The autumn 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 05 to 07 February 2016.

The autumn Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) followed so hard on the heels of the Southern Star Party in November (read all about it here) that we felt there was hardly any break. We were booked out two weeks before the event, which was a record, and it was a huge success judging from the verbal comments and the written feedback we received. We are obviously elated at the success but also a tad tired, so the long gap till the next Star Party at the end of October is most welcome. However, that gap is already filling up with all sorts of other things so we won’t be exactly idle. We are in fact going flat-out at present to get our grant application for the National Science Week ready to send off to SAASTA by the end of February.

This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program fir the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There was lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember all recipients of the passport – it has to accompany you to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, to bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There is lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember, all recipients of the passport have to bring it to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. Bottom: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. BOTTOM: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

On Tuesday the 02nd of February at 07:00, without any sleep the previous night, Lynnette, Snorre and I left and arrived at Night Sky to find the lawn mowing in full swing. Shortly after they finished, Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent. As soon as that was done I got the projection screen set up and then it started raining lightly. The three of us went to bed early and the next morning we started organizing the tent. Alan and Rose arrived in the course of the morning and after they had set up camp they pitched in to help setting up as well. During the course of Wednesday Auke also arrived. Volker and Aka Kuehne from Pforzheim in Germany were also at Night Sky as they are every summer from early January to mid-March. This was their second SSP and as on the previous occasion they were always ready to lend a hand with just about everything.

This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.
This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.

Lynnette and I drove to Bonnievale to meet Rudolf who had found a fossil deposit and after viewing and photographing the Zoophytes trace-fossils in the Witteberg sediments, we drove back to Night Sky after some essential shopping. Before going to Night Sky we stopped off at Oppiekoppie Guesthouse (go here to see more about Oppiekoppie) to label the rooms, so everybody would know where to go when they arrived the next day. We then drove back to Night Sky for supper, putting up all the banners at the entrance on the way, to make sure nobody got lost. Shortly after supper we turned in. On Thursday Jonathan Balladon, Louis Fourie, Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer and Barry & Miemie Dumas arrived, followed by Pierre de Villiers, Karin de Bruin and Susan Joubert from the Hermanus Centre.

TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Wittenberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Witteberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. Middle: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. MIDDLE: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.

Alan once again set up his model table in the tent where he displayed the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle, the yet to be completed model of SALT and some very nifty models of the Mars habitat with the surface vehicle and fuel generation unit. During the course of the SSP, and especially on Sunday morning this attracted a lot of attention and many favourable comments.  I personally can’t wait for the completion of the SALT model.

This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.
This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.

Just as we were preparing for the evening braai on Thursday, I was laid low by a kidney stone. Juri de Wet went to a great deal of trouble to track down Dr Esterhuisen in Bonnievale who agreed to meet us at his consulting rooms. Auke drove Lynnette and I there in his car in a record time and I was given a shot of morphine to reduce the pain. The doctor liaised with an urologist; Dr Deon Marais in Worcester and off the three of us went again to the Worcester Medi Clinic. I was put on a drip and had to stay in hospital for a scan before having an operation to remove the kidney stone, the next day. Lynnette and Auke had to leave me contemplating my kidney stone, while they drove back to attend to the running of the SSP. On the Friday Alan and Rose were roped in to help organize things and keep the administration running smoothly while Lynnette came back to Worcester in Auke’s car. She stayed with me until late in the afternoon before driving back to help at Night Sky, where everyone had by now arrived. I was eventually operated on at around 18:00 on Friday and at 06:00 on Saturday, Lynnette was there again in Auke’s car, to pick me up and back to Bonnievale we went.

TOP LEFT: I herby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for the budget overruns.
TOP LEFT: I hereby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for their budget overruns.

Shortly after 08:30, on Saturday morning, I had a session with the beginner group and was rather amazed to find Pierre de Villiers, current ASSA president there. I am quite certain he is well out of the beginner category, but perhaps he just wanted to make sure I did not spout too much drivel.

Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Magda Streicher’s talk “Deep-Sky Delights” which took us on a genteel journey through the process of observing deep-sky objects and sketching them. Her talk was lavishly illustrated with personal anecdotes and examples of her own sketches. We are all looking forward to the book you intend publishing with all those sketches, Magda!

Next up was Bani van der Merwe who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so Pierre de Villiers, present ASSA president, came out to bat and he more than welcomed the extra time at the wicket. Pierre’s topic “How to foster an interest in, and enjoyment of, astronomy” was actually a workshop rather than an ordinary talk. He illustrated the various initiatives of the Hermanus Centre intended to achieve these objectives and engaged with the audience to get their ideas on the matter.

While Pierre was talking Marius, Kim, Lynnette and I packed and lit the fires for the lunch-time braai. During the course of the lunch-break it was decided that it was just too hot to go back into the tent for the remainder of the talks at 15:00, so everything was postponed until 17:00. We hoped that it would have cooled by then. The lucky draw also shifted and the Pub Quiz looked as if might have to take a back seat till October.

Ray Brederode’s presentation “The discoveries of Rosette and Philae” was very well received and generated quite a number of questions from the audience. He was followed by Charl Cater, who presented a short, but very interesting talk entitled “Green Pea Galaxies”. Auke Slotegraaf rounded of the programme with a presentation titled “To Forever Remain a Child: Astronomy and cultural heritage in South Africa.” The talk covered a number of important issues pertaining to astronomical heritage in South Africa and hopefully some members of the audience will heed Auke’s call to become involved in efforts to preserve that heritage.

On Friday night Dwayne apparently only had eyes for the stars in the love of his life’s eyes. How do I know? Because he took Claire out under the stars and proposed to her. Congratulations, this is the first engagement for the Southern Star Party and we hope that by the next SSP he will have taken the logical step and be able to bring his starry eyed wife along. We took the opportunity after the last talk to congratulate them and hope they enjoyed the bottle of wine and slab of chocolate we presented them with.

A series of images depicting the telescope are which was a focal point by day but especially at night.
A series of images depicting the telescope area which was a focal point by day, but especially at night.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.

By this time the light was just right for the group photo and after that Pierre de Villiers drew the three winners of our raffle. The first prize, a Skywatcher  Newtonian telescope was won by Chris Vermeulen (D=130, F=650, 25mm & 10mm eyepieces, Red Dot Finder, tripod and manual equatorial mount). The second and third prizes were two bottles of good red wine which went to Barry Dumas and Martin Coetzee respectively.

it was clear that time had overtaken us so we cancelled everything else and got ready for the evenings observing and related activities. It was a good evening for observing even though there were signs of clouds encroaching by about 23:00 and it actually rained around 03:00 or shortly thereafter. Martin Lyons and several other stalwarts were quick to rescue the telescopes that had been left in the telescope area by owners that had ignored the impending change in the weather.

TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours. Camera - Nikon D5100. Lens - AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G ISO 800 & f/1.8 Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals) & combined with StarStax 0.71
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours.
Camera – Nikon D5100.
Lens – AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
ISO 800 & f/1.8
Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals)
& combined with StarStax 0.71
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph also taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party by Leslie Rose.
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph, taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party, by Leslie Rose.

On Sunday Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to lay out the material for presenting astronomy to the visually impaired so that people coming to the tent to say goodbye could look at it. Part of the display was Dr Wanda Diaze-Merced’s 20 mHz Jove radio telescope. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd. On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre and I and Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday Tersius and his team took down the tent and loaded up the tables and chairs and on Wednesday the rest of us packed up and left. This brought down the final curtain on the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

Alan tending his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
Alan tending to his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.

Last but not least, 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
Waltons.

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.

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.