky
Lynnette and Iain chat on the stoep of the guest house while Snorre and I go for a walk. Note the colour of the sky
The guest house from a distance and the sky is clearly not going to allow us to do astronomy
The guest house from a distance and the sky is clearly not going to allow us to do astronomy
Nice sunset and this is also the area where the sky glow from Worcester and De Doorns is most prominent
Nice sunset and this is also the area where the sky glow from Worcester and De Doorns is most prominent

Friday morning was still cloudy but by mid-morning we had bright blue skies all around. Eddy and Jannie Nijeboer arrived later that afternoon after having struggled with the last section of our route instructions. These will be updated and made more user-friendly. By late afternoon Thursday’s weather pattern repeated itself and by 19:30 it was almost completely overcast and quite chilly. We were also concerned about Auke as we could not contact him and neither could he reach us. If Eddy and Jannie had struggled with the directions Auke could be well on his way to the Anysberg by now. It later materialized that domestic problems had prevented him from attending. So we again opted for a relatively early night. The 03:00 inspection was negative again but we got up at 06:00 and went for a walk with Snorre.

The Earth's shadow making a distinctive blue band in the west as sunrise approached
The Earth’s shadow making a distinctive blue band in the west as sunrise approached
Matroosberg at sunrise as not many have been privileged to see it
Matroosberg at sunrise as not many have been privileged to see it
Lynnette's mid-morning siesta.  Note the jacket and cap - it was not warm.
Lynnette’s mid-morning siesta. Note the jacket and cap – it was not warm.
Snorre and I on a section of his walk
Snorre and I on a section of his walk

Saturday was a beautiful, cloudless day and we went down to the farm where Wouter showed us around the other amenities he and Elsabé had to offer. The five of us spent some time looking around. The guest house, situated about a kilometre away from the farmhouse, which will sleep 10 at a push but eight is a more realistic number and six, as far as I am concerned, is just right. At the main house there are chalets and other facilities to cater for large groups and functions. The enclosed entertainment area, inside braai and large kitchen and the chalets definitely have possibilities. However, sleeping 12 people per chalet will not work for astronomers and Wouter says he would be quite happy to put up two people per chalet, which would mean lots of storage space on the empty beds.  The ablution facilities are quite adequate for the number of chalets. There is a large grassed area, which Wouter intends expanding, which would work well for a telescope area but has also been used in the past for camping and caravans. Power can be laid on by long leads from the kitchen area for the astrophotographers and they can actually be grouped separately from the telescopes which addresses the light pollution problem too. There is a very rustic cottage, the K’roo Huise situated some way away from the main house for those who would really like to rough it as it has no electricity and water is heated for showers by means of an old fashioned “donkey”.

From left to right, Jannie, Wouter, Eddy and Iain in the enclosed entertainment area.  This would also make a nice sheltered viewing area for the astrophotographers
From left to right, Jannie, Wouter, Eddy and Iain in the enclosed entertainment area. This would also make a nice sheltered viewing area for the astrophotographers
In the spacious inside braai area adjacent to the large kitchen
In the spacious inside braai area adjacent to the large kitchen
The chalets from the outside
The chalets from the outside
Inside a chalet
Inside a chalet
A view of the second group of chalets
A view of the second group of chalets
This grassy area next to the one group of chalets can be used for a telescope area but has also served as a camping area
This grassy area next to the one group of chalets can be used for a telescope area but has also served as a camping area
View from the parking area of the K'roo Huisie
View from the parking area of the K’roo Huise.  The one on the right.
Eddy on the stoep of the K'roo Huisie
Eddy on the stoep of the K’roo Huise
Panoramic view from in front of the K'roo Huis
Panoramic view from in front of the K’roo Huis
There is a large parking area but it is dusty which means that after rain it will be muddy and there is no shade for the vehicles. The large building in the background is the ablution block
There is a large parking area but it is dusty which means that after rain it will be muddy and there is no shade for the vehicles. The large building in the background is the ablution block

After the inspection we went back to the guest house and prepared for an evening’s star gazing. There were one or two small clouds lurking around but in general the evening was quite productive for stargazing with Kitchi Koo and the 12” Dobby. It was as definitely dark with dark sky readings of, 21,50 MSAS (average of ten readings, std. dev. of 0,024518) and 21,52 MSAS (average of ten readings, std. dev. of 0,024518) (MSAS = Magnitudes per Square Arcsecond). All clouds were definitely black, and the only light pollution is to the south west where Worcester and De Doorns throw up a considerable sky glow, especially if there is low cloud in that area. The seeing was not all that good because of the instability in the upper atmosphere but on an absolutely clear night the seeing should be excellent considering that the altitude there is only about 200m lower than Sutherland. By around 02:00 the dew made it impossible to continue without heaters on our telescopes. In any case the temperature had dropped to an unexpectedly low 09°C by then, so bed was a very attractive proposition.

Sunsets tend to be quite spectacular from the guest house
Sunsets tend to be quite spectacular from the guest house
Sunset through the trees on the western side of the guest house
Sunset through the trees on the western side of the guest house
Sunset framed by the ruins of an old barn
Sunset framed by the ruins of an old barn

The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and proceeded to pack up. By about 12:00 we said our goodbyes and left, followed closely by Iain.  Jannie and Eddy were a bit slower off the mark, but probably left shortly after us. We did not go straight home but headed for Montagu where we wanted to take a look at a potential venue recommended by Christine.

The all important notice board we left out of the instructions on how to get to Kopbeenskloof.  This is the turnoff from the R318 and makes no mention of Kopbeenskloof but one has to turn left her. Kopbeenskloof is signposted 6 km further down the road after you turn left here
The all important notice board we left out of the instructions on how to get to Kopbeenskloof. This is the turnoff from the R318 and makes no mention of Kopbeenskloof but one has to turn left here. Kopbeenskloof is signposted 6 km further down the road after you turn left here

Blaauwklippen Christmas Market: Wednesday 17 December 2014

Christmas Market at Blaauwklippen in Stellenbosch: 17 December 2014

Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived just before 14:00 and we had hardly begun unpacking when Auke pulled in. Then it was a case of all hands to the plough to get everything set up before the official start at 17:00.

Lots of space at Blaauwklippen for us to spread our wings
Lots of space at Blaauwklippen for us to spread our wings
Follow the reed arrow (note the wavelength) and a poster to wet the appetite
Follow the red arrow (note the wavelength) and a poster to wet the appetite
Follow the blue arrow (note the wavelength) for  more informative posters.
Follow the blue arrow (note the wavelength) for more informative posters.

Our new poster wall was quick to set up but my new banner stand was decidedly trickier. The poster wall proved quite successful and the banner stand showcased our banners properly for the first time at a public event.

 

The poster walls were easy to set up and quite effective as an information display but they also have great possibilities as crowd channels
The poster walls were easy to set up and quite effective as an information display but they also have great possibilities as crowd channels
Our five metre banner nicely displayed for a change on the new banner stand
Our five metre banner nicely displayed for a change on the new banner stand
Auke and Lynnette organizing the tables
Auke and Lynnette organizing the tables.  Between them in the background you can see Jaco’s refurbished 60 mm refractor and Walter resplendent in blue over to the right
Auke getting Walter ready for the show
Auke getting Walter ready for the show.  Jaco’s refractor can be seen on the table in the right foreground

Alan and Rose arrived a little later after successfully negotiation the late afternoon traffic between Edgemead and Stellenbosch. The extra hands made light work of setting up the pull-up banners, organizing the tables, putting out the display telescopes and, of course setting up the telescopes we would use for the public. We had Jaco’s 60 mm refractor which he refurbished years ago as well as my old 4.5 inch Newtonian on display.

Lorenzo ready for action
Lorenzo ready for action
Auke on an inspection round
Auke on an inspection round
An A3 poster displaying our major sponsors.  We will make an A2 poster  in the near future, which will have space for all our sponsors
An A3 poster displaying our major sponsors. We will make an A2 poster in the near future, which will have space for all our sponsors
The Vito almost empty which means we were set up and ready to roll
The Vito almost empty which means we were set up and ready to roll

We have always had this problem that the public think they have to pay to come and look at our stuff and to look through the telescopes. Many potential views are lost this way because they just stand at a distance and eye us. This time Auke had printed tickets entitling the bearer to a free viewing of the Sun and the stars. He distributed them amongst the visitors at the other stalls and, with Hugo le Roux’s permission, also asked the gate guard to hand them out to people coming in. I thought it was brilliant idea and a great way to get past this barrier in people’s minds.

Alan helping Brett set up his specialised solar scope
Alan helping Brett set up his specialized solar scope
Auke and Lorenzo handle some of our first viewers for the afternaan
Auke and Lorenzo handle some of our first viewers for the afternoon
Auke and some Canadian visitors
Auke and some Canadian visitors
Lynnette talking to solar viewers.  Note the eye-catching Star People pull-up banner in the background
Lynnette talking to solar viewers. Note the eye-catching Star People pull-up banner in the background
People actually stopped to read our posters this time
People actually stopped to read our posters this time
The sun was very low by now, judging from Lorenzo's declination
The sun was very low by now, judging from Lorenzo’s declination

Brett and Tammy also arrived somewhere in the course of the afternoon. Brett brought his solar telescope which he proceeded to set up and Tammy, much to Snorre’s delight, spent a large part of the afternoon and evening scratching his head. By the time the first viewers lined up we had an impressive array of telescopes in the field; Lorenzo the veteran, Walter on his first official outing, Alan’s eight inch Dobby and Brett’s innovative solar telescope. Only Lorenzo and Brett’s telescope were equipped for solar viewing but the others would do their bit as soon as it was dark enough to see some stars. Our poster wall drew quite a lot of attention and people spent time browsing along it on their way to the telescopes and often after viewing the Sun as well. I even noticed people browsing along the wall after it got dark as there was enough light for them to see the posters reasonably well. The poster wall might just be our best solution yet to effectively display our large selection of posters but only time will tell

People started arriving in drips and drabs around 17:00 but eventually we had quite a crowd, especially after it got dark. Auke did his usual, very effective laser guided sky tours after dark and, in between these he put Walter through his paces. Alan and his Dobby also hard at work a short distance away. While Lynnette was taking Snorre on his toilet patrol, one visitor walked up and said, “Excuse me what sort of dog is that you have on the leash?” Snorre, much to his credit just ignored her.

After sunset the visitor tempo picked up noticibly
After sunset the visitor tempo picked up noticeably
How long do you let people look through the eyepiece?  Some viewers become glued to it and watch until the object drifts out of view
How long do you let people look through the eyepiece? Some viewers become glued to it and watch until the object drifts out of view
The telescopes were the focal points where people grouped themselves
The telescopes were the focal points where people grouped themselves
Auke busy with a sky tour.
Auke busy with a sky tour.
It always amazes me how, once you get people to look up, they keep on looking up
It always amazes me how, once you get people to look up, they keep on looking up
I would really love to have this many people at a very dark site to show them how beautiful the night sky really is
I would really love to have this many people at a very dark site to show them how beautiful the night sky really is
Alan and his eight inch Dobby were in the thick of it
Alan and his eight inch Dobby were in the thick of it. ASSA, please note the poster inviting people to join ASSA. Also note Alan’s nifty stand for the Dobby which serves as a stand and leveling device as well as means of transportation and has compartments for all the important bits and pieces one needs when observing
The poster wall  really showed of our posters to good effect
The poster wall really showed of our posters to good effect
A different section of the poster wall
A different section of the poster wall
The queues just did not seem to get any shorter but some of the viewers were definitely a bit short
The queues just did not seem to get any shorter but some of the viewers were definitely a bit short
Martin lending a hand with Walter for a short viewer
Martin lending a hand with Walter for a short viewer
On last shot of the poster wall with viewers still clustered around Auke in the background
One last shot of the poster wall with viewers still clustered around Auke in the background

Eventually 22:00 rolled around and it was time to take everything down again. Thank you Tammy for paying attention to Snorre and to Brett for setting up your Solar Telescope.  Thanks also to Martin for lending a hand with Walter when the going got rough. The very able and willing assistance of Alan and Rose probably shortened our packing up time by more than an hour and a half. Thanks guys, without you Auke, Lynnette and I would have got to bed even later than we did! Packing up was also complicated by the fact that everything was quite wet with dew. We dried as much water off as possible but all that damp stuff had to be opened out to dry when Lynnette and I got home. As we also had to finish packing for our scheduled trip to Kopbeenskloof the next morning, this additional activity was not exactly a welcome one.

Blaauwklippen was a very nice venue and we had a huge area all to ourselves. We had stacks of enthusiastic viewers and all enjoyed the evening thoroughly. Thanks Blaauwklippen and Hugo le Roux for having us. A special word of thanks to Alan, Rose, Brett and Tammy for the hard work, moral support and companionship which helped make the evening a success.

New Planetarium Show. 10th December 2014

Full Circle:  Star Lore Comes Back to Africa

Lynnette and I were quite thrilled to receive an invitation from Elsabe Uys to the opening of the new Planetarium show. The Planetarium is housed in the Iziko Museum building at the top of the historic Company Gardens in Cape Town. Although the proceedings were only due to start at 19:00 we left home in Brackenfell at 17:30 anticipating heavy traffic in the city centre. We were correct about the traffic as we only parked the car in front of the museum buildings at 18:30 on the dot.

We were amongst the first to arrive but fairly hot on our heels Auke arrived, resplendent in a new blue shirt I had not seen before. People started arriving in an ever quickening stream and soon we were able to tuck into the delicious spread the museum had laid on. The was a selection of fine wines, courtesy of the famous Groot Constantia Estate as well as water and fruit juice.

There was a fair and sufficient selection and quantity of food for the guests
There was a fair and sufficient selection and quantity of food for the guests
Auke, resplendent in his blue shirt making sure he does not go hungry
Auke, resplendent in his blue shirt making sure he does not go hungry
Lynnette in the striped blue and black skirt at the sushi table
Lynnette in the striped blue and white skirt at the sushi table
Elsabe Uys, clarifying a wine technicality  with the ladies from Groot Constantia
Elsabe Uys, clarifying a wine technicality with the ladies from Groot Constantia

The Planetarium Manager, Theo Ferreira, welcomed everyone and called on the Director of Education and Public Programmes at the Iziko Museum, Wayne Alexander, to fill us all in about the programme for the evening. Wayne talked briefly about the Planetarium and the development of the new programme. He mentioned the various Planetarium staff members who had been involved as well as other persons who had played an important role in the process. He then called on the script writer for the new show, Dermod Judge to give us some more background.  This Dermod did in a very entertaining and informative manner before handing the mike back to Theo. Theo informed us that we should finish up whatever we were eating or drinking as the show would start in 10 minutes time.

Theo Ferrera gets the proceedings going
Theo Ferrera gets the proceedings going
Wayne Alexander congratulating the Museum staff involved in the project
Wayne Alexander congratulating the Museum staff involved in the project
Dermod Judge delivering an informative and entertaining talk on the background to the new show
Dermod Judge delivering an informative and entertaining talk on the background to the new show
Those present listened attentively while they sipped and nibbled.  Well, I suppose some might have been more intent on sipping and nibbling than listening
Those present listened attentively while they sipped and nibbled. Well, I suppose some might have been more intent on sipping and nibbling than listening

The show is certainly a whole new view of Cultural and Ethnoastronomy. It highlights the fact that, although the ancients did not go to the Moon, their knowledge formed the basis of modern Astronomy which has taken us to the Moon and built the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) as well as the radio telescopes KAT-7, meerKAT and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The narration was clear and lucid and the background music and lyrics were appropriate and supplemented the narration well.  I think the show will go down very well with the general public and average visitor to the Planetarium this summer.

The projector in the Planetarium has always reminded me of some mechanical being from outer space or perhaps a mechanical deity of sorts
The projector in the Planetarium has always reminded me of some mechanical being from outer space or perhaps a mechanical deity of sorts
Could this be what the aliens will look like when we bump into them one day?
Could this be what the aliens will look like when we bump into them one day?
Aha!  Auke brings his offering to the Majestic Mechanical Majesty. Will his cellphone be accepted?
Aha! Auke brings his offering to the Majestic Mechanical Majesty. Will his cellphone be accepted?
Most Majestic Mechanical majesty please accept this humlbe electronic device as a gift from your servant, Auke
Most Majestic Mechanical majesty please accept this humlbe electronic device as a gift from your servant, Auke
Woe is me! my gift has been rejected by his Mechanical Majesty and now He has put out the lights of the Universe
Woe is me! My gift has been rejected by his Mechanical Majesty and now He has put out the lights of the Universe

It is a pity that, when the projector popped a fuse on the Southern Hemisphere circuit, and was only able to give a Northern Hemisphere star background, the technical crew did not tell the audience this. Most people there probably did not notice it and, had I not spotted Cassiopeia’s characteristic “W” fairly early on, I would, like Lynnette, have spent a considerable portion of the show wondering where all the familiar stars were and why the Milky Way was so sparse.

The ladies from Constantia packing up their goodies
The ladies from Groot Constantia packing up their goodies

Spring Southern Star Party Astrophotos, Nov 2014

Astrophotographs taken at the Spring Southern Star Party

Four photographs taken at the SSP held on the Night Sky Caravan Farm near Bonnievale. All photographs were taken with a Nikon D5100 camera using a Nikon AF-S-NIKKOR 50mm F1.8G lens. Other details are given with each photograph.

Andromeda. The skyglow is from the lights of Robertson about 25 km away, <a href=
medicine as the crow flies. Photograph isthe result of stacking 10 photographs, here each 10 second exposures at ISO 400″ width=”800″ height=”526″ /> Andromeda. The skyglow is from the lights of Robertson about 25 km away, treat as the crow flies. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each a 10 second exposure at ISO 400
Plaeides and Taurus.  Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 0,5 second exposures at ISO 6400
Pleiades and Hyades. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 0,5 second exposures at ISO 6400
Orion. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 0,5 second exposures at ISO 6400
Orion. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 0,5 second exposures at ISO 6400
Magellanic Clouds. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 30 second exposures at ISO 400
Magellanic Clouds. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 30 second exposures at ISO 400

 

The Southern Star Parties Sponsors and Backers

The Southern Star Party: Sponsors and Backers

We have just presented the eighth and, in my opinion, a very successful SSP at Night Sky Caravan Farm and I thought it would be the opportune moment to say something about the various people and organizations who have helped and assisted the SSP since its inception in March 2011.

The comprehensive list gives one an idea of the support we have enjoyed and recognizes their contribution to the success of the Southern Star party. Special mention has, however, to be made of two sponsors.

Alan and Rose Cassells have donated lights in April 2014 and the pegs for the Spring SSP in November 2015. More importantly they also “donate” a lot of their time to helping us unpack and pack up at every SSP and that is absolutely invaluable. Thank you guys!

Waltons in Stellenbosch have, for the last two years, been our biggest sponsor. Without their special discount on our stationery purchases, we could not have such a variety of stuff to put into our goody bags, which by the way, are also included in the sponsorship. A very big thank you Waltons and in recognition we place some photos of your very helpful staff at the Stellenbosch branch!

Lynnette with the Branch Manager Nicardo Basson who went to a lot of trouble with helpful suggestions
Lynnette with the Branch Manager Nicardo Basson who went to a lot of trouble with helpful suggestions
Hannelie, Candice and Nicardo sorting out the finer details of the our bill
Hannelie, Candice and Nicardo sorting out the finer details of the our bill
Yaseen, Candice, Lynnette, Mercia and Hannelie.  Yaseen was an enourmouse help in finding items we needed on the shelves.
Yaseen, Candice, Lynnette, Mercia and Hannelie. Yaseen was an enormous help in finding items we needed on the shelves.
Mercia, Hannelie and Lynnette at the till as Mercia parcels up our goods
Mercia, Hannelie and Lynnette at the till as Mercia parcels up our goods
Hannelie and Lynnette.  Hannelie was tasked with totaling up our opurchases and assigning the discounts Nicardo had agreed to.
Hannelie and Lynnette. Hannelie was tasked with totaling up our purchases and assigning the discounts Nicardo had agreed to.

Donor/Sponsor list

Spring 2014 SSP

Autumn 2014 SSP

 Spring 2013 SSP

Autumn 2013 SSP

Spring 2012 SSP

Autumn 2012 SSP

Spring 2011 SSP

Autumn 2011 SSP

Star People and the Slow/Christmas Market at Oude Libertas in Stellenbosch: November 2014

Star People @Slow, Oude Libertas in Stellenbosch

Lynnette and I arrived at 15:30 as arranged. The scene outside the entrance was quite chaotic. There were cars everywhere with drivers vying for very limited parking space in front of the gates so they could commence unloading, officials waving their arms and gesticulating as they tried to maintain a semblance of order and control and eager assistants with trolleys darting in and out among the cars with loads of stuff which disappeared up the incline in the direction of the actual market. We found a spot to park the Vito and I ventured up the incline to see how we could get to our designated area.

Once inside one was almost overwhelmed by the colourful gazebos and variety of displayed goods, not to mention the people scurrying around as they carried, packed, fetched and arranged in preparation for the expected hordes of customers. In the meantime Auke and Wendy had arrived and managed to squeeze their vehicles into the same area where Lynette had parked the Vito and we could start transferring stuff from the vehicles to our spot. The spot was very nice and shady with lots of tables, but the shade was not going to make viewing either the Sun or the first quarter Moon easy.

Auke and Edward hard at work setting up the stand
Auke and Edward hard at work setting up the stand
Auke, busy laying out the tables with banners and posters.
Auke, busy laying out the tables with banners and posters.
Everything is coming together nicely
Everything is coming together nicely
One old backside and three nice banners
One old backside and three nice banners
The tightly packed central area with hardly room for a mouse
The tightly packed central area with hardly room for a mouse
Our setup was really very colourfull
Our setup was really very colourfull
Getting Lorenzo ready for the afternoon's work
Getting Lorenzo ready for the afternoon’s work

After getting the banners and posters up and arranging things on the table, I set up Lorenzo, equipped with a sun filter and Wendy found a spot to set up her eight inch Dobby to view the Moon.. Auke and Lynnette began sending prospective viewers in our direction and the afternoon’s fun could get underway.

Auke redirecting a prospective viewer
Auke redirecting a prospective viewer
A young sungazer takes his turn at the telescope
A young sungazer takes his turn at the telescope
Wendy waiting in a shady corner for her moongazers
Wendy waiting in a shady corner for her moongazers
A view from in front of our area toward the centre of the area filled with stalls
A view from in front of our area toward the centre of the area filled with stalls
Outreach is as much about talking and explaining as it is about showing
Outreach is as much about talking and explaining as it is about showing
Often the same person or group of people ends up talking to each member of the team
Often the same person or group of people ends up talking to each member of the team
As the sun sank lower it became time to move the telescopes
As the sun sank lower it became time to move the telescopes
As the sun set the clouds came in and spoiled any chance of seeing the stars
As the sun set the clouds came in and spoiled any chance of seeing the stars

Shortly after 18:30 we had to move both telescopes as we were losing the competition with the trees. The new spot was chosen to give us a last glimpse of the Sun and continued Moon viewing as well as an uninterrupted view toward the west and south, but the clouds had other ideas. The Moon was fine for the rest of the evening but the high level clouds were just opaque enough to obscure the stars which were already having a tough time competing with the light pollution. So Wendy and I both concentrated on the Moon. She used a 25mm eyepiece on her Dobby which showed the whole Moon very nicely, and I beefed up the magnification by combining a 32mm eyepiece with a 3xBarlow. The higher magnification necessitated more pushing, pulling and shoving to keep Lorenzo on target, but the “Oohs” and “Aahs” from almost every viewer, both young and old, made the extra effort worthwhile.

Empty and silent with the stall holders and eager buyers all gone home.
Empty and silent with the stall holders and eager buyers all gone home.
Lonely sentinels will wait fir the next day's activities.
Lonely sentinels will wait patiently for the next day’s activities.

Auke started packing away when he saw the other stalls begin to break down while we continued showing the Moon for a while and by the time we had stowed the telescopes Auke and Lynnette had already made major inroads into rolling up the banners and taking down the posters. By this time the stall area was all but deserted and the last of the vehicles were queuing up to load. Our nice parking spot now showed its dark side because our exit was cut off by the guys loading their stuff and we had to wait a while before we could head into Stellenbosch for a well-earned cup of coffee (or two, or three). Thanks Auke! May the fleas of a thousand camels infest the loins of the person who stole our door magnet and just for good measure also those of their present family and the next ten generations too.

What did we learn from the evening?

The venue was quite spectacular, but not really suited for deploying telescopes and the question arises should we skip venues like this or do them for the exposure we and astronomy get? The exhibition tables were fine and it is just a pity we didn’t know beforehand we were going to get tables. We made good use of them and the stand made a good showing. Because we were off to one side and the whole area was very congested, we were not really all that visible unless people specifically came down to that end to sit down and eat. This must have had a negative impact on the number of visitors we attracted.

The Sun is quite boring and less spectacular than most people expect it to be, when viewed through a telescope equipped with the appropriate filter. The pale circle just does not measure up to the spectacular satellite images that are freely available in print and on the electronic media. The relative size of the Sun compared to the Earth and the size comparison between the Earth, Jupiter and the sunspots does elicit a “Wow” from many viewers and the idea that space is only 100 km away causes some viewers to raise an eyebrow. Generally though, the Sun through a telescope does not measure up to people’s expectations.

The Moon on the other hand, always manages to steal the show. The combination of one telescope at a higher magnification than the other was quite successful. It is a pity that we were unable to show anything other than the Sun and the Moon, but that’s the way the astronomy cookie often crumbles.

The usual logistical problems popped up again. Getting everyone to sign the visitor’s book is almost impossible and some people even flatly refuse, because they suspect some dark and devious dealings. The system we used in Clanwilliam where one person simply walked down the line of waiting viewers and got them to sign before they reached the telescope worked quite well, but it ties up and additional person. The telescope operator could also have a clipboard and insist that viewers sign before they look through the telescope, but this requires enough light at the telescope so that people can see where to write.

We still do not know how to deal effectively with the genuinely interested or just plain talkative viewer at the telescope. We want people to be interested, but if you have a queue of people waiting to look through the telescope and one person totally appropriates the operator, everything comes to a standstill, people actually get fed-up and leave if they have to wait too long. Not talking to an interested person and answering their questions is bad for business, but then so is having people leave the queue if they have to wait too long. This total appropriation also happens to the presenters doing duty at the exhibition tables and it really is a difficult call to make as to when to break off a conversation in the interest of serving other members of the public.

I think the evening was a success and I think the exposure we got was reasonable. The venue was great and it is a pity we weren’t advertised more aggressively.

The Mysterious Leak after the Spring Southern Star Party: November 2014

The Mysterious Post-SSP Leak

Shortly after Anneliese from Bonnievale Verhurings had taken down the marquee at the November Southern Star party, drugstore we spotted water seeping from an area where we had driven in one of Alan’s pegs to mark off the telescope area. You can read more about the Southern Star Party here.

When we reported the leak to Gesina she was less than chuffed and I decided to find the leak and fix it as gesture of goodwill. I had, mind after all, buy fixed leaks in my garden irrigation system many times before so this should be a piece of cake. Gesina gladly supplied me with a spade, pipe connectors and wire to fix the pipe firmly to the connectors.

Willem and Alan both remarked that it was odd that the water was seeping to the surface and not squirting out in a jet or spray as the irrigation system was under pressure. I countered that, if the pipe was fairly deep down and the peg had only nicked it, making just a small hole, it would not necessarily squirt out. Alan was sceptical and pointed out that the seepage was coming from a molehole and not a peghole, which we all agreed was odd. My idea was to take sods of grass out in a line running across where we thought the pipe(s) might be buried and a good starting point seemed to be right next to the leaking molehole.

Two advisors and one digger inspect the area and prepare for action
Two advisors and one digger inspect the area and prepare for action

After making a trench about two meters long it became clear that the water was definitely following the underground mole tunnels and by then we were well away from areas where pegs had been driven into the ground. We then noticed for the first time that there were wet looking mole hills scattered around a much wider area. Careful examination quickly determined that the damp line seemed to run in the general direction of Alan’s campsite. I dug test holes along the line and clearly there was water flowing through the mole tunnels.

First sod turned and further excavation on the  water trail
First sod turned and further excavation on the water trail
Our excavation trail as we pursued the source of the water
Our excavation trail as we pursued the source of the water

Just below Alan’s campsite there was a large wet patch next to a sprinkler connection and I started a new trench there to see if we could find a pipe. The pipe was soon found and I then dug the trench further following the pipe until I reached the concrete ring surrounding the sprinkler head. The closer we got to the sprinkler head the stronger the flow of water became, until we were able to pin it down to a section about 10 cm from the concrete ring.

Alan wondering how much closer to his campsite in the background we are going to dig
Alan wondering how much closer to his campsite in the background we are going to dig
Willem is convinced we should dig to my left
Willem is convinced we should dig to my left
Bailing out the water at the original leakage sit verified that the inflow had all but stopped
Bailing out the water at the original leakage sit verified that the inflow had all but stopped

The water was very muddy so we could neither see the pipe nor the actual leak, although the flow of water was proof positive that we had found the leak. Inspection of the area where we had originally spotted the seepage revealed that the flow there had stopped completely.  Opening up around the source of the water had cut off the flow of water down the maze of mole tunnels to the exit point at least 30 meters away. There was probably a very wet mole somewhere. I filled in all our exploratory diggings leaving only the area around the actual leak open for Gesina’s team to fix later on.  We were quite relieved that the leak had not been caused by any of our activities.

Willem and Iain, who had wisely remained a distant spectator, review the operation
Willem and Iain, who had wisely remained a distant spectator, review the operation

Episode Two of The Key Saga: November 2014: November 2014

The Key Saga: November 2014

During our moon evening with the Eco Rangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve on the eighth of November some of you might recall that I lost the keys to the Vito along with the key to our security gate and front door. You can read all about that drama if you go here

The story has, there however, cialis developed a new twist. While Lynnette and I were organizing the inside of the marquee at the recent Southern Star Party the keys very mysteriously turned up!  This is what happened.

I left the marquee to have a drink of water in the house and while I was there Lynnette walked in and said something like “You shouldn’t leave the Vito’s keys lying around in the tent. We’ve already lost one set and we don’t want to lose another set.” I replied that they weren’t in the tent but hanging on the hook next to the door. As I turned to look at Lynnette there she was holding a set of the Vito’s keys in her hand and over her shoulder I could see another set hanging from the hook on the wall.

To say that we were amazed, look stunned and dumbfounded doesn’t even come close to describing our reactions. There, large as life, was the new set of keys on the wall where I’d put them and in Lynnette’s hand was the “lost” set which, she said, had been lying on the admin table in the tent.

After racking my brains for an explanation I have concluded that the only two items in the marquee that had also been present at the outing in the Helderberg Nature Reserve were our two folding chairs. Each chair has a side pocket and each chair is transported in a sturdy zip-up bag.

I had taken the chairs out of their bags, folded the bags and put them on the admin table just before I went to have the drink of water. Lynnette had taken the folded bags from the table and put them in a crate behind the admin table before leaving the tent to come down to the house. As she came out from behind the table she saw the keys on the table.

Did we not look in the chairs’ pockets that evening in the Reserve? Yes, we both very distinctly remember looking in the chair pockets and we did not find the keys. That evening, after the first round of searching,  the chairs were folded up, carried back to the Vito and put into their bags. Between then and the SSP the chairs had not been used. It would seem that, somehow, we missed the keys in one of those pockets and that set of the whole chain of fruitless searching and the unnecessary expenditure of around R4000-00 to replace keys and locks. The keys must have been in a chair bag and had fallen out onto the table as I folded the bag.

The questions I have no answers for are firstly how the keys got into the chair pockets or the chair bag in the first place because I have absolutely no recollection of putting them there. Secondly I cannot explain how two of us could have missed them when we both searched the chair pockets. I might have missed them but Lynnette does not miss things like keys when searching pockets.

Spring Southern Star Party: 21st to 23rd November 2014

Spring Southern Star Party in November 2014 at Night Sky Caravan Farm

Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived on Monday the 17th after a visit to Snorre’s Vet in Montagu. We suspected that his testicles were growing back and Dr Pritchard, although skeptical, agreed to examine him and, in the unlikely event of a regrowth, he would remove them free of charge. They hadn’t, he didn’t, and we departed mildly embarrassed at our ignorance, but quite relieved to have been wrong. At Night Sky we settled in but found to our dismay that the gas water heater in our house was malfunctioning. Gesina de Wet, the owner of Night Sky Caravan Farm, was not home as she was lending a hand with an ill grandchild in Cape Town, so she had to deal with the problem by remote control through a repair man in Ashton. The mobile reception at Night Sky is notoriously unreliable, which made solving the problem even more difficult, but eventually everything was sorted out, thank you Gesina for your efforts.

Contolled chaos as we pack before the SSP
Controlled chaos as we pack for the SSP
Before we leave there is stuff everywhere and it looks as if we will never finish in time
Before we leave there is stuff everywhere and it looks as if we will never finish on time
Everything has to be supervised, and checked
Everything has to be supervised, and checked by Snorre
The main loading area and now the Vito and trailer look as if they will be too small for the mountain of stuff
The main loading area and now the Vito and trailer look as if they will be too small for the mountain of stuff

Monday night was bright and almost cloudless so we got in some astronomy and on Tuesday Anneliese from Bonnievale Verhurings arrived to put up the marquee. The apparent ease with which she and her two assistants (one male and one female) put up a 12 x 7 metre tent is a joy to behold. As soon as she left, Lynnette and I started organizing things on the inside but, at that point, Marinda and her team arrived to mow the grass. We had quite a job convincing them that they could not mow inside the tent and neither was it necessary to mow under the ropes between the tent and the tent pegs. After the cacophony of two stroke lawnmower engines had subsided and the dust had settled, Lynnette and I finished most of the work in the marquee. On Tuesday night we had rain which put paid to any astronomical aspirations we might have had. The rest of the work in the tent we finished on Wednesday morning.

Monday evening's sunset
Monday evening’s sunset
Tuesday morning sunrise with the waning crescent Moon
Tuesday morning sunrise with the waning crescent Moon

Alan and Rose arrived around mid-afternoon on Wednesday and Alan produced his innovative pegs to mark out and rope off the telescope area, thanks Alan. Alan also brought along insulation material which we wrapped around the urn and fixed in place with cable ties. I suspect this must have reduced the amount of electricity the urn uses by about 50%, thanks again Alan. Last time around Alan produced the two lights we use at the coffee table, so I wonder what sort of rabbit he is going to produce in February. There are actually a number of persons and organizations that have contributed to or assisted with the SSP in some way or other over the past three years and you can read more about them here.

Arranging the tables and chairs in the marquee
Arranging the tables and chairs in the marquee
The screen is up and we are almost ready to go
The screen is up and we are almost ready to go
The SSP banner is in place and all we need now is the people
The SSP banner is in place and the Sale Table is ready for the Sky Guides and Auke’s fantastic Astronomy Calender, so all we need now is the people
The Coffee Table with the overflow from the Sale Table and the urn sporting its insulating jacket, thanks to Alan
The Coffee Table with the overflow from the Sale Table and the urn sporting its insulating jacket, thanks to Alan

Wednesday evening was mostly cloudy so, once again, no astronomy. Iain and Willem arrived on Thursday and set up camp close to their usual spot and Thursday evening produced more scattered clouds so astronomy again took a back seat. By mid-morning on Friday the rest of the troops started to arrive with Deon and Ronelle Begemann leading the charge followed by Johan Uys.

The telescope area properly marked out, thanks to Alan and also well signposted
The telescope area properly marked out, thanks to Alan and also well signposted
The marquee seen from the telescope area displaying the SKA-banner
The marquee seen from the telescope area displaying the SKA-banner
The entrance to the marquee dispalying a welcoming sign for Kos, just in case he pitched up unexpectedly
The entrance to the marquee dispalying a welcoming sign for Kos, just in case he pitched up unexpectedly
For the hopefulls we added fine print to the sigh.  One attendee actually pointed out to us that it was illegal to advertise something you did not have!
For the hopefulls we added fine print to the sigh. One attendee actually pointed out to us that it was illegal to advertise something you did not have!
The camp slowly fills up
The camp slowly fills up

The “locals” who attended were Ross Bauer & Elmare Cross, Ray Brederode, Charl & Yolande Cater, Dwayne Engelbrecht, Jackie Halford, Eduard & Erika Hoffman, Sebastian Guile, Lia Labuschagne, Jennifer Lamberth, Paul Nicolaides & Rhiannon Thomas and Alex & Louka Nicolaides, Robin Köhler & Dianne Nxumalo-Köhler, Suann & Aidan Smith and Gerhard Vermeulen.

The SSP “regulars”, Alan & Rose Cassells, Ludwig Churr & Sandy Struckmeyer, Brett du Preez, Iain Finlay, Wim Filmalter, Evan Knox-Davies, Paul Kruger, Leslie Rose, and Willem van Zyl.

People who came from a good deal further away than usual to attend the SSP were Deon & Ronelle Begemann – Stillbaai, Kobus Hoffman from Missouri – that’s right, the one in the USA, Rudi Lombard & Miemie Kock from Klerksdorp, Bastian Paetzold & Salika Rafiq all the way from London, Johan Uys & Anita Hechter from Klein Brak, Thinus van der Merwe from Bloemfontein (Boyden).

Much to our dismay, one group brought their dog. For future reference please note that Gesina does not allow dogs at Night Sky. She is not anti-dog as she owns several, but she is definitely anti-dog-poop, which she has to pick up in the camp after the dogs and their owners have gone home. Take note that Gesina has, in the past, sent people with dogs packing and we would like to prevent this happening to SSP attendees.

Friday evening’s braai went of very well and Auke’s What’s-Up-Tonight was, as usual, informative, thorough and humorous. After Auke’s tour of the night sky Lynnette and I took the newcomers/beginners to one side and talked them through some basic astronomy and also used Lorenzo to show them some of the well-known objects in the night sky. The heavy dew put an end to many of the viewing efforts.

Ray Brederode’s SSP ended almost before it started.  He had hardly set up and introduced himself to fellow astrophotographic enthusiast, Leslie Rose, when he received an emergency call from his wife, Jo.  Their cat had suffered a serious injury and she and their two children were traumatized by the incident.  Ray immediately packed up and headed home to be with his family. We subsequently heard from Ray that they are supporting each other to handle the unfortunate episode.

Alan and Rose in the foreground, well organized as usual
Alan and Rose in the foreground, well organized as usual
Ludwig and Sandy share a quiet moment at the braai
Ludwig and Sandy share a quiet moment at the braai
the fires are going, the coals are ready and some of the braaiers are at their posts
The fires are going, the coals are ready and Thinus and Dwayne are in action
This might be Evan's version of the Haka, we will have to ask him.
This might be Evan’s version of the Haka, we will have to ask him.  Paul, Suann and Rhiannon don’t seem too impressed anyway, probably staunch Bok supporters
Edward, Auke and Evan.  Is this part of a dustbin dance?
Edward, Auke and Evan. Is this part of a dustbin dance?

Lynnette and I are both very security conscious and, when we went to bed, Auke was still out and about. We completely forgot that he was sharing the house with us and apparently locked both doors. When Auke eventually came to bed he could not get in despite what he calls concerted and forceful attempts. He eventually gave up and slept in his car. Now you are probably wondering why he did not bang on our window until we woke up and let him in?  Because he is and officer and a gentleman and considerate and self-sacrificing to boot, so he would rather inconvenience himself than wake us up; at least that is what I like to believe.

On Saturday morning we kicked off with the newcomers/beginners at the astronomically unacceptable time of 08:30. During this session we handed out Southern Star Wheels, a set of Discover star charts and a set of Auke’s ConCards and demonstrated how to use them. We also discussed light pollution, dark adaption, the use and purchase of binoculars and telescopes as well as naked eye viewing. After breaking for coffee it was time to welcome everyone formally and start the official programme.

The newcomers in the marquee on Saturday morning
The newcomers in the marquee on Saturday morning.  Is Erika throwing her hands up in despair?
Edward encouraging the newcomers to become enthusiastic amateur astronomers
Edward encouraging the newcomers to become enthusiastic amateur astronomers.  Snorre’s slightly pulled back ears denote skepticism.

Between the coffee break and the lunch time braai Thinus van der Merwe (ASSA Bloemfontein) told us all about “Amateur Astronomy at Boyden Observatory” and then Charl Cater (UCT) introduced us to “Real backyard science – amateur spectroscopy”.

After Charl’s talk it was time to braai and then we set about dealing with rest of the program and Brett du Preez a SSP regular and an astrophotographer of merit, shared his latest adventure with us “Making a solar/lunar telescope”. Edward Foster, standing in for Johan Uys who had to withdraw at short notice, explained “Why the Western Cape isn’t all nice and flat”.

Lia, who attended the handing over of the telescope by UCT to the Hermanus Centre in the morning was led astray by a malfunctioning GPS on the way to Night Sky. To prevent the programme getting completely out of line, we unfortunately had to skip her talk and ask Auke to move the Pub Quiz forward. Lia’s interesting talk, The fascinating moons of the Solar System will have to wait a while.

The Pub Quiz was in a new format with loads of interesting questions, thanks to all Aukes’s hard work. After a long and grueling contest the winner of the famous Floating Rosette was Yolande Cater who now joins the illustrious past winners of this prestigious prize, (Pierre de Villiers , Evan Knox-Davies (2x), John Richards (2x))

The group photo of the attendees at the eighth Southern Star party in November 2014 ant Night Sky Caravan Farm
The group photo of the attendees at the eighth Southern Star party in November 2014 ant Night Sky Caravan Farm

Once the excitement of the Pub Quiz had died down we could tuck into the cake Gesina had baked to mark the eighth time the SSP had been held. The cake was beautifully done in white and blue icing with blue stars and served up with a glass of the dessert wine for which the area is rightly famous.

The cake Gesina baked for the SSP's eighth birthday
The cake Gesina baked for the SSP’s eighth birthday

After supper I took any interested beginners/newcomers and ran them through the use of star charts to find objects in the sky. We used naked-eye observations, binoculars and the ever faithful Lorenzo when we wanted a closer look at specific objects. The clouds started coming over around 23:00 and eventually put a stop to everyone’s observing efforts. We went to bed but apparently some interesting discussions continued in the marquee and this time we also took great care not to lock the doors. I was not going to stretch my luck or Auke’s patience more than absolutely necessary.

On Sunday morning Wim left around 06:00 and by 09:30 many others were also ready to leave. After all the farewells had been said only Lynnette and I, Alan and Rose, Iain and Willem and Lea were left. We were all staying on in the hope of being able to do some astronomy.

On Sunday morning Alan also handed over the model of the shuttle that he built for us from a standard kit. One needs to see all the modifications and additions he made to believe it. Over and above the extremely high quality of workmanship the value added to the model by his ingenuity is quite breath-taking.

Alan and the Shuttle model - a work of art.
Alan and the Shuttle model – a work of art.
This was a standard, of the shelf model and it is now a souped up Alan Cassels special.  Thanks Alan.
This was a standard, of the shelf model and it is now a souped up Alan Cassels special. Thanks Alan.

Our hopes of being able to do some astronomy during the next couple of nights were scuttled by the weather which was cloudy on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.

Lia left around midday on Monday as she had other appointments and on Tuesday Anneliese and her team arrived to take down the marquee. Shortly after she and her team had left we spotted water seeping from an area where we had driven in one of Alan’s pegs to mark of the telescope area. You can read more about the hunt for the illusive leak if you go here.

The rest of us packed up on Wednesday while a north-westerly breeze was slowly building up to a mini gale. The wind, in fact, almost blew Alan’s caravan apart near Worcester forcing them to continue home at a snail’s pace. He and Rose only got home around 19:00 that evening and Alan has a lot of work to do on the caravan before the next SSP.

More pictures of the SSP can be found on the SSP website at this web page.