Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve: Saturday 12th March 2016.

On Saturday morning Auke sent Margie a message asking what plan B was because the weather forecast at yr.no (the Norwegian weather site which you can see here) said it was going to become cloudy from 17:00 onward with the possibility of rain. The Friends (go here for more about the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve – FHNR) and Margie looked out of their windows and decided it was fine weather and was going to stay that way. The FHNR also have a Facebook page which you can visit here.

Auke, Lynnette and I arrived on time and set up under cloudless skies in the Helderberg Nature Reserve (go here to learn more about this jewel in Somerset West) and it looked as if, for once, yr.no had got it completely wrong. People started arriving and setting up their picnics and it looked increasingly as if it was going to be clear all evening but then at 19:00 the wind shifted to the south and the temperature dropped a few degrees. Shortly after this change the first wisps of cloud appeared from the direction of False Bay and pretty soon the wisps had become large chunks and shortly thereafter it was completely overcast. The conclusion is that the Norwegian weather forecasters might be late sometimes, but they are only very, very seldom wrong.

TOP: The assembled Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve. BOTTOM LEFT: Daniel Snyman setting up his refractor. BOTTOM RIGHT: Daniel and his very cute daughter getting the moon in their sights while it was still visible and in the background Auke chats to Yolandri, the nature conservationist.
TOP: The assembled Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve. BOTTOM LEFT: Daniel Snyman setting up his refractor. BOTTOM RIGHT: Daniel and his very cute daughter getting the moon in their sights while it was still visible and in the background Auke chats to Yolandri, the nature conservationist.

Clearly there was going to be no stargazing but what was there going to be? After a hurried council of war between Margie and Auke it was decided that Auke would present his normal What’s Up in a different format to substitute for the lack of moon and stars.

TOP: The Friends all in the dark but all listening attentively as Auke takes them through Astronomy 101 the Slotegraaf version. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke demonstrating the differences between refractors and reflectors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Maphefu and the Friends in the background captivated by Auke’s presentation.
TOP: The Friends all in the dark but all listening attentively as Auke takes them through Astronomy 101 the Slotegraaf version. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke demonstrating the differences between refractors and reflectors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Maphefu and the Friends in the background captivated by Auke’s presentation.

Auke pitched in and first up explained the difference between refractors and reflecting telescopes using Daniel Snyman’s refractor and his Dobby, Maphefu. He then launched into a brilliant coverage of astronomy, astronomy history, cosmology and indigenous astronomy that entertained the Friends for more than an hour. Well done Auke!

We will be back at a later date to do the stargazing.

Museum Open Night: Thursday 10th March 2016.

Lynnette and I arrived first outside the Iziko Museum (go here to visit their website) and Planetarium (go here to see their webpage) and, after some vehicular gymnastics, managed to park the Vito. Auke and Wendy arrived shortly after us in Wendy’s new vehicle. After Elsabé Uys had assured us we were parked in the correct places we started setting up. The windy conditions soon made it clear that banners were not going to be put up at all. The wind was to become a major factor in the rest of the evening’s proceedings. However we set up Lorenzo, Wendy’s 8” Dobby and Walter, Auke’s refractor, and settled down to wait. The sun was already behind the trees and buildings on the western edge of the amphitheater so we couldn’t show people that and there was no moon, so we had no choice but to wait for it to get dark before we would (hopefully) have something to show people.

Shortly after sunset the queue started forming at the entrance to the museum and quickly extended itself down the steps of the amphitheater past our telescopes. I must say we certainly got some pretty odd looks sitting behind our telescopes twiddling our thumbs and gazing up into the sky. In the meantime the wind was steadily becoming stronger and the wispy clouds around Devil’s Peak and the eastern buttress of Table Mountain were becoming more and more substantial by the minute. Even before it was properly dark these clouds had started sweeping down the front of the mountain and then breaking up and floating across the city. They looked like giant tufts of candyfloss tinted pink and yellow by Cape Town’s poorly designed lighting.

TOP: The queue starts forming. BOTTOM LEFT: Checking the weather forecast. BOTTOM CENTRE: Theo Ferreira (The Planetarium Boss) Auke and Walter. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette in discussion with a gentleman who disputed the fact that our Sun was a star.
TOP: The queue starts forming. BOTTOM LEFT: Checking the weather forecast. BOTTOM CENTRE: Theo Ferreira (The Planetarium Boss) Auke and Walter. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette in discussion with a gentleman who disputed the fact that our Sun was a star.
TOP LEFT: Auke explaining matters astronomical while a lone viewer tries to see what Walter will show her. TOP RIGHT: I point out Jupiter in the sky as viewers wait to look through Lorenzo. BOTTOM LEFT: More Jupiter viewers and Wendy’s scope is visible in the background. BOTTOM RIGHT: Auke with viewers and Walter. The bright light in the background is not Auke’s halo it is a reflective yellow strip on the side of a taxi in the background.
TOP LEFT: Auke explaining matters astronomical while a lone viewer tries to see what Walter will show her. TOP RIGHT: I point out Jupiter in the sky as viewers wait to look through Lorenzo. BOTTOM LEFT: More Jupiter viewers and Wendy’s scope is visible in the background. BOTTOM RIGHT: Auke with viewers and Walter. The bright light in the background is not Auke’s halo it is a reflective yellow strip on the side of a taxi in the background.

When we finally got started the area around Orion, Canis Major and the surrounding constellations were only visible for brief moments in the breaks between the scurrying clouds and our best (in fact only bet) was Jupiter, low down on the eastern horizon. It seemed as if the clouds avoided that area. By now the wind was blowing a mini-gale, and when it gusted it overturned our tables and chairs, rocked the telescopes and blew dust and leaves into people’s eyes. Most certainly not the most pleasant evening for astronomy outreach we had experienced. As Jupiter rose higher it entered the cloudy zone and we had to wait patiently for it to reappear in the gaps before people could view it through the telescopes.

TOP LEFT: The back is the best part of a donkey. TOP RIGHT: Walter’s angle exactly suites this shorter viewer. BOTTOM LEFT: With all that light around one needs t have a really bright object to look at with a telescope if one is to see anything at all. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wendy with her queue of viewers and that reflective strip on the taxi in the background again.
TOP LEFT: The back is the best part of a donkey. TOP RIGHT: Walter’s angle exactly suites this shorter viewer. BOTTOM LEFT: With all that light around one needs t have a really bright object to look at with a telescope if one is to see anything at all. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wendy with her queue of viewers and that reflective strip on the taxi in the background again.
TOP LEFT: I forgot our ladder which we use to assist the shorter viewers so I had to depend on “Parent Power”. TOP RIGHT: Auke, Wendy myself and the three scopes all in one picture. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke and Walter and I do not know what caused the shaft of light across the picture. BOTTOM RIGHT: Walter waits while Auke explains in the background.
TOP LEFT: I forgot our ladder which we use to assist the shorter viewers so I had to depend on “Parent Power”. TOP RIGHT: Auke, Wendy myself and the three scopes all in one picture. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke and Walter and I do not know what caused the shaft of light across the picture. BOTTOM RIGHT: Walter waits while Auke explains in the background.

By the time 21:40 rolled around all three of us were more than eager to pack up and go home. We bundled everything into the cars and made our respective ways home. It was fun, I think, but not the sort of fun I would like to repeat in a hurry. We are uncertain if it was just the very windy conditions or if there were other factors, but we definitely had far fewer people at the telescopes than last year and there were also fewer people in the queues.

Leeuwenboschfontein with Klaas and Wilma: Wednesday 02nd to Monday 07th March 2016.

Klaas contacted us in May 2015 about the Summer Southern Star Party in 2016 (go here to read more about the event). Unfortunately the dates in February did not fit in with their travel plans so they could not attend and we decided to organize a mini-substitute for them at Leeuwenboschfontein instead.

Lynnette, Snorre and I left for Leeuwenboschfontein (LBF) (click here to read more about LBF or visit their Facebook page here) on Wednesday the 02nd of March and settled in. Iain and Willem arrived the following day, while Auke, Barry & Miemie, Alan & Rose, Louis and Corné & his family, all arrived on the Friday. Klaas & Wilma also arrived on Friday having driven 400km from Olive Grove (go here to read more about Olive Grove), just south of Beaufort West, where they had spent a few days stargazing.

Lynnette and I got in some valuable stargazing time on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings and on the Friday evening we all traipsed down to the stargazing enclosure as there were three non-astronomical groups camping as well, and we could not switch off the lights at the ablution block. Louis set up outside the enclosure because it was easier than carrying everything inside and he is used to working off the back of his pick-up. Inside the enclosure we had our 12”, Alan and Rose had their 12” and Corné had his 8” (all Dobbies). Auke hadn’t brought a telescope and set himself up to do binocular viewing while Klaas had his refractor. Klaas compiled an excellent time lapse of the activity inside the enclosure during the course of the evening.

We will at some stage have to do something about making the access from the runway to the enclosure smoother for transporting the telescopes as it is quite tricky, even with headlamps. The light colour of the vibracrete walls also acts as a reflective surface on the inside of the enclosure and significantly raises the ambient light levels. We will have to consider applying a matt black paint at some stage to solve that problem.

TOP LEFT: An early morning moon rising out of the clouds and sporting a nice Earthshine (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 200mm, ISO 1000, 2s, f/5.6). TOP RIGHT: Dragonfly – This one is a male Red-veined Dropwing (Trithemis arteriosa). MIDDLE: On Saturday afternoon we were treated to a display of rainbows and I was just too late to capture the moment when there were three (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 400, 1/80s, f/8). BOTTOM LEFT: An impressive cloud formation to the west of the camp (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 18mm, ISO 800, 1/2s, f/4.5). BOTTOM RIGHT: Lights along the driveway leading to the guesthouse and the reception with just a touch of red on the right from Laingsburg’s lights and the green dot is NOT a UFO (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 6s, f/1.8).
TOP LEFT: An early morning moon rising out of the clouds and sporting a nice Earthshine (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 200mm, ISO 1000, 2s, f/5.6). TOP RIGHT: Dragonfly – This one is a male Red-veined Dropwing (Trithemis arteriosa). MIDDLE: On Saturday afternoon we were treated to a display of rainbows and I was just too late to capture the moment when there were three (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 400, 1/80s, f/8). BOTTOM LEFT: An impressive cloud formation to the west of the camp (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 18mm, ISO 800, 1/2s, f/4.5). BOTTOM RIGHT: Lights along the driveway leading to the guesthouse and the reception with just a touch of red on the right from Laingsburg’s lights and the green dot is NOT a UFO (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 6s, f/1.8).
Laingsburg is 90 km away as the proverbial crow flies but when there are low clouds over there it makes its presence known by the orange glow of the lights along the N1 through the town. (Nikon D5100, 80mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 6s, f/1.8)
Laingsburg is 90 km away as the proverbial crow flies but when there are low clouds over there it makes its presence known by the orange glow of the lights along the N1 through the town. (Nikon D5100, 80mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 6s, f/1.8)
TOP LEFT: The Earth’s shadow and Venus’s girdle across the eastern horizon as seen from the campsite (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 18mm, ISO 800, 1/13s, f/6.3). TOP RIGHT: An earlier photograph of the sunlight and shadows to the north-east of Leeuwenboschfontein which also caught some birds in the evening sky. BOTTOM LEFT: Star trails taken from the camp with the camera pointed just west of the south celestial pole (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 10s, f/1.5; 249 exposures assembled with StarStax-0.71). BOTTOM RIGHT: Crux (the Southern Cross) showing the colour variation in the main stars making up the constellation and also the dark nebula known as the Coal Sack (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 2500, 8s, f/1.8 & enlarged and then cropped with Photoscape).
TOP LEFT: The Earth’s shadow and Venus’s girdle across the eastern horizon as seen from the campsite (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII f/3.5-5.6G; 18mm, ISO 800, 1/13s, f/6.3). TOP RIGHT: An earlier photograph of the sunlight and shadows to the north-east of Leeuwenboschfontein which also caught some birds in the evening sky. BOTTOM LEFT: Star trails taken from the camp with the camera pointed just west of the south celestial pole (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 1000, 10s, f/1.5; 249 exposures assembled with StarStax-0.71). BOTTOM RIGHT: Crux (the Southern Cross) showing the colour variation in the main stars making up the constellation and also the dark nebula known as the Coal Sack (Nikon D5100, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G; 50mm, ISO 2500, 8s, f/1.8 & enlarged and then cropped with Photoscape).

On Saturday the weather turned nasty. We had windy conditions with gusts that at times threatened to lift the roof off the shelter over our caravan. Thanks to Willem’s intervention and the quick reaction of the LBF’s staff the roof was nailed down properly before any damage was done. Poor Snorre was very upset, firstly by the clanging of the loose galvanized sheeting in the wind and then by the sound of hammering on the roof. Later on we also had some light rain and that evening we all got together in the lapa for a braai. Klaas was dying to show us his technique for photographing bright planets and stars during the daytime but there was never a long enough break in the weather to do that. At the Star Party in 2017 will be the ideal opportunity Klaas.

TOP: From left to right: Iain Finlay, Willem van Zyl, Alan & Rose Cassells, Lynette and I, Louis Fourie, Klaas van Ditzhuyzen and Barry Dumas. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry & Miemie. BOTTOM CENTRE: Iain, Rose & Alan and Rose, Alan & myself and Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Miemie & Wilma in the foreground.
TOP: From left to right: Iain Finlay, Willem van Zyl, Alan & Rose Cassells, Lynette and I, Louis Fourie, Klaas van Ditzhuyzen and Barry Dumas. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry & Miemie. BOTTOM CENTRE: Iain, Rose & Alan and Rose, Alan & myself and Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Miemie & Wilma in the foreground.
Our supper, three Kasslertjops and four Pofadders.
Our supper, three Kassler chops and four Pofadders.
TOP LEFT: Klaas van Ditzhuyzen our Dutch visitor. TOP RIGHT: Louis Fourie from Worcester in a pensive mood. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry & Miemie Dumas visiting our caravan on Sunday evening. BOTTOM RIGHT: Barry, Miemie & Auke and a rare view of Auke’s tongue.
TOP LEFT: Klaas van Ditzhuyzen our Dutch visitor. TOP RIGHT: Louis Fourie from Worcester in a pensive mood. BOTTOM LEFT: Barry & Miemie Dumas visiting our caravan on Sunday evening. BOTTOM RIGHT: Barry, Miemie & Auke and a rare view of Auke’s tongue.

On Sunday Corné and Alan & Rose departed but the weather remained overcast. It eventually cleared by midnight for a short period till around 03:00 on Monday morning. On Monday everyone except Iain and Willem packed up and left for home.

Klaas and Wilma continued their South African trip and their next stop was Elgin Valley Inn in Grabouw. They had another stop in Tulbagh before departing for the Netherlands again on the 18th of March.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event but a special word of thanks to Klaas and Wilma. It was a pleasure to meet you and to share the night sky with you. Thank you especially Klaas for you astronomy input and we hope to see you at the Southern Star Party early in 2016. You might want to visit here or go here and possibly visit here to see some of the astronomy things Klaas does. His Leeuwenbosch material can be viewed here and he also produced a time-lapse video of the activity during an observing session in the “Sterretjieskraal”, which can be viewed here.

Snorre enjoyed the weekend as usual, except for the banging on the roof on Saturday.

TOP LEFT: Somewhere down there among all that green stuff should be at least one mouse and all I have to do is find it. TOP RIGHT: Out there looks a very promising hunting prospect, but there is a large dry watercourse and a road to cross, so maybe not today. BOTTOM LEFT: Let’s go and investigate the frog situation at the dam. BOTTOM RIGHT: Not nearly dark enough for hunting yet, so I’ll lie down and wait.
TOP LEFT: Somewhere down there among all that green stuff should be at least one mouse and all I have to do is find it. TOP RIGHT: Out there looks a very promising hunting prospect, but there is a large dry watercourse and a road to cross, so maybe not today. BOTTOM LEFT: Let’s go and investigate the frog situation at the dam. BOTTOM RIGHT: All this walking is tiring and it’s not nearly dark enough for hunting yet, so I’ll lie down and wait.

Durbanville Public Library – Talk on Women in Astronomy: Monday 29th February 2016.

On Monday afternoon Lynnette and I set of for the Durbanville Public Library where I had been invited by Ari van Dongen to give a talk titled “Women in Astronomy”. Ari, viagra Tony Jones, order Lynnette and I were there nice and early so that we had enough time to set op projectors and make sure the laptops were all talking to the respective projectors.

Myself on the left and Ari van Dongen on the right (back to the camera) making sure all the connections are connected and all the signals are going to the right places.
Myself on the left and Ari van Dongen on the right (back to the camera) making sure all the connections are connected and all the signals are going to the right places.

Tony was first up and ran through a comprehensive “What’s up” for those who were interested in finding currently visible celestial objects.

I followed Tony and thought my talk went of fairly well. I did get the impression that one or two of the male members of the audience might have been a tad uncomfortable though.

The title slide of my talk.
The title slide of my talk.
Question time after my talk chaired by Ari. I do not know what on earth I was trying to explain with that expansive gesture.
Question time after my talk chaired by Ari. I do not know what on earth I was trying to explain with that expansive gesture.

After my talk Lynnette and I had to leave as we had matters to related to our National Science Week grant proposal to finalize. This meant that we unfortunately missed Ari’s video.

The next meeting is on the 25th of April and Ari has invited me to give my talk on the geology of the Western Cape titled “Once upon a time when the Western Cape was much younger. The tale of why everything isn’t just flat or all the same all over the place.”