Visit to Porterville: Friday 15th April 2016.

The original appointment was somewhere in March but that had to be canceled due to inclement weather. The event was to have consisted of a talk at the retirement home, Huis Nerina, in the afternoon followed by a stargazing event at the Golf Course in the evening. The bad weather would not have affected the talk at Huis Nerina but would certainly have prevented the stargazing. So the event was rescheduled for Friday the 15th, which unfortunately clashed with an appointment we had with the EcoRangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve (click here to visit their webpage and find out more about this magnificent corner of South Africa) . Rather than cancel one of the events we decided to split up. Auke would do the presentation for the EcoRangers (click here to find out more about the EcoRangers) while Lynnette, Snorre and I would go to Porterville and do Huis Nerina and the Golf Course stargazing. Nathalie, from Porterville Tourism, (click here to visit their webpage) (you can also visit their FaceBook page by clicking here) contacted us shortly after these arrangements had been made and told us that the Porterville event would have to be shifted to Thursday the 14th because there was a dance on in the town and people wanted to attend that and our stargazing event. This actually suited us because we would not have to split up and could all three do both events. This was not to be because, a few days later, an embarrassed Nathalie contacted us and asked if we would please be prepared to switch back to Friday the 15th as some other administrative glitch had popped up! So, because we try and please most of the people most of the time, we switched back to splitting StarPeople up.

On Friday morning Lynnette, Snorre and I set off to Porterville where we arrived around 11:00 and reported to Nathalie at the Tourism Office.  From there we went to the Rendezvous B&B, Restaurant (visit a webpage with more information about this very friendly establishment) where we were welcomed by Riana van der Merwe and shown to our room. One of the staff, appropriately named Angel, quickly converted the two twin beds to a double bed. Shortly after 14:00 we headed for Huis Nerina and Old Age Home run by the ACVV, leaving Snorre in our room. The ACVV is the oldest welfare organization in South Africa, having been established in 1904 to render a comprehensive social welfare service to families in need (click here for more information on the ACVV) At Huis Nerina we discovered that there was no convenient white wall to project against, as we had been assured there would be. The staff quickly found a bed sheet and in no time it was fixed to a wall with sellotape and funny putty.

My talk was on astronomy in South Africa with some extra slides thrown in of pretty astronomical objects and a bit of Stellarium. I also asked the folks to encourage all grandchildren and great-grandchildren who had any interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics to stick with it and qualify themselves to participate in South Africa’s blooming astronomy endeavors. After fielding some questions we packed and said goodbye up after promising to come back with a telescope and do some real astronomy with them somewhere in the future.

A special note on the photographs in this post: Lynnette was the photographer but using my camera and somehow most of the photographs are just ever so slightly out of focus. Neither of us knows why because my photographs later on of the flowers are fine. Lynnette is not happy about the quality of her photographs but next time we will check the camera out first.

TOP LEFT: Entrance gate to Huis Nerina the retirement home in Porterville, run by the ACVV. TOP RIGHT: The assembled Golden Oldies. Please note the makeshift laptop and projector stand at centre right. BOTTOM LEFT: Different view with me in the picture. BOTTOM RIGHT: Almost the same as the top right one but from a slightly different angle and zoomed in a little bit.
TOP LEFT: Entrance gate to Huis Nerina the retirement home in Porterville, run by the ACVV. TOP RIGHT: The assembled Golden Oldies. Please note the makeshift laptop and projector stand at centre right. BOTTOM LEFT: Different view with me in the picture. BOTTOM RIGHT: Almost the same as the top right one but from a slightly different angle and zoomed in a little bit.

After a trip back to the Rendezvous for refreshments, we pitched at the golf course at around 18: to start setting up. Snorre was unfortunately confined to barracks because we were worried that some of the visitors might bring dogs, as they had on our previous visit. We were right because there was a particularly industrious Dachshund who felt duty bound to bark loudly at everything and everyone. Not Snorre’s cup of tea I am afraid.

TOP LEFT: The guest used chairs from the Golf Club and many brought blankets for their children. TOP RIGHT: The guests listening to me. The white objects most of them appear to be holding are the supper parcels Nathalie organized. CENTER: StarPeople’s banners displayed in the well-lit area in front of the door leading to the bar and the loo. BOTTOM LEFT: A different angle on the guests with me in the picture just to prove that I was there. BOTTOM RIGHT: Shot from behind you can see that it was pretty dark there despite several really irritating street lights.
TOP LEFT: The guest used chairs from the Golf Club and many brought blankets for their children. TOP RIGHT: The guests listening to me. The white objects most of them appear to be holding are the supper parcels Nathalie organized. CENTER: StarPeople’s banners displayed in the well-lit area in front of the door leading to the bar and the loo. BOTTOM LEFT: A different angle on the guests with me in the picture just to prove that I was there. BOTTOM RIGHT: Shot from behind you can see that it was pretty dark there despite several really irritating street lights.

By 19:15 the guests started trickling in and shortly after 19:30 I kicked off with a short talk before starting the telescope viewing. Orion was on its way down and already fairly low in the west so we started with M45, the Orion Nebula) and then worked our way eastward covering Jupiter and the Moon before switching to the Crux, the Diamond Cross and various objects of interest in the Milky Way itself.

TOP LEFT: Some guests did some naked eye stargazing while standing in line for a look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: We were very happy to see quite a few children among the guests. CENTER: Myself, Lorenzo and the ever-cheerful Nathalie Wagenstroom the Tourism Officer at Porterville Tourism. BOTTOM LEFT: I must say the guests were not only very interested but many of them were also quite clued up. BOTTOM RIGHT: There were one or two guests who appeared to be a little apprehensive about looking through the telescope.
TOP LEFT: Some guests did some naked eye stargazing while standing in line for a look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: We were very happy to see quite a few children among the guests. CENTER: Myself, Lorenzo and the ever-cheerful Nathalie Wagenstroom the Tourism Officer at Porterville Tourism. BOTTOM LEFT: I must say the guests were not only very interested but many of them were also quite clued up. BOTTOM RIGHT: There were one or two guests who appeared to be a little apprehensive about looking through the telescope.

Some sharp-eyed star gazers spotted Arcturus rising and mistook that for Mars which kindly put in an appearance a little while later, followed even later by Saturn. Once again one had proof positive that trying to view objects that had just risen above the horizon might have artistic merit but was an astronomical waste of time. By 22:30 we had packed up and not too long after 23:00 we could shower and hit the bed with a vengeance. Snorre was glad to see us but clearly perplexed at not being able to accompany us.

TOP LEFT: Some guests did some naked eye stargazing while standing in line for a look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: We were very happy to see quite a few children among the guests. CENTER: Myself, Lorenzo and the ever-cheerful Nathalie Wagenstroom the Tourism Officer at Porterville Tourism. BOTTOM LEFT: I must say the guests were not only very interested but many of them were also quite clued up. BOTTOM RIGHT: There were one or two guests who appeared to be a little apprehensive about looking through the telescope.
TOP LEFT: Some guests did some naked eye stargazing while standing in line for a look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: We were very happy to see quite a few children among the guests. CENTER: Myself, Lorenzo and the ever-cheerful Nathalie Wagenstroom the Tourism Officer at Porterville Tourism. BOTTOM LEFT: I must say the guests were not only very interested but many of them were also quite clued up. BOTTOM RIGHT: There were one or two guests who appeared to be a little apprehensive about looking through the telescope.

After a leisurely breakfast the next morning we packed up and headed home. We only stopped to photograph some Brunsvigia Orientalis (Afrikaans: Koningskandelaar) and Crassyn guttata (Afrikaans: Sambreelblom) in a field adjacent to the road near Halmanshof. Once home it was the usual schlep of unloading and packing everything away before being able to relax.

TOP LEFT: Crassyn guttata (Afrikaans: Sambreelblom). TOP RIGHT: The inflorescence of Brunsvigia orientalis (Koningskandelaar) shortly after pushing its way into the open. CENTER: A whole field of these flowers and you can sort through to identify them. BOTTOM LEFT: Brunsvigia orientalis on the left and Crassyn guttata on the right. BOTTOM RIGHT: A cluster of Crassyn guttata.
TOP LEFT: Crassyn guttata (Afrikaans: Sambreelblom). TOP RIGHT: The inflorescence of Brunsvigia orientalis (Koningskandelaar) shortly after pushing its way into the open. CENTER: A whole field of these flowers and you can sort through to identify them. BOTTOM LEFT: Brunsvigia orientalis on the left and Crassyn guttata on the right. BOTTOM RIGHT: A cluster of Crassyn guttata.

We will try and organize a special trip for the residents of Huis Nerina around the First Quarter Moon to give them the opportunity of looking through a telescope. Maybe Nathalie can pull a few strings for us.

 

Visit to Leeuwenboschfontein: Friday 08th to Sunday 10th April 2016.

We left in good time on Friday morning and our first stop was at the Veldskoen Padstal a few kilometers north of De Doorns for breakfast en grapes. Go here to read more about this excellent venue or click her to visit their FaceBook page. The Veldskoen has never disappointed us and their breakfast was, as always, first class. After breakfast and loading our grapes we set off on the second leg of the journey to Leeuwenboschfontein. Visit Leeuwenboschfontein’s website by clicking here to find out more about this lovely venue. We arrived there to find Iain and Willem already on site as well as a crowd of trainee drone pilots and their trainers.

Iain who was manning the admin-desk for Joan informed us that we would not be able to use the astro-enclosure that weekend because the drone trainees were doing the night-flying part of the course. So it was not just a case of not being able to drive on the runway while they were training, which I fully understood, we would also not be allowed in the astro enclosure. Apparently our presence there was disallowed by a regulation which specified that people were not allowed to be within a certain distance of an area in which drones were operating. I felt that the farm workers cottages were closer to the flying area than the astro-enclosure but my objections were met with a repetition of the statement that we would not be allowed to use the astro-enclosure as long as drone training was in progress.

This is a matter which will have to be discussed with Johan because the drone training is normally conducted during the working week so we don’t clash, but the night flying training was taking place over a weekend and a new moon weekend too. If the night flying training has to take place over a weekend than we can surely come to an agreement where they us one of the 40 weekends that are not on or close to one of the 12 new moon weekends, which is when we would like to have access to the astro-enclosure.

Anyway, there did not seem to be any wiggle room so we had to set up in the camp where there were only two other sets of non-stargazing campers and one set up on the hill at the camping site adjacent to the original fountain in the name Leeuwenboschfontein. There was still a bush up there but (un)fortunately no lion anymore.

Lynnette and I set up on the embankment next to the caravan where. Later in the evening we switched of the external lights at the ablution blocks but there was nothing we could do about the lights on the entrance road to the reception office and the guest houses. To top it all, the conventional incandescent globes had been replaced with new energy saving globes which were unfortunately much brighter than their incandescent predecessors.

The seeing was good and Lynnette and I spent most of the early part of the evening brushing up on our constellations and later switched to hunting for some deep-sky objects. Later on I decided to look for and photograph Comet 252P/Linear. Easier said than done because I had left my nice finder chart at home in Brackenfell. Lynnette, wanted to know where it was and I pointed in a general easterly direction and said, “Somewhere over there”. Her comment was, “Well why don’t you look over there then?” So I looked “over there” and, much to my surprise a very faint, vaguely greenish patch appeared in the finder scope. A quick look in the 25mm eyepiece to confirm and then switched to a 10mm eyepiece and, yes there it was. I let Lynnette look to confirm and then set up the camera on its tripod and took some photos. Mission accomplished and off to bed we went.

Somewhere in the course of the night we also had a visit from one of the drone trainees. It turned out that they had to do this course to qualify as drone pilots because they were going to use their drones for commercial gain. He personally had several drones, one of which set him back R80 000. The course set him back R40 000, but all this expenditure was worth it in view of the amount of money a qualified drone pilot could make.

TOP LEFT: Dragonfly, Anax imperator (Blue Emperor). TOP RIGHT: A view from De Wilge at the Western edge of the campsite, across the lawn, past the play area toward the spanking new pool and then on to the hills beyond the airfield and the astro-enclosure. CENTER: The illusive Comet 252P/Linear (Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G Settings: 50mm, ISO 1000, 13s – f/1.8). BOTTOM LEFT: The drone training area. BOTTOM RIGHT: A closer look at the drone training area; the astro-enclosure is at least 200m to the left outside the frame of the photo.
TOP LEFT: Dragonfly, Anax imperator (Blue Emperor). TOP RIGHT: A view from De Wilge at the Western edge of the campsite, across the lawn, past the play area toward the spanking new pool and then on to the hills beyond the airfield and the astro-enclosure. CENTER: The illusive Comet 252P/Linear (Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G Settings: 50mm, ISO 1000, 13s – f/1.8). BOTTOM LEFT: The drone training area. BOTTOM RIGHT: A closer look at the drone training area; the astro-enclosure is at least 200m to the left outside the frame of the photo.

Saturday was beautiful day despite some high level clouds that could not make up their minds if they were coming or going. We paid Iain, Willem and their two cats, Tiger and Aimee a visit. The cats had come along for the first time instead of going to the kennels. We did not take Snorre with us and it was just as well because poor Tiger was so nervous he hid under blankets and cushions. We had the opportunity to get a closer look at some of the drones. After the visit I set off down to the astro-enclosure by a very roundabout route so as not to be seen by either the drone trainees or their trainers. On the way there I came across a solitary male baboon, which is something we will have to reckon with if we leave equipment down there during the daytime. After taking my photos I sneaked back to the camp unobserved.

TOP LEFT: The astro-enclosure from the outside. This is the western end so one is looking east. TOP RIGHT: The astro-enclosure from the outside. This is the southern end so one is looking north. The toilet is visible on the extreme right and as it has no roof, one can does not have to interrupt one’s stargazing to go to the loo. BOTTOM LEFT: The astro-enclosure from the outside. This is the eastern end so one is looking west. BOTTOM RIGHT: The astro-enclosure from the outside. This is the northern end so one is looking south, with the entrance gate visible on the right.
TOP LEFT: The astro-enclosure from the outside. This is the western end so one is looking east. TOP RIGHT: The astro-enclosure from the outside. This is the southern end so one is looking north. The toilet is visible on the extreme right and, as it has no roof, one can does not have to interrupt one’s stargazing when visiting the loo. BOTTOM LEFT: The astro-enclosure from the outside. This is the eastern end so one is looking west. BOTTOM RIGHT: The astro-enclosure from the outside. This is the northern end so one is looking south, with the entrance gate visible on the right.
TOP LEFT: The astro-enclosure from the inside. This is the western end so one is also looking west. The entrance is to the right. TOP RIGHT: The astro-enclosure from the inside. This is the northern end so one is also looking north. The entrance is to the left. BOTTOM LEFT: The astro-enclosure from the inside. This is the eastern end so one is also looking east. The loo is to the right. BOTTOM RIGHT: The astro-enclosure from the inside. This is the southern end so one is also looking south. The loo is to the left.
TOP LEFT: The astro-enclosure from the inside. This is the western end so one is also looking west. The entrance is to the right. TOP RIGHT: The astro-enclosure from the inside. This is the northern end so one is also looking north. The entrance is to the left. BOTTOM LEFT: The astro-enclosure from the inside. This is the eastern end so one is also looking east. The loo is to the right. BOTTOM RIGHT: The astro-enclosure from the inside. This is the southern end so one is also looking south. The loo is to the left.

Late on Saturday afternoon Robert Bark with his wife, daughter and 8” Dobby moved into the caravan next to ours and shortly after that Louis Fourie arrived. Louis was not particularly pleased with the prospect of not being able to set up in the astro-enclosure, but decided to make the best of it and setup on the very last site at the western end of the campsite. Lynnette and I set up at the same spot as the previous evening and Robert set himself up right in the middle of the campsite, as we had once again switched off all the outside lights at the ablution blocks. Thanks to Lynnette I was able to take some good shots of the 3-day old moon setting behind the lapa on top of one of the peaks of the Nougat hills.

Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII, Settings: 200mm, ISO 400, 1/1.3s – f/5.6). TOP LEFT: Going. TOP RIGHT: Going. BOTTOM LEFT: Going. BOTTOM RIGHT: Almost gone.
Camera: Nikon D5100, Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII, Settings: 200mm, ISO 400, 1/1.3s – f/5.6).
TOP LEFT: Going. TOP RIGHT: Going. BOTTOM LEFT: Going. BOTTOM RIGHT: Almost gone.

The seeing was not as good as the previous evening but improved steadily during the course of the night and by 03:00 it was very good again. Our drone trainee came back again and brought one of his fellow trainees along as well. They spent quite a while with us before heading off to bed as they had to do the final part of their flying test before six the next morning. After they departed Lynnette and I did some more constellation work and a little bit of observing before packing up and going to bed.

The next day, Sunday, we packed up at a leisurely pace and eventually left for home well after lunchtime and enjoyed an uneventful trip home.

I am always sorry to leave Leeuwenboschfontein but then there is also the pleasure of knowing that we will be back there at the next new moon.