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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Monday afternoon Lynnette and I set off for the Durbanville Public Library where I had been invited by Ari van Dongen to give a talk titled “Women in Astronomy”. Ari, Tony Jones, 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.
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 off 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.
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.”
The February 2016 edition of MNASSA (Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa) is available on line. Below is the title page and list of contents. You may, however, also go here to download the October edition of MNASSA” go here, to download the full edition.