The spring 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 26 to 30 October 2016.

The spring Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) was a success despite the fact that the weather did not really play along. All in all, 60 people registered, but due to unforeseen circumstances there were cancellations and the final total was 55.

Since the previous SSP in February we have had enough to keep us busy. We were involved in or presented the following events between the previous SSP and this one.

  • An outreach event at the Kogelberg Farm Hostel for Elkanah House Private School.
  • A Deep Sky event at Leeuwenboschfontein where we had Klaas and Wilma van Ditzhuyzen from the Netherlands as guests.
  • The Museum Night at the Iziko Museum in the Company Gardens.
  • The Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
  • The Eco Rangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
  • The Old Age Home in Porterville.
  • A public event at the Golf course in Porterville.
  • Four talks at the Durbanville Public Library.
  • Five public events at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront.
  • Eight days for National Science Week at the Iziko Museum in the Company Gardens.
  • An outreach event at the !Khwa ttu San Cultural and Educational Centre.
  • An outreach event at Labiance Primary School.
TOP: Loading done – the Vito from the back. MIDDLE: Loading done – the Vito from the side. BOTTOM: Loading done – the trailer.
TOP: Loading done – the Vito from the back. MIDDLE: Loading done – the Vito from the side. BOTTOM: Loading done – the trailer.

On Monday the 24th of October shortly after 07:00 Lynnette, Snorre and I left Brackenfell. This time we did not have to work right through the night to finish everything as I had the able assistance of my son, John-Henry. It was not only his physical assistance that made a difference, but his far better eye for what fits in where was a great help. We started unloading as soon as we arrived and during the course of Monday afternoon Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent.

Alan and Rose Cassells arrived on Tuesday and immediately started setting up their camp site. On Wednesday Eddy Nijeboer arrived with Auke hard on his heels and Barry and Miemie Dumas not far behind him.

TOP: Sunset from the “Post Office” at the turn-off from the R317 looking toward Mcgregor. Lynnette and I had such poor mobile reception at Night Sky that we had to drive from the camp to this spot to receive mail and make calls. BOTTOM: Sunset from the camp looking toward Swellendam. The darker blue layer on the horizon is the Earth’s shadow and the pale pink layer above it, known as the Girdle of Venus, is caused by scattering of sunlight by the upper layers of the atmosphere.
TOP: Sunset from the “Post Office” at the turn-off from the R317 looking toward Mcgregor. Lynnette and I had such poor mobile reception at Night Sky that we had to drive from the camp to this spot to receive mail and make calls. BOTTOM: Sunset from the camp looking toward Swellendam. The darker blue layer on the horizon is the Earth’s shadow and the pale pink layer above it, known as the Girdle of Venus, is caused by scattering of sunlight by the upper layers of the atmosphere.

This time round the mobile reception was worse than it had ever been at Night Sky and Lynnette and I had no signal whatsoever. This meant that we had to drive back to the R317, where we had a good signal, to receive and read mail. Everyone seemed to have the same problem to a greater or lesser degree except Rose and Alan.

During the course of Wednesday Pamela Cooper, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Wendy Vermeulen, Louis Fourie, Pierre de Villiers, Bennie Kotze and Peter Harvey arrived. By then Night Sky was starting to look populated and discussions were taking place all over the place as people wandered around renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

TOP & SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two views of the front (reception) portion of the tent. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM & BOTTOM: Two views of the back part of the tent where the talks took place.
TOP & SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two views of the front (reception) portion of the tent. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM & BOTTOM: Two views of the back part of the tent where the talks took place.
TOP: StarPeople’s two merit awards from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA). One was for our general outreach efforts and the other was specifically for organizing and presenting the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. BOTTOM: Two posters advertising the Sky Guide. This is an ASSA publication printed and distributed by Struik and is a must have for all amateur astronomers and interested members of the public.
TOP: StarPeople’s two merit awards from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA). One was for our general outreach efforts and the other was specifically for organizing and presenting the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. BOTTOM: Two posters advertising the Sky Guide. This is an ASSA publication printed and distributed by Struik and is a must have for all amateur astronomers and interested members of the public.

On Friday everyone else pitched. Just before the SSP our speaker from Bangalore in India, Amar Sharma had let us know that he was not going to make it due to visa problems. These problems revolved around the slap-dash attitude of the South African diplomatic staff in Mumbai. Amar runs an astronomy tourism operation in Bangalore, (see here). Our other disappointment was that a second speaker, Dr. Wanda Diaz Merced the blind astrophysicist from Puerto Rico, had fallen ill and was hospitalized just a day or two prior to the SSP. We had especially brought along our material used in astronomy outreach for the visually impaired, so that Wanda could demonstrate it. We settled for an exhibition of this material in the tent and it drew quite a lot of attention.

TOP: Chris (back to the camera) Marius (in blue) and Louis sorting out telescope matters. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and Leslie plotting something. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Beginners Area with Paul, Alan and Rose in the very distant background BOTTOM: Auke’s ConEx (Constellation Exploration) Area with the “You are here” banner on the right.
TOP: Chris (back to the camera) Marius (in blue) and Louis sorting out telescope matters. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and Leslie plotting something. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Beginners Area with Paul, Alan and Rose in the very distant background BOTTOM: Auke’s ConEx (Constellation Exploration) Area with the “You are here” banner on the right.
TOP: From the left, Louis, Marius, Chris and Deon finding out where they are. BOTTOM: Barry, hidden behind Alan and Rose relaxing on Sunday evening as the sun sets.
TOP: From the left, Louis, Marius, Chris and Deon finding out where they are. BOTTOM: Barry, hidden behind Alan and Rose relaxing on Sunday evening as the sun sets.

The weather on Friday evening cancelled any possible viewing efforts. Barry Dumas kindly presented a very complete and quite technical talk on optical equipment and what to do and not to do when cleaning it. His talk gave lots of information on the construction of various eyepieces and how special protective materials were applied to both protect and also to improve their optical functionality. After the talk we dispersed and in general spent the rest of the evening watching the clouds and socializing.

TOP: Harpactira species (Baboon Spider). BOTTOM: Closer view of the spider’s eyes. The downward curved chelisera, typical of four lunged spiders, are clearly visible.
TOP: Harpactira species (Baboon Spider). BOTTOM: Closer view of the spider’s eyes. The downward curved chelisera, typical of four lunged spiders, are clearly visible.

Chris Forder was kind enough to lend a hand with some of the younger aspirant astronomer’s telescopes during the course of the weekend. The youthful telescope owners and their parents were all left much the wiser after Chris had finished his explanation.

TOP: Paul’s pickup and our banner at the entrance to Night Sky. The banner has seen better days and is becoming a bit tattered. It has seen many outreach events and 12 Southern Star Parties so i suppose it ought to look a bit battle scarred by now. BOTTOM: Auke in a pensive mood.
TOP: Paul’s pickup and our banner at the entrance to Night Sky. The banner has seen better days and is becoming a bit tattered. It has seen many outreach events and 12 Southern Star Parties so i suppose it ought to look a bit battle scarred by now. BOTTOM: Auke in a pensive mood.

On Saturday morning I kicked off with the beginners. I handed out all the required paperwork and printed information and talked them through the basics of using star charts. After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Prof. Herman Steyn’s talk on satellites and his work with the University of Stellenbosch’s satellite research section. He was intimately involved with the Rosetta mission and shared many of his experiences with us.

TOP LEFT: Alan and Rose at breakfast. TOP MIDDLE: Kiona looking very laid back. TOP RIGHT: John taking it very, very easy. MIDDLE: The general braai area on Saturday at lunch time. BOTTOM LEFT: Wonder what Lynne is concentrating on? BOTTOM MIDDLE: Martin, all set up to clean some unsuspecting volunteer’s telescope mirror. BOTTOM RIGHT: This is one man’s breakfast – no names no pack-drill. Actually there was also a pan of sausage and bacon to go with this lot.
TOP LEFT: Alan and Rose at breakfast. TOP MIDDLE: Kiona looking very laid back. TOP RIGHT: John taking it very, very easy. MIDDLE: The general braai area on Saturday at lunch time. BOTTOM LEFT: Wonder what Lynne is concentrating on? BOTTOM MIDDLE: Martin, all set up to clean some unsuspecting volunteer’s telescope mirror. BOTTOM RIGHT: This is one man’s breakfast – no names no pack-drill. Actually there was also a pan of sausage and bacon to go with this lot.

Pierre de Villiers presented a very interesting coverage of the Solar System Model designed and constructed by the Hermanus Centre. This project aims to increase the astronomy awareness of the general public and serve as a permanent outreach installation. The model now forms part of the well known scenic cliff pathway in Hermanus. After Pierre’s talk we had the usual lunchtime braai. Lynnette organized the braai drums as well as the laying and lighting of the fires with the very able assistance of Marius Reitz and Barry Dumas as well as other able bodied assistants.

After lunch we handed out the prizes for the Lucky Draws. This year, instead of depending on the traditional drawing of numbers out of a hat, we did something different. The first person to register, the first person to pay, the first couple to register and the first family to register all received prizes. Auke also decided it was Evan’s birthday and that he should also receive a prize. The fact that it was his birthday was as much a surprise for Evan as it was for the rest of us.

Then it was Auke’s turn to talk about the Centre for Astronomical Heritage. He was followed by Martin Lyons who presented a talk on how to look after your telescope optics. Martin could quite easily take his presentation on tour. With the appropriate musical background and some fancy dance steps it would be an instant comedy hit. However, please do not let the fact that it was funny detract from the value of its very sound practical advice on how to care for telescope optics. It was interesting to compare the differences in cleaning regimes between Martin and Barry.

TOP LEFT: Herman Steyn, Head of Satellite Research at Stellenbosch University, was our main speaker. TOP MIDDLE: Herman gets his speaker’s gift. TOP RIGHT: Pierre de Villiers the MMWC at the Hermanus Centre and current president of ASSA. MIDDLE: Chris Forder the very worthy winner of this year’s Pub Quiz, wearing his Pub Quiz Floating Rosette, receives his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM LEFT: Pierre receives his speaker’s gift. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Rose and Alan toasting a very convivial braai. BOTTOM RIGHT: Martin receives his speaker’s prize.
TOP LEFT: Herman Steyn, Head of Satellite Research at Stellenbosch University, was our main speaker. TOP MIDDLE: Herman gets his speaker’s gift. TOP RIGHT: Pierre de Villiers the MMWC at the Hermanus Centre and current president of ASSA. MIDDLE: Chris Forder the very worthy winner of this year’s Pub Quiz, wearing his Pub Quiz Floating Rosette, receives his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM LEFT: Pierre receives his speaker’s gift. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Rose and Alan toasting a very convivial braai. BOTTOM RIGHT: Martin receives his speaker’s prize.

In Wanda’s absence we watched a recording of her presentation “Listen to the Stars”, recorded at the TEDx Westerford in Cape Town in April 2014. If you go here you can listen to the talk too. If, after you have watched this, you are impressed go here where you can listen to the talk she gave in February 2016.

After Martin’s talk we took the group photo. It is a great pity that not everyone pitched up for the group photograph as one likes to have everyone that attended on the photograph. Thanks to Auke’s efforts we also have a You Tube video of the behind the scenes efforts to get everyone setup for the photo. Go here to view the video.

0-dsc_5074ab_groepfoto

FRONT – SEATED: Auke Slotegraaf, Lynne Court, Kiona van der Merwe, Juanita van Rensburg, Chris Vermeulen, Paul Kruger, Edward & Snorre Foster, Lynnette Foster, Rose Cassells, Alan Cassells, Caycee Cupido, Abigail Cupido, Caitlin Cupido. MIDDLE – STANDING: Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Pierre de Villiers, Bennie Kotze, Lea Labuschagne, Chris Forder, Lena Smith, Miemie Dumas, Johan Brink, Laura Norris, Pamela Cooper, Wendy Vermeulen, Rachel Norton, Peter Norton.  BACK – STANDING: Peter Harvey, Jannie Nijeboer, Eddy Nijeboer, Robert Ketteringham, Ruth Kuys, Arné Esterhuizen, Evan Knox-Davies, Leslie Rose, John Richards, James Smith, Annatjie Kunz, Marius Reitz, Barry Dumas, Corné van Dyk, Louis Fourie, Gavin Cupido, Rogan Roth, Chris de Coning. INSET: Roelof van der Merwe.

ABSENT: André de Villiers, Martin Lyons, Rene Auras, Tyron Auras, Nicholas Kröner, Thomas Kröner, Nellie Brink, Dominique Brink.

The group photo was followed by the infamous Pub Quiz. Lynnette and I divided the attendees into six teams. This is quite a tricky operation. For starters, we know from past experience that separating parents from children or splitting couples are both big no-no’s. Then there is the really difficult task of trying to balance astronomy knowledge in the teams as well. Although the teams might have looked unbalanced numerically they were quite even as far as the knowledge levels were concerned. This is borne out by the fact that the final scores were quite close; team one (16), team two (20), team three (28), team four (22), team five (26) and team six (17). Each team had to choose a leader and Evan, in team two, was by far the most efficient team leader of the evening. After six rounds team three, consisting of Lynne, Juanita, Kiona, James, Lena, Leslie, Martin and Laura, was a clear winner. They had, in fact, maintained their lead since the end of round four.

After the team section we asked each team to nominate one representative to take part in the individual section. A further four rounds of questions followed and then we had a clear and very worthy individual winner in the person of Chris Forder. Congratulations Chris.

Strange how some people, even in a fun exercise like this, cannot resist resorting to looking up answers electronically or in a book. Some even erased answers and corrected them after the correct answer had been given thereby gaining an unfair advantage.

After the Pub Quiz there were still clouds around, but we decided to give it a go and Auke got the Constellation Exploration group (ConEx) together while I set up a telescope for the beginners. As luck would have it, just as we started, the clouds covered Venus, Saturn and eventually Mars too. We managed to discuss a few constellations and some objects of interests, but eventually people drifted off, as the clouds alternately advanced and retreated. For the most tenacious beginners there was eventually a fairly clear view of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) before we all went to bed.

TOP: This is a 30 second exposure at ISO 400 in the general direction of Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale with lots of reflected light on the extensive cloud cover. This is something which has increased steadily over the past six years and seems to have accelerated over the last two years. MIDDLE: Taken with the same camera settings, when there was a lot less cloud and the camera pointing slightly more north than in the previous photo. Note here the few clouds present all show the typical white colouring associated with light pollution. BOTTOM: This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 400 taken to the east-southeast. Swellendam to the left and Riviersonderend to the right are both out of the photo. Note the clarity of the Coal Sack and also that the small clouds on the horizon are all black or dark grey, typical of a low light pollution situation.
TOP: This is a 30 second exposure at ISO 400 in the general direction of Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale with lots of reflected light on the extensive cloud cover. This is something which has increased steadily over the past six years and seems to have accelerated over the last two years. MIDDLE: Taken with the same camera settings, when there was a lot less cloud and the camera pointing slightly more north than in the previous photo. Note here the few clouds present all show the typical white colouring associated with light pollution. BOTTOM: This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 400 taken to the east-southeast. Swellendam to the left and Riviersonderend to the right are both out of the photo. Note the clarity of the Coal Sack and also that the small clouds on the horizon are all black or dark grey, typical of a low light pollution situation.

Nobody had done the observing challenge, so there were no certificates to hand out on Sunday morning. Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to say goodbye to the early leavers and share a cup of coffee with them. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd and, as usual, we had a nice braai before setting op the telescopes to do some observing. Yes, you guessed correctly the weather cleared as soon as the SSP was over! On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre, myself, Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday morning we departed leaving the entire camp to Alan and Rose. Tersius and his team took down the tent on Tuesday afternoon and loaded up the tables and chairs, bringing down the final curtain on the 2016 Spring Southern Star Party.

TOP: Camera set at 30 seconds and ISO 400 with the Carina area and the LMC visible. BOTTOM: Camera set at 15 seconds and ISO 1600. Hercules is in the left part of the photograph and M31 in the bottom centre. Note how light the lower portion of the photograph is over the Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale area, which was identified as a high light pollution area in previous photographs.
TOP: Camera set at 30 seconds and ISO 400 with the Carina area and the LMC visible. BOTTOM: Camera set at 15 seconds and ISO 1600. Hercules is in the left part of the photograph and M31 in the bottom centre. Note how light the lower portion of the photograph is over the Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale area, which was identified as a high light pollution area in previous photographs.
TOP LEFT: Light pollution from Robertson. MIDDLE LEFT: Looking in a southerly direction. BOTTOM LEFT: John MIDDLE: The Pleiades, the Hyades and Aldebaran. TOP RIGHT: Johan MIDDLE RIGHT: Martin, BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris Vermeulen.
TOP LEFT: Light pollution from Robertson. MIDDLE LEFT: Looking in a southerly direction. BOTTOM LEFT: John MIDDLE: The Pleiades, the Hyades and Aldebaran. TOP RIGHT: Johan MIDDLE RIGHT: Martin, BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris Vermeulen.
TOP: Back view of the Vito. MIDDLE: Side view of the Vito. BOTTOM: The trailer also loaded to capacity.
TOP: Back view of the Vito. MIDDLE: Side view of the Vito. BOTTOM: The trailer also loaded to capacity.
TOP: Snorre on his leash waiting for us to finish packing. If one lets him go at this stage he goes walkabout, attending to all sorts of urgent things, like birds, lizards, insects and anything that moves in the grass. BOTTOM: That expression clearly indicates that this whole loading exercise is taking far, far too long to his liking.
TOP: Snorre on his leash waiting for us to finish packing. If one lets him go at this stage he goes walkabout, attending to all sorts of urgent things, like birds, lizards, insects and anything that moves in the grass. BOTTOM: That expression clearly indicates that this whole loading exercise is taking far, far too long to his liking.

Page17_Immobile Snorre

Back home Snorre went into the relax-mode, but like in completely out for the count relaxed.
Back home Snorre went into the relax-mode, but like in completely out for the count relaxed.

A special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Martin Coetzee
Bennie Kotze
Chris de Coning
Kechil Kirkham

The Carina Nebula by Leslie Rose: 02 December 2015.

The Carina Nebula is about 7500 light years away in the direction of the Carina constellation. Carina was originally part of a very large constellation Argo Nevis but Nicolas de Lacaille divided it into three new constellations in 1763, see Carina (the keel), Puppis (the poop deck) and Vela (the ship’s sails). It is also known as NGC 3372 and was discovered in 1751 by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, while observing from the Cape of Good Hope. It is a colossal emission nebula about 300 light years wide that contains extensive star forming regions. A very interesting object in the Carina Nebula is the Homonculus Nebula which is a planetary nebula that is being ejected by a luminous blue variable star, Eta Carinae (shorthand ? Carinae or ? Car). This star is one of the most massive stars known and has reached the theoretical upper limit for the mass of a star and is therefore unstable. The instability results in periodic outbursts during which it brightens and them fades again. During one such outburst between the 11th and the 14th of March 1843 it became the second brightest star in the sky but then faded away. Around 1940 it began to brighten again, eventually peaking in 2014 but not achieving nearly the levels of brightness seen in 1843.

This chart shows the location of the Carina Nebula within the constellation of Carina (The Keel). The map shows most of the stars visible to the unaided eye under good conditions and the nebula itself is marked as a green square in a red circle at the left (labelled 3372 for NGC 3372).
This chart shows the location of the Carina Nebula within the constellation of Carina (The Keel). The map shows most of the stars visible to the unaided eye under good conditions and the nebula itself is marked as a green square in a red circle at the left (labelled 3372 for NGC 3372).

This nebula is very bright and can be seen well in small telescopes, and faintly without a telescope at all. The original of this chart may be viewed here.

Leslie Rose is one of the regulars who attend the Southern Star Party and the photograph featured here, was taken by Leslie. The first SSP he attended was in March 2011 when Leslie had neither telescope nor camera!

For this image of the Eta Carina Nebula Leslie employed a narrow band filter with the Hubble pallet and an Atik 383l mono CCD camera. The image was taken through a Celestron Nexstar 8SE tube on a Celestron CGEM equatorial mount. The total exposure time was 10.7 hours and it was shot from a suburban environment in Durbanville, Western Cape, South Africa.
For this image of the Eta Carina Nebula Leslie employed a narrow band filter with the Hubble pallet and an Atik 383l mono CCD camera. The image was taken through a Celestron Nexstar 8SE tube on a Celestron CGEM equatorial mount. The total exposure time was 10.7 hours and it was shot from a suburban environment in Durbanville, Western Cape, South Africa.

This photograph was the winner of Celestron Telescopes South Africa’s November Nights competition. Celestron commented that the quality of the pictures they received was amazing and really showcased the beauty of the South African Night Skies. Go here to view Celestron’s Facebook page or, if you wish to visit the Celestron webpage, click here.

Leslie’s prize was a pair of Celestron UpClose G2 10×50 Binoculars. Congratulations Leslie and thank you Celestron for running competitions like this to encourage astrophotographers.

The 10th Southern Star Party, held at Night Sky Caravan Park near Bonnievale in the Western Cape, South Africa from the 06th to the 08th of November, 2015.

The 10th Southern Star Party

As is usual, the most important topic during the run-up to the Spring Southern Star Party was the weather. The clouds played silly buggers with us in the run-up to the SSP. First they shifted away from the weekend and then they shifted back again and then partially moved away again, but eventually it looked as if we would probably have one good night on the Friday and at least half a good night on the Saturday. (View more information about the Southern Star Party here) The Southern Star Party is held at Night Sky Caravan Farm (go here to see their Facebook page) (or go here to see their add on Budget Getaways).

Lynnette, Snorre and I left on Tuesday after Lynnette had her hair colour changed to a bright red, which suits her temperament perfectly. First stop was Pitkos Padstal and Francina for a quick chat, wine purchases, olive tasting and some catching up on the local “skindernuus” or local gossip. Then on to Night Sky where either Anneliese or Tertius form Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to visit a webpage with more details about them) were due to come and pitch the big tent at around 14:00. I started unloading as soon as we arrived and Lynnette organized the mountain of stuff as I unloaded, but Bonnievale Verhurings had developed a problem and could only pitch the tent later in the afternoon. Anyway, by Wednesday evening, Alan and Rose had arrived, the banners were in place and the telescope area had been cordoned off.

Top: The final approach to the turnoff with the white roses and the red Cannas contrasting beautifully with the purple Jacarandas. Bottom Left: The section after Robertson is a very scenic drive. Bottom Middle: The Jacaranda tress are almost in full bloom. Bottom Right: The narrow bridge across the Breede River.
Top: The final approach to the turnoff with the white roses and the red Cannas contrasting beautifully with the purple Jacarandas. Bottom Left: The section after Robertson is a very scenic drive. Bottom Middle: The Jacaranda tress are almost in full bloom. Bottom Right: The narrow bridge across the Breede River.
Top: The tent on Wednesday evening. 2nd From The Top: The inside of the tent and all we need are the people. 3rd From The Top: The outside of the tent all done up. Bottom: The telescope area adjacent to the tent starting to fill up.
Top: The tent on Wednesday evening. 2nd From The Top: The inside of the tent and all we need are the people. 3rd From The Top: The outside of the tent all done up. Bottom: The telescope area adjacent to the tent starting to fill up.

On Thursday Deon and Ronelle Beugemann arrived and sometime later in the evening Sebastian Guile and Aurelie Lemiere also pitched up. Jopie and Pieternel Coetzee sent a message cancelling their participation because they thought the weather forecast was unfavourable, which proved to be a big mistake for them. Early on Friday morning Alan and I put up the projection screen and completed the final touches to the tent, ready for the rest of the crowd to arrive so we could start the programme. Roelina Losper was also a late cancellation due to illness in her family, but we hope to see her next time.

Top: Lynnette’s fantastic cell phone shot of a magical sunset moment at the dam. Middle: A beautiful, tranquil moment on the dam captured by Chris. Bottom: Chris’s daylight shot of the telescope area showing, as to be expected, no astronomers.
Top: Lynnette’s fantastic cell phone shot of a magical sunset moment at the dam. Middle: A beautiful, tranquil moment on the dam captured by Chris. Bottom: Chris’s daylight shot of the telescope area showing, as to be expected, no astronomers.

Spring Southern Star Party Programme – 06 to 08 November 2015

Friday
18:00 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
19:00 Meet-and-Greet
19:30 Beginner’s Programme starts, Fight Light Pollution! Starts, Constellation Explorers set up
20:00 All lights out!
20:00 Deep-Sky Challenge starts
20:15 Constellation Exploration starts

Saturday
08:30 Beginner’s Programme, continued
10:30 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
11:00 Africa in Space – Kechil Kirkham
11:45 Building (a pinch of) SALT – Alan Cassells
12:30 Detecting the Sun in Microwaves [demo] – Evan Knox-Davies
13:00 Braai
14:30 Modelling MeerKAT – Bani van der Merwe
15:00 A New Glimpse of the Old Cape Observatory – Auke Slotegraaf
15:45 Feedback: Constellation Exploration & Deep-Sky Challenge
16:00 World Famous SSP Pub Quiz
18:00 Group photo
19:30 Beginner’s Programme, continued
20:00 All lights out! Deep-Sky Challenge, continued, Constellation Exploration (repeat)

Sunday
09:00 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
10:00 Presentation of certificates
Farewell until next time! (2016 Autumn SSP, February 05 – 07)

Tea and coffee available 24/7. Bring your own midnight snacks!

By 18:45 almost all of the 33 prospective SSP attendees were accounted for and we had on site the following:

Deon & Ronelle Beugemann, Alan & Rose Cassells, Martin Coetzee, Evan Knox-Davies, Barry & Miemie Dumas (both new), Iain Finlay, Louis Fourie (new) Sebastian Guile & Aurelie Lemiere, Kechil Kirkham, Annatjie Kunz (new), Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer, Marius & Kim Reitz (new), John Richards, James Smith, Alida Taljard (new), Chris Vermeulen, Gerhard Vermeulen, Wendy Vermeulen (none of the Vermeulen triplets are related) and Willem van Zyl, plus Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and myself.

Dwayne Engelbrecht & Clair Ingram (new) as well as Leslie Rose were still on the road while Bani van der Merwe (new) would only arrive on Saturday.

Back & standing from left to right: Auke, Alan, Rose, Barry, Miemie, Annatjie, Alida, John, Kim, Marius, Evan, Edward, Lynnette, Bani, Leslie, Eddy, Louis, Iain, Willem, Clair, Gerhard, Dwayn, Aurelie, Sebastian. Front & seated, kneeling or reclining from left to right: Paul, Chris, James, Martin, Kechil, Jannie, Wendy, Ronelle, Deon.
Back & standing from left to right: Auke, Alan, Rose, Barry, Miemie, Annatjie, Alida, John, Kim, Marius, Evan, Edward, Lynnette, Bani, Leslie, Eddy, Louis, Iain, Willem, Clair, Gerhard, Dwayne, Aurelie, Sebastian. Front & seated, kneeling or reclining from left to right: Paul, Chris, James, Martin, Kechil, Jannie, Wendy, Ronelle, Deon. Snorre was temporarily AWOL.

The evening was clear, except for a few small clouds very low down to the southeast so, after welcoming everyone, we got started. The serious observers and astrophotographers did their own thing, as usual, and the constellation hunters gathered round Auke while the total newcomers and I sat down next to Lorenzo, the 10” Dobby.

Top: Night shot across the dam by Chris Vermeulen showing the light pollution from Bonnievale reflected on the low clouds. This has increased considerably in the recent past. Left: Another shot by Chris showing the light pollution, quite a few stars and the red trails of people moving around with red lights in the foreground. Centre: This photograph by Chris shows just how much glare is created by the red lights of the astronomers. Right: In this shot Chris has captured lots of stars including the large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: Here Chris captured the eastern sky with Orion’s belt and sword dead centre.
Top: Night shot across the dam by Chris Vermeulen showing the light pollution from Bonnievale reflected on the low clouds. This has increased considerably in the recent past. Left: Another shot by Chris showing the light pollution, quite a few stars and the red trails of people moving around with red lights in the foreground. Centre: This photograph by Chris shows just how much glare is created by the red lights of the astronomers. Right: In this shot Chris has captured lots of stars including the large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: Here Chris captured the eastern sky with Orion’s belt and sword dead centre.

My system for the beginners (Alida Taljaard and Annatjie Kunz) was to show them how to use the Discover! Charts (go here to download them for free) and ConCards (they are available for free here). Once they understand how to use them, they will be able to find their way around the sky in the future. I emphasized that Rome was not built in one day and neither does one become a clued up amateur astronomer in the course of one evening or one weekend. I used Lorenzo to show them interesting objects and pointed out the various symbols representing these objects on the charts. I explained the movements of the stars in the sky and pointed out the South Celestial Pole. Unfortunately Crux was just below the horizon so I had to employ an alternative to finding south for the group. We systematically worked our way from Pavo, and Triangulum Australe, Ara, Sagittarius and Scutum round to Pegasus and later included Taurus. By 23:30 the dew had become a problem for Lorenzo, so we decided to pack up and go to bed.

On Saturday morning the beginners and I got together in the tent and I ran through some of the key aspects of using star maps again. We were later joined by Martin Coetzee and Eddy Nijeboer. We also covered the use of the Southern Star Wheel (this can be downloaded for free here). We discussed the importance of the Loss of the Night project (please go here to read more about this) as well as sources of guidelines for amateur astronomers, such as ASSA’s Stargazing 101 notes (These notes can be viewed and downloaded here). The ASSA Big 5 in the African Sky initiative was also discussed (Please go here to read more about this project). The group was shown that invaluable amateur astronomy aid, the Star Guide Africa South.

Top: From left to right are, Eddy (standing), Martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself. Bottom: martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself.
Top: From left to right are, Eddy (standing), Martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself. Bottom: martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself.

During the discussions I emphasized that astronomy was a hobby that they should practice solely for their own enjoyment. Each person should determine their own rate of progress and also the level of expertise they personally wished to attain. There was absolutely no external pressure to perform to any predefined level or meet any externally imposed criteria.

The inevitable question about which telescope they should buy came up and my answer was none, at least not until they had achieved some proficiency with the naked eye and binoculars. When they did eventually buy a telescope, they should only do so after consultation with some knowledgeable people and not just buy one off the shelf from the local outdoor goods store.

At 11:00 Kechil presented her informative talk on Africa in Space dressed in her space suite for dramatic effect. Kechil gave an interesting overview which highlighted the role of South Africa and, in particular, the South African Space Agency.

Left: The visitor from outer space approaches. Top Right: This slide neatly sums up what Ketchil's talk was about. Bottom Right: Kechil answering questions.
Left: The visitor from outer space approaches. Top Right: This slide neatly sums up what Ketchil’s talk was about. Bottom Right: Kechil answering questions.

At 11:45 Alan demonstrated his magnificent model of SALT in a talk titled Building (a pinch of) SALT, giving details of the problems he had experienced during the building process and highlighting the importance of his visit to SALT in perfecting the model.

Top Left: The shuttle, Saturn V (1/187 scale) and SALT (1/144 scale). Bottom Left: Closer view of SALT. Top & Bottom Right: Alan demonstrating the intricate steps of the latest craze “The SALT”.
Top Left: The shuttle, Saturn V (1/187 scale) and SALT (1/144 scale). Bottom Left: Closer view of SALT. Top & Bottom Right: Alan demonstrating the intricate steps of the latest craze “The SALT”.
Chris is all ears (and eyes).
Chris is all ears (and eyes).

Just before the lunch time braai, at 12:30, Evan explained his ingenious radio telescope, which he had built using a discarded television dish aerial, in his talk Detecting the Sun in Microwaves and demonstrated it afterwards.

Top: Evan explaining the technicalities of his device. Bottom: Everyone gathered round the telescope for the demonstration.
Top: Evan explaining the technicalities of his device. Bottom: Everyone gathered round the telescope for the demonstration.

I had laid and made the fires, with the able assistance of Marius and supervision by Kim and Miemie, so by 13:00 the coals were just right and everyone could get going and prepare lunch. The braai was, as always, a very relaxed opportunity to socialize and everyone made good use of it. Bani arrived during lunch so we were all set for the afternoon’s entertainment.

Top Left: Allan in his role as Braai Master. Top Middle: Marius, Evan and James sweating it out. Centre Left: Martin getting instructions by phone. Right: Sebastian and Aurelie looking very happy. Bottom Left: Barry and Miemie having a blast.
Top Left: Allan in his role as Braai Master. Top Middle: Marius, Evan and James sweating it out. Centre Left: Martin getting instructions by phone. Right: Sebastian and Aurelie looking very happy. Bottom Left: Barry and Miemie having a blast.
Top Left: The braai extravaganza in full swing. Top Right: Leslie and James in the foreground with Annatjie in the background. Right, second from the top: James and Paul with Alan, martin and Rose in the background. Bottom Left: Annatjie getting that meat done just right. Bottom Centre: Kim, Marius and Leslie (back to the camera). Bottom Right: Miemie and Barry hard at work.
Top Left: The braai extravaganza in full swing. Top Right: Leslie and James in the foreground with Annatjie in the background. Right, second from the top: James and Paul with Alan, Martin and Rose in the background. Bottom Left: Annatjie getting that meat done just right. Bottom Centre: Kim, Marius and Leslie (back to the camera). Bottom Right: Miemie and Barry hard at work.
Left Top: James taking a peek at the sun while Ronelle waits her turn. Left Top: James Sun has brought John to his knees while Auke, Paul, Martin and Deon look on. Right: Marius taking a good look at the sun.
Left Top: James taking a peek at the sun while Ronelle waits her turn. Left Bottom: The Sun has brought John to his knees while Auke, Paul, Martin and Deon look on. Right: Marius taking a good look at the sun.

At 14:30 Bani entertained us with the trials and tribulations of building models of the radio telescope dishes in his talk Modelling MeerKAT. Over and above the technical differences he has also had to cope with a burglary which relocated his tools and a subsequent holdup at gunpoint.

Left: Bani explaining finer details. Right: Everyone gathered round to see the tiny parts.
Left: Bani explaining finer details. Right: Everyone gathered round to see the tiny parts.

Auke’s talk at 15:00, A New Glimpse of the Old Cape Observatory, took us back to the roots of scientific astronomy in Southern Africa and in fact in Africa. The talk left one very concerned about the preservation of this heritage.

Top: Auke with Louis and Chris on his left. Middle: Evan looking sceptical about the levitation technique Auke is explaining. Bottom: The Royal Observatory sketched in its very early days.
Top: Auke with Louis and Chris on his left. Middle: Evan looking skeptical about the levitation technique Auke is explaining. Bottom: The Royal Observatory sketched in its very early days.
Top Left: Rose knits while Alan and Paul ponder a problem. Right: Martin in a mischievous mood. Bottom Left: Does the bottle in his hand possibly explain why Martin doesn’t know the front of the telescope from the back?
Top Left: Rose knits while Alan and Paul ponder a problem. Right: Martin in a mischievous mood. Bottom Left: Does the bottle in his hand possibly explain why Martin doesn’t know the front of the telescope from the back?

We were running a bit late, so we skipped the feedback session and went straight on the World Famous SSP Pub Quiz. Lynnette and I had selected the teams and we hoped we had come up with reasonably balanced ones. The final teams were:

Team A – Barry & Miemie, Evan, Marius & Kim and Leslie.
Team B – Deon & Ronelle, Aurelie and Sebastian, Kechil, Eddy & Jannie
Team C – Paul, John, James, Alida, Chris and Wendy
Team D – Alan & Rose, Martin, Iain, Willem, Annatjie, Louis and Bani

Lynnette rewriting the team lists because of the non-arrivals.
Lynnette rewriting the team lists because of the non-arrivals.

The teams ended up numerically unequal because of late withdrawals mostly by novices, but we decided not to move people around because it would have meant splitting up couples, which is a very unpopular move. The first round was a team event in which we would have five rounds of five questions each. Each member of a team that dropped out received a chocolate as a consolation prize. The winning team was Team D and they each received a 250 ml bottle of Nuy Red Muscadel and a chocolate.

After the group rounds, each team selected two members to represent them in the individual competition. The final group consisted of Alan, Evan, Bani, Chris, Deon, James, Leslie and Sebastian. The individual rounds took longer than expected because we had to have repeat rounds when two people tied on the lowest score to determine who had to fall out. These delays meant we had to interrupt the competition so that we could take the group photo while the light was good. After this unscheduled break we resumed and eventually James Smith was the winner with Leslie Rose in second place and Evan Knox-Davies, winner on two previous occasions, in third place. James received the coveted SSP floating Rosette, donated by SCOPEX, as well as a bottle of red wine and a bottle of Nuy Red Muscadel.

Left: Edward the grand Inquisitor and the worthy winner of the 2015 SSP Floating Rosette. James Smith. Right: The competitors in the individual competition trying to puzzle out an obscurity.
Left: Edward the grand Inquisitor and the worthy winner of the 2015 SSP Floating Rosette. James Smith. Right: The competitors in the individual competition trying to puzzle out an obscurity.

After the Pub Quiz we had delicious cup cakes which Gesina had baked for our “10th birthday” and, as is often the case with things like this, everybody was going to photograph them but eventually nobody did! They were, however, delicious.

We made several mistakes with this Pub Quiz and if we present it in this format again, these will be rectified. The first mistake was to have eliminated teams in the group stage. We should have allowed all the teams to stay in the competition for all five or six rounds and then determined a winner based on the highest total score. The second mistake was again the elimination process in the individual section. Next time we will do six rounds and determine the winner based on the combined highest score. If there are two people with the same score, an elimination round or rounds will decide the winner.

Dwayne and his crew had made a mutton “potjie” which they were kind enough to share with Auke, Lynnette and I before the evening’s proceedings started. After supper we started the evening’s proceedings under clear skies, except for a few wisps of cloud to the north and northwest. I put the beginner through their paces with the star charts and the constellations as well as individual stars and deep sky objects to see if they had grasped the basics from the previous night and the morning session. In the process we covered the sky from Pavo all the way to Taurus again. After that we moved on to Orion, Canis Major, Lepus, Monceros, Puppis and Carina. I think the beginners have a reasonable grasp of how to use the star charts to find constellations and orientate themselves for finding specific objects; provided they do not wait too long and forget everything. I am confident that they have the basics to get their astronomy going if they practice. By midnight we had patchy high clouds moving in from the northwest and the dew was quite heavy so we decided to call it a night. Lynnette and I went to bed, but there were discussions elsewhere that went on until much, much later.

M31. I was surprised by the eventual result as this deep sky object was very close to the horizon and there was a haze on the northern horizon as well as a humidity of 80%.
M31. I was surprised by the eventual result as this deep sky object was very close to the horizon and there was a haze on the northern horizon as well as a humidity of 80%.

Most people left early on Sunday, because nobody had participated in the Deep Sky Challenge, so there were no certificates to be handed out. On Sunday evening it was fairly cloudy, so everyone that was left (Auke, Lynnette and I, Alan & Rose, Barry & Miemie, Chris, Iain & Willem, John and Louis) got together for a braai.

Monday was departure time for Auke, Barry & Miemie, Chris, John and Louis. Monday night was partially cloudy all night so no astronomy for us. On Tuesday Tertius and his crew came to take the tent down and on Tuesday night it was partially cloudy so again no astronomy. On Wednesday Alan & Rose, Lynnette, Snorre and I packed up and headed for home leaving Iain & Willem to enjoy the peace and quiet at Night Sky. On the way home we stopped off at Pitkos to buy wine, green fig and other fruit preserves, and some baby beetroot for Lynnette to pickle.

Top: The overloaded Ark, sorry Vito. .
The overloaded Ark, sorry Vito. .
The trailer, loaded to capacity and possibly a bit over the mark
The trailer, loaded to capacity and possibly a bit over the mark
This sign at Pitkos caught my eye while buying wine.
This sign at Pitkos caught my eye while buying wine.
This sign dashed any hopes I had about negotiating a discount.
This sign dashed any hopes I had about negotiating a discount.

That wraps up the Spring Southern Star party and now we start organizing the summer event from the 5th to the 7th of February, 2016.

Some comments we received from people who attended the event.

“We are back from a fantastic weekend of stargazing at Nightsky Caravan park where the Spring Southern Star party was held. Thank you to Edward, Lynette and Auke for all the hard work to make this a wonderful learning experience! We re-kindled friendships, made lots of new ones and are already looking forward to February 2016! A big thank you to all the guest speakers for once again broadening our general knowledge. We managed to spot the following constellations and deep sky objects: • Orion Constellation and Nebula • Triangulum Constellation and galaxy • Aries Constellation • Andromeda galaxy • Pegasus Constellation • Sagittarius • Corona Australis • Tucana Constellation and TUC 47 globular cluster • Musca Constellation • The Chamaeleon • Messier M7 NGC 6475 • Messier M6 NGC 6405 Butterfly cluster • Scorpius Constellation • Triangulum Australe • Pleiades in Taurus • Large Magellanic cloud • Small Magellanic cloud • Tarantula Nebula • Messier 55 NGC 6809 in Sagittarius • Messier 77 NGC 1608 in Cetus • Eridanus constellation • Teapot asterism in Sagittarius • Circinus Constellation • Planetary alignment of Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Moon. • Satellite iridium flare”

“Sjoe die tyd vlieg verby. Dis amper al weer ‘n week gelede wat ons mekaar ontmoet het. Ek wil net weereens baie, baie dankie sê vir die geleentheid wat ek
gehad het om die naweek se SSP by te woon. Ek het geweldig baie geleer. Vir my was dit ‘n belewenis en ek sal baie graag nog meer wil leer. Dankie vir ‘n stunning event en al jul moeite en reëlings was baie goed.” (Heavens but time flies. It is almost a week since we met each other.  I would like to, once more, say thenk you very, very much for the opportunity that I had over the weekend to attend the SSP. I learnt an enormous amount. I found it an exceptional experience and would very much like to learn more. Thank you for the stunning event and all your efforts; the organization was very good.)

“Ons moet eintlik vir julle dankie sê. Alles het vlot verloop danksy julle tyd en opoffering.” (We should actually thank you. Everything went very smoothly thanks to to the time and effort you put in.)

The organization for the event was excellent. The hospitality ensured that no body felt left out. Thanks to the organizers for a successful meeting.
The organization for the event was excellent. The hospitality ensured that nobody felt left out. Thanks to the organizers for a successful meeting.

Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.

The main objective of the weekend was to try out the enclosure the owner of Leeuwenbosch, Johan Roux, had built for the use of astronomers visiting the farm. Barry Dumas had been there during the Solar eclipse in September and found it to be very satisfactory. We had invited the members of the Cape Centre as well as Auke, Martin, Leslie, Iain, Willem and Wendy along but only Leslie, Willem, Iain, Jennifer and Wendy could eventually make it.

Our trip got off to a good start in the sense that we did not spend the entire night packing, as we often do. We were also finished and ready to go about 20 minutes before our planned departure time of 10:00 on Friday. Then disaster struck because Snorre was nowhere to be found. So we waited and notified Joan at Leeuwenboschfontein and all other parties that we were delayed. We looked everywhere, then we looked everywhere for a second, third and eventually umpteenth time, but Snorre was missing and the clock was ticking. Should we leave without Snorre and let Lynnette’s sister, Petro, feed him until we returned after the weekend? Should we cancel the trip unload everything and continue searching for him? Should we unload all the perishables, put them back in the fridge and freezer and just wait until Snorre pitched up? We decided on the last course of action. So 12:00 came and went, followed by 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00 and with each passing hour the tension mounted. Finally at about 15:30 His Nibs, Woolly Britches appeared from heaven knows where, stretching and yawning as if nothing was wrong!

Action stations! Snorre was shoved, rather unceremoniously, into his carry cage to prevent him doing another duck and Lynnette and I got everything we had unloaded back into the Vito, phoned everyone to notify them that Snorre had been found and hit the road at 16:30; a mere six and a half hours late. By the time we exited the Huguenot tunnel Leslie was already at the first stop-and-go of the road works in the Hex River-valley. The rest of our trip went very smoothly and we arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein around 18:50 to find Leslie already set up. Jennifer, who had taken the scenic route via Robertson, Ashton, Montagu, the Keisie and the Koo to Leeuwenboschfontein, had also arrived and settled in. Iain and Willem were expected the following day on their way back from Victoria West and Wendy was only due to arrive on the Sunday.

Top Left: Brackenfell Boulevard just as the dreaded 5-O'clock traffic was starting to build up. Top Right: Finally on the N1 and headed North. Bottom Left : Today we are in a hurry so we go under the mountain and not over it. Bottom Right: The Huguenot Tunnel and just visible on the left the entrance to the spare tunnel which SANRAL claims they have, in 20 years not had the cash to develop.
Top Left: Brackenfell Boulevard just as the dreaded 5-O’clock traffic was starting to build up. Top Right: Finally on the N1 and headed North. Bottom Left: Today we are in a hurry so we go under the mountain and not over it. Bottom Right: The Huguenot Tunnel and just visible on the left the entrance to the spare tunnel which SANRAL claims they have, in 20 years not had the cash to develop.
Top Left: Not even properly summer yet and we have the first veld fire in Du Toit's Kloof. Top Right: Into the Brede River Vally with mountains behind Worcester full of shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. Bottom Left: Worcester straight ahead just below the mountains. Bottom Right: Beautiful sandstone cliffs of the Hex River Mountains west of De Doorns.
Top Left: Not even properly summer yet and we have the first veld fire in the northern section of Du Toit’s Kloof pass. Top Right: Into the Breede River Valley with the mountains behind Worcester full of shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. Bottom Left: Worcester straight ahead just below the mountains. Bottom Right: Beautiful sandstone cliffs in the Hex River Mountains west of De Doorns.
Top Left: The southern end of the Hex River Valley looking toward Orchard and Sandhills. Top Right: At last we leave the N1 and now it is another 25 km on the R318 and then about 12 km on gravel to our destination. Bottom Left: Almost at the turnoff and then it is 12 km on gravel down the Nougaskloof to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom Right: Nougaspoort is the narrow entrance to Nougaskloof, just in case you were wondering.
Top Left: The southern end of the Hex River Valley looking toward Orchard and Sandhills. Top Right: At last we leave the N1 and now it is another 25 km on the R318 and then about 12 km on gravel to our destination. Bottom Left: Almost at the turnoff and then it is 12 km on gravel down the Nougaskloof to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom Right: Nougaspoort is the narrow entrance to Nougaskloof, just in case you were wondering.

We unpacked, had supper and set up as fast as we could. It was dark but lights from the two ablution blocks were a problem especially for Leslie’s astrophotography. As fast as Leslie switched them off somebody would switch them on again! We did not see our way open to driving down to the enclosed astronomy area about a kilometre away in the dark and, as there was no power down there, the move would have been entirely counterproductive for Leslie. One camping family came along to see what we were up to so I did a basic what’s up tonight with them. They were, however, such nice people that I really did not mind spending the time doing that. It was dark, very, very much darker than at any site in or near Cape Town, but the seeing was not very good because of the windy conditions and corresponding turbulence in the atmosphere.

The large Magellanic Cloud taken from the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein. Camera: NIKON D5100 Lense: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G ISO 400 10s - f/1.8 Tripod mounted
The large Magellanic Cloud taken from the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein. Camera: NIKON D5100 Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G ISO 400 & 10s – f/1.8 – Tripod mounted

By midnight I was having problems with dew despite the fact that the wind had freshened quite considerably so Lynnette and I decided to call it a night and go to bed, leaving Leslie to brave the elements. Before going to bed I took a set of dark sky readings and also used the new Loss of the Night application on my cell phone as a comparison.

There are lots of birds (both in numbers and species) insects, and there are still plenty of flowers in the veld due to the good rains that fell during the winter.
There are lots of birds (both in numbers and species) insects, and there are still plenty of flowers in the veld due to the good rains that fell during the winter.

On Saturday we had a cold, blustery wind that had developed during the early hours of the morning, and a sky full of large fluffy clouds. Poor Leslie had spent a miserably cold night on his stretcher and his set-up and camp had been so vandalized by the wind that he decided to pack it in and head back to Cape Town. No amount of persuasion, offers of more and warmer bedding or the lure of better conditions later in the weekend, could change his mind. He did agree to let me show him the astronomy enclosure but he wasn’t all that impressed because there was no power, so his equipment would not be able to function. Iain and Willem arrived later in the day and by then the wind had abated considerably and the clouds had become a lot smaller with much, much larger gaps between them too. By Saturday evening the wind had all but died down, but the wandering clouds made constructive observing very difficult even though we had eventually convinced the remaining campers that the lights in the ablution blocks did not have to be on continuously.

Top Left: Lots of interesting cloud patterns. Top Right: Beautiful Earth shadow and Girdle of Venus. Bottom Left: Nice sunset (looking east though) with my shadow in the bottom left hand corner. Bottom Right: Sunset looking across the dam and the camp site.
Top Left: Lots of interesting cloud patterns. Top Right: Beautiful Earth shadow and Girdle of Venus. Bottom Left: Nice sunset (looking east though) with my shadow in the bottom right hand corner. Bottom Right: Sunset looking across the dam and the camp site.

On Sunday the weather was much better and by the time Wendy arrived it was looking very promising for the evening’s observing. We decided to try out the observing enclosure and found, to our satisfaction, that the Guest Farm’s lights were only visible if one stood right up against the eastern wall and looked west. The 1,8 m vibracrete walls also provided ample protection from the wind. The headlights of cars passing on the road, about one km away did catch the top slabs of the western wall. Although night traffic is infrequent this problem will be discussed with the Johan Roux’s (snr. & jnr.). Despite the very dark skies the seeing was at best fair to good but not excellent or exceptional, probably due to instability in the upper atmosphere caused by the approaching front. Wendy, Iain and Willem left at about 23:00 and Lynnette and I packed up just after midnight, when the dew got the better of us. We left our telescope, well wrapped, to keep Wendy’s company for the rest of the night. Being able to leave ones equipment in safety is another advantage of having the enclosure.

Top Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking south. Top Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. The door in the corner is the entrance. Bottom Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. Bottom Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking east. The door in the corner is the loo and the red windsock just visible behind the door measures gives an indication of the wind speed.
Top Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking south. Top Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. The door in the corner is the entrance. Bottom Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. Bottom Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking east. The door in the corner is the loo and the red windsock just visible behind the door gives an indication of the wind direction and speed.
Top: A view of the astro-compound from the outside looking south and standing on the airstrip. Bottom: the team applying chicken manure to the grass inside and preparing the area around the compound for planting aloes and other indigenous flowering plants.
Top: A view of the astro-compound from the outside looking south while standing on the airstrip. Bottom: The work detail applying chicken manure to the grass inside and preparing the area around the compound for planting aloes and other indigenous flowering plants.

Wendy headed home on Monday and as the camp was now empty, other than for Lynnette, myself, Ian and Willem we decided to observe from the camp as it would be possible to switch off all lights. When Lynnette and I went to fetch our telescope we found that the staff was applying liberal amounts of very smelly chicken manure to the grass in the enclosure in order to speed up its growth. Observing there would have been a very smelly activity. That evening Johan Roux (snr.) joined us for some star gazing. I was astounded when he admitted that he had never spent time outside at night to specifically look at the stars. He, on the other hand, was very surprised to see what a negative effect the exposed outside lights around the homestead and guest house had on ones night vision. We will in future be allowed to switch them off when doing stargazing at Leeuwenboschfontein. Shortly after Johan left us to go to bed a sheet of thin, high cloud rolled in and put an end to our stargazing. I got up after 01:00 to answer a call of nature and found that the clouds had departed, but I was too bloody lazy to get dressed and set up the telescope again.

No I am not going to a fancy dress party as a medieval knight. This is my latest discovery, an electric head warmer. Apparently Leslie also uses it as a Dewzapper.
No I am not going to a fancy dress party as a medieval knight. This is my latest discovery, an electric head warmer. Apparently Leslie also uses it as a Dewzapper on his telescope.

On Tuesday the weather was beautiful but in the afternoon the clouds came in again and stayed. Lynnette and I decided to stick it out until Wednesday, hoping the weather would clear but it actually got worse and by 21:00 on Wednesday night it was raining steadily with some distant thunder as appropriate background music. We both had our doubts about getting the Vito through the few sticky patches on the gravel road between Leeuwenboschfontein and the R318 but it did not rain enough to adversely affect the road and by Thursday morning it was clearing nicely.

Snorre, alias Mr, Walkabout and aka The Purring Houdini.
Snorre, alias Mr, Walkabout and aka The Purring Houdini.

As a precautionary measure Mr Wanderlust was put into his harness and his leash tied to a pole where one of us could always keep an eye on him. While I went of to wash the breakfast dishes Snorre attempted to pull off one of his Houdini-style escapes from the harness but Lynnette was too quick for him, I then shoved him into his carry cage. Needless to say, Snorre was not a happy cat having his freedom of movement curtailed like that.

Standing in the centre of the campsite I attempted to construct a panoramic view of the site. West is almost dead centre in this view.
Standing in the centre of the campsite I attempted to construct a panoramic view of the site. West is almost dead centre in this view.

So, what are the prospects for Leeuwenboschfontein as a stargazing venue? I think it has definite potential and here is my list of positives, in no particular order.

  1. The owners are very positive about hosting astronomers.
  2. The average annual rainfall is much lower than that in and around Cape Town.
  3. It is within easy driving distance of Cape Town.
  4. There is fairly priced accommodation available for all tastes.
  5. The availability of an astro-enclosure means that astronomy enthusiasts do not have to fight with campers about the lights in the camp or their smoky braai fires.
  6. Astronomers will not be pestered by campers wanting to look through their telescopes or discuss astronomy down at the astro-enclosure. If anyone feels the need to do outreach they just have stay in the camp and they will be inundated.
  7. We have the concession that the outside lights of the homestead and guest house can be switched off to further reduce any influence they might have on viewing from the enclosure.

Negative aspects are possibly the following:

  1. The horizons are not ideally low in all directions but from the astro-enclosure they are more than acceptable.
  2. For the astrophotographers the non-availability of power at the enclosure is a problem but, at least for the present, a large battery and an inverter will provide a solution.

Please go here to visit Leeuwenboschfontein’s website or you may view their Facebook page here.

In my opinion there is no other site that is safe, offers the same amenities and has the same astronomy potential within easy driving distance of Cape Town. Some amateur astronomers might have private access to comparable sites but, for the average amateur in Cape Town, I think Leeuwenboschfontein offers a viable solution to a long standing problem.

Top Left: Back on the R318 heading west to the N1. Top Right: Passing what used to be Matroosberg Station. Bottom Left: The N1 and we go left. In the background some of the buildings of what used to be Bergplaas, then became Karoo 1 and now goes by the name of Karoo Hotel Village. Bottom Right: The ship and its lone sailor on the Eastern slopes of the Matroosberg that, according to some, gave the mountain its name.
Top Left: Back on the R318 heading west to the N1. Top Right: Passing what used to be Matroosberg Station. Bottom Left: The N1 and we go left. In the background some of the buildings of what used to be Bergplaas, then became Karoo 1 and now goes by the name of Karoo Hotel Village. Bottom Right: The ship and its lone sailor on the Eastern slopes of the Matroosberg that, according to some, gave the mountain its name.
Top Left: A view of the Hex River Valley from the Hex River Pass at its northern end. The arrow marks the entrance to one of the railway tunnels in the pass. Top Right: Exiting the Hex River Valley with Snorre navigating. Bottom Left: Approaching Worcester from the north-east. Bottom Right: Into Du Toit's Kloof Pass heading south.
Top Left: A view of the Hex River Valley from the Hex River Pass at its northern end. The arrow marks the entrance to one of the railway tunnels in the pass. Top Right: Exiting the Hex River Valley with Snorre navigating. Bottom Left: Approaching Worcester from the north-east. Bottom Right: Into Du Toit’s Kloof Pass heading south.
Top Left: The northern entrance of the Huguenot Tunnel and the arrow marks the spare tunnel wich was dug at the same time as the one in use now. Top Right: Out of the tunnel and heading toward the toll gates. Bottom Left: Past Paarl and Klapmuts we get our first clear view of Table Mountain. Bottom Right: About to leave the N1 and then it is just a short drive home and after coffee the dreaded unpacking and putting away.
Top Left: The northern entrance of the Huguenot Tunnel and the arrow marks the spare tunnel which was dug at the same time as the one in use now. Top Right: Out of the tunnel and heading toward the toll gates. Bottom Left: Past Paarl and Klapmuts we get our first clear view of Table Mountain.
Bottom Right: About to leave the N1 and then it is just a short drive home and after coffee, the dreaded unpacking and putting away.