The 13th Southern Star Party. The first to be held at Leeuwenboschfontein: Wednesday 22nd of February to Monday 27th February 2017.

The first Southern Star party held at Leeuwenboschfontein was a success. So, any suspicions about unlucky 13 were neatly sidestepped or perhaps the jinx only applies to people who suffer from triskaidekaphobia.

TOP: The barn with the display tables on the left, the lecture area in the centre and the kitchen on the right. 2nd FROM TOP: Our pull-up banners and some of the posters. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: This banner is always a showstopper. BOTTOM: The group at the opening.
TOP: The barn with the display tables on the left, the lecture area in the centre and the kitchen on the right. 2nd FROM TOP: Our pull-up banners and some of the posters. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: This banner is always a showstopper. BOTTOM: The group at the opening.

Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived on Wednesday the 22nd, downloaded our stuff at Dalzicht and set about getting the shed converted into a lecture area with a display section. Fortunately, their spacious kitchen made organising the coffee area very easy.

And here we all are. You can figure out who’s who on your own. I gave up putting in the names because we are not standing in nice neat rows and I could not make my list of names match the people in the photograph.
And here we all are. You can figure out who’s who on your own. I gave up putting in the names because we are not standing in nice neat rows and I could not make my list of names match the people in the photograph. Six people could not make it for the group photo.

Who attended:

Jim Adams (speaker), Jonathan Balladon, Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Steyn Botha, Samuel Botha, Dominique Brink, Johan Brink, Nellie Brink, Anja Bruton, Alan Cassells, Rose Cassells, Pamela Cooper, Chris de Coning, Micah de Villiers, Pierre de Villiers, Barry Dumas, Miemie Dumas, Clair Engelbrecht, Dwayne Engelbrecht, Arné Esterhuizen, Iain Finlay, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Louis Fourie, Maureen Helman, Cheyenne Kersting, Christine Kersting, Harald Kersting, Jamie Kersting, Evan Knox-Davies, Dianne Nxumalo-Kohler, Robin Kohler, Bennie Kotze, Paul Kruger, Lia Labuschagne, Eddy Nijeboer, Jannie Nijeboer, Lorenzo Raynard (speaker), Kim Reitz, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Rogan Roth, Johan Roux (Jnr), (Johan Jnr’s wife), (Johan Jnr’s eldest son), (Johan Jnr’s 2nd son), Alecia Roux, Henda Scott, Barry Shipman, Auke Slotegraaf, Corne van Dyk, and Chris Vermeulen, Alex Wright.

Some of the keen people pitched on Thursday and among them were Deon and Ronelle Begeman. Deon had, as promised at the previous SSP in Bonnievale, constructed two magnificent binocular viewing tripods for Auke and myself.  This is really quite an ingenious device with many improvements over what is currently on the market and it is very reasonably priced too when compared to its competitors. I will do a separate post with pictures about it at a later stage.

What a super way to advertise the Star Party against the backdrop of the busy telescope area and Leeuwenbosch’s starry skies.
What a super way to advertise the Star Party against the backdrop of the busy telescope area and Leeuwenbosch’s starry skies.

On Thursday evening Paul and I went up Swartberg in his 4×4.  It was a whole lot easier than walking up but also considerably more taxing on one’s nerves and I am not implying that Paul drove recklessly; quite the contrary. It is just that the vehicle adopts a wide variety of very unusual angles during both the ascent and descent and one has to trust the driver a whole lot more than when driving down a normal road.

TOP: I cannot recommend a visit to the hut on top of Swartberg strongly enough. This shot shows the hut in the first rays of the rising sun. CENTRE: looking east down the Nouga Valley in the early morning with smoke from the extensive veldt fires packed in the valleys. BOTTOM: Early morning looking south-west from the hut. The Langeberg lies on the far horizon and the tiny white spike of a microwave tower is just visible at the top of Rooiberg Pass.
TOP: I cannot recommend a visit to the hut on top of Swartberg strongly enough. This shot shows the hut in the first rays of the rising sun. CENTRE: looking east down the Nouga Valley in the early morning with smoke from the extensive veldt fires packed in the valleys. BOTTOM: Early morning looking south-west from the hut. The Langeberg lies on the far horizon and the tiny white spike of a microwave tower is just visible at the top of Rooiberg Pass.
Christine took this from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal just to prove that Paul and I had been on top of Swartberg. Thanks Christine for sharing.
Christine took this from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal just to prove that Paul and I had been on top of Swartberg. Thanks Christine for sharing.

TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.

TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.

Arne and Alex had their vehicle expire on the R318 while on the way to the SSP, but they were picked up by Evan and brought to Leeuwenboschfontein. The two seemed pretty laid back about leaving the car at the side of the road until Monday when they would set about sorting it out from Cape Town.

TOP: The group attending Deon’s presentation. BOTTOM: Deon and his very good representation of the Milky Way.
TOP: The group attending Deon’s presentation. BOTTOM: Deon and his very good representation of the Milky Way.

The beginner’s session at the telescopes was quite successful on Friday as was the beginners talk on Saturday morning.

TOP LEFT: How much traffic is there in the telescope area during a star party. This tangle of lights against the star trails in the background, as captured by Auke, should give you a good indication. TOP RIGHT: Taken from a different perspective by Auke and showing the south celestial pole very nicely is a second view of the telescope area. BOTTOM LEFT: A less cluttered short exposure of the telescope area showing Leo rising in the east. BOTTOM RIGHT: There are some very rare beings prowling the telescope area at night, as this shot would seem to prove. In real life, Eddy is not nearly as daunting I assure you.
TOP LEFT: How much traffic is there in the telescope area during a star party. This tangle of lights against the star trails in the background, as captured by Auke, should give you a good indication. TOP RIGHT: Taken from a different perspective by Auke and showing the south celestial pole very nicely is a second view of the telescope area. BOTTOM LEFT: A less cluttered short exposure of the telescope area showing Leo rising in the east. BOTTOM RIGHT: There are some very rare beings prowling the telescope area at night, as this shot would seem to prove. In real life, Eddy is not nearly as daunting I assure you.

Jonathan had to leave suddenly on Saturday morning as he was needed to fly a plane somewhere.  He promised he would flash his landing lights if his route took him over Leeuwenboschfontein which it apparently didn’t.

TOP LEFT: Part of the smallish group. TOP RIGHT: Me demonstrating the Southern Star Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: Samuel and Steyn. BOTTOM RIGHT: Steyn on the left, John in the background on the right and Henda up front.
TOP LEFT: Part of the smallish group. TOP RIGHT: Me demonstrating the Southern Star Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: Samuel and Steyn. BOTTOM RIGHT: Steyn on the left, John in the background on the right and Henda up front.

During my beginners’ session on Saturday morning, Jim Adams, retired Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA and Anja Bruton Science Engagement Coordinator at the SKA arrived. The problem was that Lorenzo Raynard Communications Manager at the SKA, who was due to give the first talk had not pitched and all efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. Jim, hearing of our predicament, very kindly agreed to give the talk he was scheduled to give that afternoon in Lorenzo’s slot. So we started off with “Spinoff: How investing in astronomy and space science changes life on Earth”. Jim proved to be every bit as good a speaker as Anja had said he was; relaxed, knowledgeable and very good at fielding questions too.

In the meantime, Lynnette and Anja were frantically trying to trace Lorenzo.

Martin Lyons and his wife Pat flew in (literally) especially for the social braai in the lapa at the campsite during lunchtime on Saturday.  They stayed until after lunch and then flew home again. According to Paul and Louis, the takeoff was actually quite tense but Martin, during subsequent discussions, downplayed any suggestion of problems.

Just before the braai the Vito was attacked by a vicious tree and lost its back window.

The Vito was the victim of an unfortunate incident just before the braai on Saturday when it was attacked by one of the vicious trees at Leeuwenboschfontein.
The Vito was the victim of an unfortunate incident just before the braai on Saturday when it was attacked by one of the vicious trees at Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Eddy and Jannie. TOP CENTRE: Louis and Deon. TOP RIGHT: Cheyenne Kersting CENTRE LEFT: Alex and Arne BOTTOM LEFT: Chris de Coning RIGHT: Micah and Auke.
TOP LEFT: Eddy and Jannie. TOP CENTRE: Louis and Deon. TOP RIGHT: Cheyenne Kersting CENTRE LEFT: Alex and Arne BOTTOM LEFT: Chris de Coning RIGHT: Micah and Auke.
TOP: Corné hard at work. CENTRE: A relaxed group outside with Alan and Rose who drove through to visit for the day. Thanks, guys! BOTTOM: Is Louis explaining where to find the stars? We will have to ask Bennie.
TOP: Corné hard at work. CENTRE: A relaxed group outside with Alan and Rose who drove through to visit for the day. Thanks, guys! BOTTOM: Is Louis explaining where to find the stars? We will have to ask Bennie.
TOP LEFT: Claire and Dwayne relaxing. TOP 2nd FROM LEFT: Barry and Miemie. TOP 2nd FROM RIGHT: A Cape Centre group tucking in. CENTRE LEFT: Alan’s version of the Polynesian fire poi possibly needs some practice. CENTRE: Myself, Lynnette and Jim. CENTRE RIGHT: Kim and Marius. BOTTOM LEFT: The Kerstings. BOTTOM RIGHT: Micah and Chris.
TOP LEFT: Claire and Dwayne relaxing. TOP 2nd FROM LEFT: Barry and Miemie. TOP 2nd FROM RIGHT: A Cape Centre group tucking in. CENTRE LEFT: Alan’s version of the Polynesian fire poi possibly needs some practice. CENTRE: Edward, Lynnette and Jim. CENTRE RIGHT: Kim and Marius. BOTTOM LEFT: The Kerstings. BOTTOM RIGHT: Micah and Chris.
TOP LEFT: Chris. TOP CENTRE: Jannie and Eddy. TOP RIGHT: Henda. CENTRE: Lia and Paul. BOTTOM LEFT: Lia. BOTTOM CENTRE: Evan and Jim. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Rose.
TOP LEFT: Chris. TOP CENTRE: Jannie and Eddy. TOP RIGHT: Henda. CENTRE: Lia and Paul. BOTTOM LEFT: Lia. BOTTOM CENTRE: Evan and Jim. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Rose.

By now Lorenzo had been traced and was on his way but would not make it in time for his time slot. We, or at least Anja, talked Jim into giving a second talk in Lorenzo’s slot. This talk “Robots in Space and Space Exploration; Past, Present and Future” went down very well with the audience.  Lorenzo finally pitched later on Saturday afternoon. As his talk would cut into observing time we decided to rather have him give his talk on Sunday morning.

After Jim’s talk and the lively question session we took the usual group photograph and, as is usual, some people did not pitch up. People who were absent were Jonathan Balladon, Steyn & Samuel Botha, Dominique & Nellie Brink and Lorenzo Raynard.

The group photograph was followed by the Pub Quiz which, this year, was orchestrated the usual degree of malevolence and cunning by Auke.  After several gruelling rounds the overall winner, by a very large margin was Alex.  Well done Alex, you left several past winners staggering around in your slipstream’s dust.

TOP LEFT: Jim Adams and during his first presentation. CENTRE LEFT: Handing over Jim’s speaker prize. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Anja and Lorenzo in conversation on Sunday morning. TOP RIGHT: Alex, the overall winner of the Pub Quiz, receiving his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Snorre surveying the proceedings.
TOP LEFT: Jim Adams during his first presentation. CENTRE LEFT: Handing over Jim’s speaker prize. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Anja and Lorenzo in conversation on Sunday morning. TOP RIGHT: Alex, the overall winner of the Pub Quiz, receiving his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Snorre surveying the proceedings.

The number of beginners at the telescopes on Saturday evening was disappointing but I am hoping it was the sudden drop in temperature that convinced them to stay indoors.

Paul’s star trails arch over the telescope area.
Paul’s star trails arch over the telescope area.

Lorenzo’s talk on Sunday morning. “The public face of SKA in South Africa” was reasonably well attended and, after some discussion, the great dispersal began and the site emptied fairly rapidly. This year, though, more people stayed on to observe the partial solar eclipse on Sunday afternoon.

TOP: My series of photographs following the solar eclipse with a late afternoon shot of Leeuwenboschfontein from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke’s very artistic shot of the shadows cast by the people around the telescope. BOTTOM RIGHT: A picture of the sun through one of Chris’s filters.
TOP: My series of photographs following the solar eclipse with a late afternoon shot of Leeuwenboschfontein from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke’s very artistic shot of the shadows cast by the people around the telescope. BOTTOM RIGHT: A picture of the sun through one of Chris’s filters.

Dwayne and Claire, who got engaged during the 11th SSP at Night Sky Caravan Farm, missed the 12th SSP because they were getting married. Now, while attending the 13th SSP, Mr and Mrs Engelbrecht announced they were expecting their first child. I suppose it will be too much to expect them to call the baby SSP, but it would be nice if they would.

On Monday morning we packed up and after Calla had very professionally helped close of and dust proof the gaping hole where the Vito’s rear window had been, Lynnette, Snorre and I also left for home.

Stargazing visit to Leeuwenboschfontein: Monday 26th of December 2016 to Sunday 01st January 2017.

The day after Christmas we (Lynnette, Snorre and I) arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein just before lunch. We were followed later in the week by Iain Finlay – Willem stayed at home keeping their cats, Tiger and Aimé, company. Rob Bark with his wife Michelle and daughter Victoria were next in, followed, eventually, by Paul Kruger, with his famous breakfast. Dave, Spiro and Sharon were due to fly in from up north but eventually drove down due to thundery weather over the central parts of the country.  Martin Lyons had plans to fly in as well but gave up on that idea as the altitude, heat and short runway made it unsafe for the plane he was going to use. Auke could not make it either because of last minute complications.

I have to sit here all morning and wait for them to finish so that we can get going and go to Leeuwenboschfontein.
I have to sit here all morning and wait for them to finish so that we can get going and go to Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Earth shadow and Venus’s girdle with one of the nice new bungalows at Leeuwenboschfontein in the foreground. BOTTOM LEFT: Iain Finlay, Rob Bark and I on the stoep of bungalow no. 5; one of the spanking new bungalows at Leeuwenboschfontein. TOP RIGHT: Two single beds pushed together to make a double bed in our bungalow. MIDDLE RIGHT: The bunk-bed and washbasin in our bungalow. BOTTOM RIGHT: Two burner gas stove, fridge and table with two benches in our bungalow.
TOP LEFT: Earth shadow and Venus’s girdle with one of the nice new bungalows at Leeuwenboschfontein in the foreground. BOTTOM LEFT: Iain Finlay, Rob Bark and I on the stoep of bungalow no. 5; one of the spanking new bungalows at Leeuwenboschfontein. TOP RIGHT: Two single beds pushed together to make a double bed in our bungalow. MIDDLE RIGHT: The bunk-bed and washbasin in our bungalow. BOTTOM RIGHT: Two burner gas stove, fridge and table with two benches in our bungalow.
Dalzicht on the left, with bungalows one and two hidden behind the island in the road. They are both equipped with their own bathrooms. Bungalows four to six on the right use the ablution block hidden in the background behind unit three.
Dalzicht on the left, with bungalows one and two hidden behind the island in the road. They are both equipped with their own bathrooms. Bungalows three to six, on the right, use the ablution block hidden in the background behind unit three.

Monday evening was fine, Tuesday evening was completely clouded over and Wednesday evening was very windy in the early evening with a fair amount of cloud that cleared after midnight. Thursday night was a repeat of Wednesday and Friday was more of the same. Saturday was a near-perfect night to round off the weekend.

TOP: Sunset on the 30th of December. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Sunset about 20 minutes later. BOTTOM: The Moon going down for the last time in 2016 over Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP: Sunset on the 30th of December. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Sunset about 20 minutes later. BOTTOM: The Moon going down for the last time in 2016 over Leeuwenboschfontein.

One thing that is a problem at Leeuwenbosch is the lighting along the entrance road and in the garden between the guest houses.  They are all these horrible round white things that distribute light in all directions. Some sort of a cover that prevents light from escaping upward and horizontally, would solve the problem and the use of cooler bulbs would also help. I temporarily solved the problem by taking the bulbs out as soon as it looked as if all the folks in the houses had gone to bed and then replaced them when I was done observing. Johan Roux, however, has shown me where the light switches for these lights are and it is now a case of flicking two switches and seeing conditions around the guest houses and new chalets will improve by at least 200%.

TOP LEFT: Paul taking a break on the way to Leeuwenboschfontein. TOP RIGHT: Paul is a firm believer in a hearty breakfast to start his day. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s braai and bottle of wine in preparation for the night’s photography. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s very nice set of star trails taken from Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Paul taking a break on the way to Leeuwenboschfontein. TOP RIGHT: Paul is a firm believer in a hearty breakfast to start his day. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s braai and a bottle of wine in preparation for the night’s photography. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s very nice set of star trails taken from Leeuwenboschfontein.

The camp, however, was a bigger problem this time around. Because it was the holiday season and specifically the New Year’s weekend, the camp was full of revellers who switched on all possible lights including that infernal spotlight on the mast in the middle of the camp. Why get tipsy in the dark, after all? The light spill from this lot even affected the seeing down in the telescope area next to the runway, almost a kilometre away.

At least these light pollution problems will not be a problem during the SSP because we have Johan’s permission to switch everything off for that weekend.

On the subject of light pollution, I recorded a set of dark sky readings for those of the readers who might be interested.

MSAS = Magnitudes per Square Arc Second NELM = Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude
MSAS = Magnitudes per Square Arc Second
NELM = Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude

I also recorded some weather data, using Hans van der Merwe’s clever data logger. Here are some results that might interest amateur astronomers.

Graphic representation of some of the weather data from Hans van der Merwe's data logger.
Graphic representation of some of the weather data from Hans van der Merwe’s data logger.

Stargazing at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront: Saturday 05th of November 2016.

I do not know which of the following is applicable to our case “You cannot have your cake and eat it” or “What you gain on the swings you loose on the roundabouts”. On the one hand we had bright sunshine and a six day old waxing moon that was situated very nicely but, on the other hand, we had a brisk and fairly chilly South-Easter that pushed clumps of fluffy clouds across our field of view all afternoon and, to top it all, there were only two minuscule sunspots visible.

TOP: Getting onto the N1 from Brackenfell is a problem nowadays because of the road works between Brackenfell and the Panorama turn-off. Even on a Saturday morning the traffic is slow. The clouds over Table Mountain also did not look too promising. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Passing the Panorama turn-off it looked clear over the sea to the west of Cape Town. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Approaching the Giel Basson turnoff and the clouds seemed poised just east of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, ready to advance as soon as we have set-up. Go here (http://www.waterfront.co.za/ ) to read more about this premier tourist attraction in Cape Town. BOTTOM: The last lap on Marine Drive with a fluffy cloud peeking out from behind the road sign.
TOP: Getting onto the N1 from Brackenfell is a problem nowadays because of the road works between Brackenfell and the Panorama turn-off. Even on a Saturday morning the traffic is slow. The clouds over Table Mountain also did not look too promising. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Passing the Panorama turn-off it looked clear over the sea to the west of Cape Town. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Approaching the Giel Basson turnoff and the clouds seemed poised just east of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, ready to advance as soon as we have set-up. Go here to read more about this premier tourist attraction in Cape Town. BOTTOM: The last lap on Marine Drive with a fluffy cloud peeking out from behind the road sign.

Auke was already there and Eddy and Jannie arrived shortly after us with Dirk about 30 minutes after them. Alan and Rose weren’t there because Alan had to work and Wendy could also not make it as her husband was ill and had been hospitalized.

TOP: Dirk (in red) setting up while Eddy (in the white hat) and myself (in the blue shirt) talk to some of the first guests. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and his new Celestron with an interested member of the public. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The poster advertising the ASSA (go here to find out more about ASSA https://assa.saao.ac.za/ ) Sky Guide, published by Struik (find out more about Struik and their excellent publications here http://struik.bookslive.co.za/about/ and their nature publications here http://www.struiknatureclub.co.za/about-us.php ). This is the one book no self-respecting amateur astronomer in South Africa should be without. BOTTOM: Many people did not know one could see the Moon during daytime and were keen to view it through the telescope.
TOP: Dirk (in red) setting up while Eddy (in the white hat) and myself (in the blue shirt) talk to some of the first guests. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and his new Celestron with an interested member of the public. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The poster advertising the ASSA (go here to find out more about ASSA. Sky Guide, published by Struik (find out more about Struik and their excellent publications here  and their nature publications here). This is the one book no self-respecting amateur astronomer in South Africa should be without. BOTTOM: Many people did not know one could see the Moon during daytime and were keen to view it through the telescope.
TOP: Auke and his new Celestron helping some visitors look at the moon. MIDDLE: I nudge Lorenzo to keep it on the Moon while waiting for the next batch of viewers. BOTTOM: Quite a few people wanted to take photos of the Moon with their mobile phones, but that takes a steady hand and a bit of practice.
TOP: Auke and his new Celestron helping some visitors look at the moon. MIDDLE: I nudge Lorenzo to keep it on the Moon while waiting for the next batch of viewers. BOTTOM: Quite a few people wanted to take photos of the Moon with their mobile phones, but that takes a steady hand and a bit of practice.

The brisk South-Easter was quite cold and, as we had suspected the wind drove a never ending series of fluffy clouds across the face of the Moon limiting viewing to the intervening gaps between them. I decided not to even try the Sun as the two diminutive sunspots were really not worth the effort and concentrated on the Moon.

TOP: Eddy, the Chairperson of ASSA’s Cape Centre, entertains a group of visitors while Jannie (in red) keeps her eye on the telescope. Go here to find out more about ASSA’s Cape Centre (http://www.capecentre.org.za/ ). BOTTOM: Dirk looking pleased with himself. The white vessel visible directly behind Dirk’s telescope is Sikhululekile (Eng. Free or Set Free), the ill fated Robben Island ferry. Go here to read more about this expensive vessel and its equally expensive problems (http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/rocks-ruin-r26m-robben-island-ferry-1803068 ).
TOP: Eddy, the Chairperson of ASSA’s Cape Centre, entertains a group of visitors while Jannie (in red) keeps her eye on the telescope. Go here to find out more about ASSA’s Cape Centre. BOTTOM: Dirk looking pleased with himself. The white vessel visible directly behind Dirk’s telescope is Sikhululekile (Eng. Free or Set Free), the ill fated Robben Island ferry. Go here to read more about this expensive vessel and its equally expensive problems.
TOP: The Sky Guide advertisements (there were two) were clearly visible to all comers. BOTTOM: Myself and Lorenzo up front while Auke and Dirk consult in the background. In the foreground is our StarPeople poster with the two ASSA Merit Awards. One award was for our general outreach efforts and the other for organizing the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. Go here to read more about the awards (http://elfastronomy.com/2016/09/16/astronomical-society-of-southern-africa-merit-awards-2016/ ) and here to read about the the Southern Star Party that was held in February 2016 (http://elfastronomy.com/2016/02/15/the-autumn-2016-southern-star-party-night-sky-caravan-farm-05-to-07-february-2016/ ) or here to read about the Star party held in October 2016 (http://elfastronomy.com/2016/11/13/the-spring-2016-southern-star-party-night-sky-caravan-farm-26-to-30-october-2016/ ).
TOP: The Sky Guide advertisements (there were two) were clearly visible to all comers. BOTTOM: Myself and Lorenzo up front while Auke and Dirk consult in the background. In the foreground is our StarPeople poster with the two ASSA Merit Awards. One award was for our general outreach efforts and the other for organizing the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. Go here to read more about the awards and here to read about the Southern Star Party that was held in February 2016 or here to read about the Southern Star Party held in October 2016.

There were fewer people around and this seems to be the pattern when there is a bit of wind. I also think that in the wind people tend to bunch up more at the Swing Bridge and are less inclined to look around. There seems to be a greater sense of urgency to get across.  Also for the people coming from the other side they seem to move straight on and not fan out as they do on days when there is less wind.

TOP: Lorenzo and I showing the Moon to three eager viewers. MIDDLE: Three presenters in a row! I am in the foreground; Auke is in the middle and, in the background, is Eddy wearing the white hat. BOTTOM: The same sequence but now Jannie (in red) has joined Eddy.
TOP: Lorenzo and I showing the Moon to three eager viewers. MIDDLE: Three presenters in a row! I am in the foreground; Auke is in the middle and, in the background, is Eddy wearing the white hat. BOTTOM: The same sequence but now Jannie (in red) has joined Eddy.
TOP: Now and again one sees one of these huge container vessels coming in – very impressive. BOTTOM: Jannie on the left and Eddy with a International Observe the Moon Night information sheet, talking to two visitors with the red Clock Tower in the background (Go here to read more about this historic landmark in the V&A Waterfront dating back to 1883 http://www.cape-town-heritage.co.za/heritage-site/clock-tower.html ).
TOP: Now and again one sees one of these huge container vessels coming in – very impressive. BOTTOM: Jannie on the left and Eddy with a International Observe the Moon Night information sheet, talking to two visitors with the red Clock Tower in the background (Go here to read more about this historic landmark in the V&A Waterfront dating back to 1883.

There were fewer clouds as the afternoon wore on and by sunset we had almost uninterrupted views of the moon. I decided to give viewers a special treat and added a 3x Barlow to my 25 mm eyepiece.  That never fails to draw Wows, OMG’s, Awesome’s. Nooo’s and even a You Lie or two from the viewers. It takes a bit more nudging and shoving, but the effect on viewers is more than worth the trouble. In addition Lorenzo has the advantage of being more stable and less prone to wind induced vibrations than the smaller telescopes.

TOP: As the light dimmed the view of the Moon got better. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke on the left, Dirk in the middle, Jannie and Eddy on the right. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: With the amount of light pollution in the Waterfront it is amazing that one can see anything other than the Moon. BOTTOM: A young visitor eyeballs the six day old waxing Moon.
TOP: As the light dimmed the view of the Moon got better. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke on the left, Dirk in the middle, Jannie and Eddy on the right. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: With the amount of light pollution in the Waterfront it is amazing that one can see anything other than the Moon. BOTTOM: A young visitor eyeballs the six day old waxing Moon.
TOP: Auke interacting with a very interested young visitor. BOTTOM: Dirk discussing details of the Moon with some visitors. Jannie’s white top is just visible on the right.
TOP: Auke interacting with a very interested young visitor. BOTTOM: Dirk discussing details of the Moon with some visitors. Jannie’s white top is just visible on the right.

Once the Sun was down it became really chilly and one once again had to marvel at the fact that one could actually show people celestial objects from such a heavily light polluted site as the Pierhead. Unfortunately Venus and Saturn were not well placed for viewing from our position and the best position would have been under the coloured fairy lights on the quayside.

TOP: Jannie on the left looks on while Eddy explains some finer points. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke entertains some younger viewers. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lights, lights and more lights! Very pretty but also a major source of light pollution in Cape Town. BOTTOM: Dirk interacts with visitors and Jannie in the white top can be seen on the right.
TOP: Jannie on the left looks on while Eddy explains some finer points. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke entertains some younger viewers. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lights, lights and more lights! Very pretty but also a major source of light pollution in Cape Town. BOTTOM: Dirk interacts with visitors and Jannie in the white top can be seen on the right.

To top it all you can watch the entire afternoon and evening in one very fast You Tube video if you click here.

We started packing up at 21:00 and when Dirk Lynnette and I headed home Auke, Jannie and Eddy strolled over to Den Anker for a late night cup of coffee or two.

Stargazing at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront: Saturday 20th of August 2016.

We had bright sunshine and clear skies which was nice but there were no sunspots and also no moon before almost 21:00. So why on earth did we choose Saturday the 20th to set up in the waterfront?  Actually we didn’t exactly choose it, it was chosen for us by circumstances. Our scheduled date was Saturday the 13th of August but, let me go right back to the beginning and explain what happened.

National Science Week (click here to find out more about the activities presented during National Science Week) was to have taken place from the 30th of July to the 06th of August. StarPeople had been fortunate enough to receive a grant to promote the 2016 theme “Renewable Energy” (Go here or go here) to find out more about renewable energy in South Africa)in the amphitheater in front of the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town (go here to find out more about this exciting venue). However, the State President announced that the Local Government Elections would be held on the 3rd of August and the NRF/SAASTA promptly moved National Science Week forward to run from the 06th to the 13th of August.

TOP LEFT: The Vito all packed up and ready to go to the Waterfront. TOP CENTER: Heading down the N1 past the Durbanville turnoff. TOP RIGHT: Being Saturday there was no actual work in progress but the lane and speed restrictions remained. MIDDLE: Constantiaberg on the far left and Signal Hill on the far right with a spot of cloud just to the left of Devil’s Peak. BOTTOM LEFT: Down the hill past the Panorama turn-off with Table Bay in the distance. BOTTOM CENTER: The turn-off to Cape Town International Airport coming up and that cloud is still hanging around. BOTTOM RIGHT: Optimistic evaluation of the cloud said it was shrinking and not growing.
TOP LEFT: The Vito all packed up and ready to go to the Waterfront. TOP CENTER: Heading down the N1 past the Durbanville turnoff. TOP RIGHT: Being Saturday there was no actual work in progress but the lane and speed restrictions remained. MIDDLE: Constantiaberg on the far left and Signal Hill on the far right with a spot of cloud just to the left of Devil’s Peak. BOTTOM LEFT: Down the hill past the Panorama turn-off with Table Bay in the distance. BOTTOM CENTER: The turn-off to Cape Town International Airport coming up and that cloud is still hanging around. BOTTOM RIGHT: Optimistic evaluation of the cloud said it was shrinking and not growing.
LEFT: No not a weapon of mass destruction but the Solarscope very generously donated by Mr Jurg Wagener owner of the well known Sterland and Kambrokind in Sutherland. TOP RIGHT: Side view of the Solarscope with useful information on the inner solar system. BOTTOM RIGHT: The other side of the Solarscope with a convenient tool for measuring the altitude of the sun when viewing.
LEFT: No not a weapon of mass destruction but the Solarscope very generously donated by Mr Jurg Wagener owner of the well known Sterland and Kambrokind in Sutherland. TOP RIGHT: Side view of the Solarscope with useful information on the inner solar system. BOTTOM RIGHT: The other side of the Solarscope with a convenient tool for measuring the altitude of the sun when viewing.

We had to decide whether to cancel our Waterfront date on the 13th or to move it one week on. We opted for the latter choice, knowing that the moon would only be out later but still hoping for some sunspots. We didn’t have sunspots, but the change of date wasn’t all negative because the weather was overcast and rainy on the 13th so we would not have been able to set up in the Waterfront in any case.

TOP LEFT: The moment the telescopes appear people start lining up to take look. TOP RIGHT: Auke checking Lorenzo’s sun filter while I explain something to visitors from Stellenbosch. MIDDLE LEFT: Alan and Auke with Brett’s sun telescope and group from the UK. BOTTOM LEFT: Alan sporting his new astronomy hat explaining some astronomy to visitors. I sort of liked his Newlands Cricket headgear more. BOTTOM RIGHT: Dirk looks on looking slightly perplexed at my antics. I also have selective amnesia about exactly what I was up to.
TOP LEFT: The moment the telescopes appear people start lining up to take look. TOP RIGHT: Auke checking Lorenzo’s sun filter while I explain something to visitors from Stellenbosch. MIDDLE LEFT: Alan and Auke with Brett’s sun telescope and group from the UK. BOTTOM LEFT: Alan sporting his new astronomy hat explaining some astronomy to visitors. I sort of liked his Newlands Cricket headgear more. BOTTOM RIGHT: Dirk looks on looking slightly perplexed at my antics. I also have selective amnesia about exactly what I was up to.

So, there we were with no sunspots and a late moon but beautiful weather and lots of enthusiastic people (680 visited us) all eager to get to know more about astronomy.  Auke also had a table set up with some of the material and demonstrations on renewable energy that we had used during National Science Week. This also attracted quite a lot of attention.

TOP LEFT: A closer look at Alan and his new hat. TOP RIGHT: Auke taking a break while contemplating the benefits (if any) of astronomy outreach. BOTTOM LEFT: Dirk and I comparing notes or is Dirk telling another fishy tale. BOTTOM RIGHT: The lady at Alan’s telescope told us that her late father used to haul them out of bed in the dead of night and have them lie on their backs on the lawn to look at the stars. Give that man a Bells!
TOP LEFT: A closer look at Alan and his new hat. TOP RIGHT: Auke taking a break while contemplating the benefits (if any) of astronomy outreach. BOTTOM LEFT: Dirk and I comparing notes or is Dirk telling another fishy tale. BOTTOM RIGHT: The lady at Alan’s telescope told us that her late father used to haul them out of bed in the dead of night and have them lie on their backs on the lawn to look at the stars. Give that man a Bells!

The lack of sunspots gave us the opportunity to talk about other aspects of astronomy and space exploration, after allowing people to view the sun through our specially protected telescopes. Our display about space junk attracted a lot of attention as well. The fact that outer space was a mere 100 km away compared to all the other places on the Pierhead signpost left many of our visitors a bit shell shocked too.

TOP LEFT: The traffic at the telescopes is governed by the Swing Bridge. When it is shut the people waiting at the western end have time to look around and they use that to come over and look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: Dirk explain optics to two visitors. MIDDLE LEFT: Two of Dirk’s visitors seem perplexed about something. MIDDLE RIGHT: Alan in full swing, or is it song?. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke explaining renewable energy to two young visitors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Auke explaining why there were no sunspots.
TOP LEFT: The traffic at the telescopes is governed by the Swing Bridge. When it is shut the people waiting at the western end have time to look around and they use that to come over and look through the telescopes. TOP RIGHT: Dirk explain optics to two visitors. MIDDLE LEFT: Two of Dirk’s visitors seem perplexed about something. MIDDLE RIGHT: Alan in full swing, or is it song?. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke explaining renewable energy to two young visitors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Auke explaining why there were no sunspots.

Dirk was not quite his normal chirpy self and still had a cough and sore ribs after his recent indisposition, so he left pretty sharply at 21:00 to get out of the cold night air. Alan and Rose also opted to get home and get some well earned rest while Auke, Lynnette and I decided to have coffee at Den Anker (click here to find out more about this delightful restaurant), where Patrick was delighted to see Lynnette and I again.

TOP: Just before 21:00 the moon rose over the distant Tygerberg Hills and the much closer harbour cranes. MIDDLE: Auke explaining some finer points to visitors from the safety of his chair. BOTTOM: Looking over to the West one can clearly see the huge amount of light pollution generated by the Waterfront.
TOP: Just before 21:00 the moon rose over the distant Tygerberg Hills and the much closer harbour cranes. MIDDLE: Auke explaining some finer points to visitors from the safety of his chair. BOTTOM: Looking over to the West one can clearly see the huge amount of light pollution generated by the Waterfront.

Also on the positive side I should mention that we had very little dew, so our equipment and other material was put away dry. This meant Lynnette and I could pack everything away without first unpacking all the stuff and laying it out in the sun to dry. What a joy and also a huge saving in time and effort for the two of us.

Our future dates at the Waterfront can all be found by visiting here.

Museum Open Night: Thursday 10th March 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Durban Heights Stargazing: February 2015

A rooftop excursion with interesting possibilities for the future.

Hannes and Jacky Wagener did the groundwork working through Bernie, tadalafil the chairperson of the management committee at Durban Heights to get permission to take a telescope up onto the roof and do some stargazing from there. There was a fairly chilly South to South-easterly breeze which gusted quite strongly at times as we carried the telescopes and other gear up. No lift, treatment so everything had to be carried up four storeys. A specific problem was the large amount of smoke in the air from the fires burning in a number of places on the Cape Peninsula and also at places further to the north, prescription like Tulbagh and Porterville. Light pollution remains a problem in the city and even though we were above many of the street lights, the topography of the area meant that there were still lights above us in places.

One unforeseen element that had a negative effect on the number of attendees, was the fact that the rugby match between the Stormers and the Bulls kicked off at 19:00.  In South Africa if you ask a rugby supporter to choose between watching a key match and looking stars, the stars end up second by a very long shot.  Despite that competition, we had a turnout of about 20 people.

Several of the attendees were of the more mature variety, but there were also some post graduate students from University of the Western Cape and from the University of Stellenbosch which was very gratifying.  Bernie, Christelle and Angeline, all committee members were on the roof to support us, thank you.

Setting up Lorenzo with Mina Viviers and our host, Hannes Wagener in the background
Setting up Lorenzo with Mina Viviers and our host, Hannes Wagener in the background
A view to the South where the fires on the Peninsular had just got going but their smoke was already visible.
A view to the South where the fires on the Peninsular had just got going but their smoke was already visible.
A view to the East catching the earth shadow and the Venus girdle above the mountains but also clearly showing the smoke from fires farther inland.
A view to the East and North catching the earth shadow and the Venus girdle above the mountains but also clearly showing the smoke from fires farther inland.
Mina takes a first look at the Moon
Mina takes her first look at the Moon

As far as viewing was concerned, the Moon was good, Jupiter was reasonable and the Orion Nebula was visible but not spectacular.  The Pleiades were not visible to the naked eye, probably because the haze, smoke and sunset obscured them, but Aldebaran was and we could find NGC 4755 (Jewel Box) quite easily.  NGC 5139 (Omega Centauri) was so faint in the telescope that the finder scope could not pick it up and we had to use intuition and dead reckoning to find it. IC 2602 (Southern Pleiades) was just visible to the naked eye. We found eta-Carina, but it was not much to write home about due to the light pollution.

Of the constellations Orion, Canis Major with Sirius and Crux with its Pointers were reasonably distinguishable.  Procyon was visible as were Castor and Pollux ,but not their respective constellations and Regulus was visible but not the rest of Leo.  The False Cross and the Diamond Cross were visible if one concentrated. Cancer and the Beehive were both “invisible”. Canopus was clearly visible and with some effort I managed to find Achernar.

I only wish I could have had this group at Night Sky Caravan Farm the previous weekend, they would have loved it.  Many of the older stargazers spoke wistfully of starry nights on farms in Namaqualand and other parts of the Karoo that they had experienced in their youth and never really appreciated fully.

Why aren’t there more photos? Well, yours truly forgot to take along a spare battery for the camera so, halfway through the evening Lynnette was no longer able to take photographs. I will make a point of remembering next time.

Stargazing and Moon watching at the Museum Night: February 2015

It was, thankfully, not a dark and stormy night.

Auke, Lynnette and I were invited, in our capacity as StarPeople, to set up outside the entrance to the Iziko Museum (**) at the top of the Company Gardens (**) in Cape Town and let people look at the Moon, Jupiter and whatever through a telescope. We also intended projecting at least the Moon onto a screen so that we could discuss important features with members of the public. We felt quite chuffed to be participating in the Museum Night project, so we accepted without hesitation.

We arrived shortly after 15:00 to find Auke already parked in front of the Museum building and a brief discussion with Elsabe sorted out where we should set up. The venue is a very attractive one and our position at the head of the stairs leading from the Company Gardens up to the Iziko Museum was perfect, because we were so visible to people approaching or leaving the building. We began unpacking and setting up and by shortly after 16:00 everything was set up and ready to go, except the projection system. Elsabe brought us coffee which was most welcome as well as some small containers of juice. By 17:00 the people were queuing for tickets to the planetarium shows scheduled for 18:00, 19:00 and 20:00 and by about 17:30 we had Lorenzo aimed at the still pale daylight Moon. At first people were hesitant to take a peek, but after the ice had been broken, we soon had a steady stream of moon gazers.

The site was perfect and the setting as well
The site was perfect and the setting as well
Lynnette manning the admin cum info table.
Lynnette manning the admin cum info table.
Auke and Elsabe Uys - Planetarium Presenter at the Iziko Planetarium
Auke and Elsabe Uys – Planetarium Presenter at the Iziko Planetarium
A collage of photos taken early in the afternoon.  There were lots of people
A collage of photos taken early in the afternoon. There were lots of people

Our poster display on the cardboard A-frames was quite effective and drew many readers and lookers of which some had questions but most did not. Auke and Lynnette had the A3-planet posters set up on the steps representing a scaled down Solar System. Later in the evening the planets and our other poster displays again showed their vulnerability to windy conditions with most of them ending up either flat or propped up against a wall out of the wind. Short of carting around a load of bricks to weight them down, we have a not yet come up with a workable solution to the problem of them falling over at the slightest puff of wind.

The crowds start gathering and the queue gets longer and longer
The crowds start gathering and the queue gets longer and longer
The queue seemed never ending at the beginning of the show and yet everyone was amazingly patient
The queue seemed never ending at the beginning of the show and yet everyone was amazingly patient
At the other end the Iziko Museum seemed to keep on absorbing the people and never showed signs of popping at the seams
At the other end the Iziko Museum seemed to keep on absorbing the people and never showed signs of popping at the seams
People actually stopped to look art and read the posters
People actually stopped to look art and read the posters
Our A-frame poster displays were quite effective until the wind started to mess us around
Our A-frame poster displays were quite effective until the wind started to mess us around
More photos to give an indication of the large number of people
More photos to give an indication of the large number of people

Lynnette helped Auke lay out the Solar System and put up the poster A-frames and when the action started she manned the information table with all our handouts. She had to spend a considerable amount of time chasing after handouts and blown of her table by the gusting wind as well as setting the Solar System posters and our A-frame poster boards up every time the wind toppled them. Eventually she decided to let the wind win and put the handouts in boxes, laid the planets down flat and propped the A-frames up against the nearest wall. As it turned out her table also became the point where people approaching the Museum, expected to get information about the Museum Night and the Planetarium. When it later became clear that neither Auke nor I were going to have time to take photographs she shut down the information table, put on her photographer’s hat and took most of the photos we have of the evenings proceedings. All in all Lynnette had quite a busy night even if she did not spend time manning a telescope.

Auke and Lorenzo right in the front lines
Auke and Lorenzo right in the front lines
Shaun and I in conversation before he set up to raise funds for an Africa Burn project
Shaun and I in conversation before he set up to raise funds for an Africa Burn project
More photos to give an indication of the large number of people
More photos to give an indication of the large number of people

As is usual with events like this, there is always somebody who manages to do something amusing at the telescope. I have in the past had people drop to their knees and attempt to look through the Dobby’s handles at whatever. This time around I had several people walk up to Lorenzo from the front, embrace him and peer intently into the front of the finder scope. There were also the three gentlemen who looked as if they had not seen a change of clothing or too much water in quite a while. They first stood off to one side, glancing from the refractor to the Moon and back again and conducting an animated conversation, presumably about the Moon and the telescope. When they finally came closer, the spokesperson took a long look through the eyepiece, stood back and motioned his cronies forward. After they had each taken a long look and also glanced up at the moon several times while doing so, their leader had a second look and, as the three walked away, he announced to all within earshot, “it’s a hoax” before they disappeared in the direction of the National Gallery.

Even as darkness fell the posters still attracted attention
Even as darkness fell the posters still attracted attention
Most people had never looked through a telescope before.
Most people had never looked through a telescope before.
The darkness did not really diminish the flow of people until much later
The darkness did not really diminish the flow of people until much later

Initially we were only drawing people from the queue going into the museum but, after the first planetarium show finished just before 19:00, we had people coming out of the planetarium also stopping off for a look. Things quickly got quite hectic and as it grew darker I prepared to put the refractor and projection system into action, so as to relieve the pressure on Lorenzo, now taken over by Auke. The wind was a nuisance because it made the screen flap even though the central shaft was tied to a pillar underlining the need for a wall or other non-flapping surface to project onto. The wind also caused the telescope to vibrate, especially after I attached the video camera. Then my inexperience using the system in public came to the fore because, try as I might, I could not get a decent image. Nerves, lack of practice or just plain stupidity, or possibly all three, who knows. After a while I gave up and simply used the refractor with a high magnification eyepiece to give people a close-up view of the Moon and later of a very fuzzy Jupiter too. I must really get this projection thing sorted out so that it works anywhere, first time and every time.

In the meantime Shaun, who had popped in earlier in the evening, had fetched his Meade and set up further down the walkway, where he was also showing people astronomical objects. In exchange for looking through his telescope he was asking viewers for donations toward a 2015 Africa Burn project with an astronomy theme.

Shaun raising funds for the Africa Burn Project
Shaun raising funds for the Africa Burn Project
Shaun working on his Africa Burn fundraising
Shaun working on his Africa Burn fundraising

Later we had to move the telescopes back to keep the Moon in view as it slid behind a tree. Doing this with the Dobby is simply a case of pick-up-and-go. With the refractor on the alt/az-mount attached to a large 12V battery, it is not that simple. You have more pieces, the battery is heavy and re-positioning the telescope necessitates a re-alignment, so when I too had to move, Lynnette was called in to help as Auke had his hands full with a long queue of patiently waiting moon gazers.

What a pity that this fossil tree trunk cannot tell the tales of all it has experienced
What a pity that this fossil tree trunk cannot tell the tales of all it has experienced. This is a specimen of the genus Dadoxylon that flourished over wide areas of Gondwana 250 million years ago. This particular example comes from the town of Senekal in the Free State, where the local Dutch Reformed Church actually has a fence around it made of pieces of fossil tree trunks collected by the local farmers in the 1940’s. This collection exercise was instigated and encouraged by the Parson of the congregation at that time.
The Moon was popular and by now I had given up on projecting and was using the refractor to show a higher magnification of the Moon than seen on Lorenzo and also a rather fuzzy view of Jupiter
The Moon was popular and by now I had given up on projecting and was using the refractor to show a higher magnification of the Moon than seen on Lorenzo and also a rather fuzzy view of Jupiter
The last few also want to look through the telesope
The last few also want to look through the telescope
At last we were down to the last few viewers
At last we were down to the last few viewers

Eventually everything wound down and the crowds dwindled until only one or two die-hard individuals were left. Packing up became a bit of a rush and was quite tense because somebody informed us that we had better hurry up as once everyone was gone; we ran the risk of being mugged! Rather an icky finale to an otherwise lovely and exciting evening showing more than 2000 people the sights of the night sky from central Cape Town.

At last the crowds were thinning as one can see in this collection of photographs
At last the crowds were thinning as one can see in this collection of photographs
Myself, Theo Ferreira (Planetarium manager, Iziko Planetarium) and Dr Hamish Robertson (Director of Natural History, Iziko South African Museum)
Myself, Theo Ferreira (Planetarium manager, Iziko Planetarium) and Dr Hamish Robertson (Director of Natural History, Iziko South African Museum)

Thank you Iziko Museum for inviting us and in particular thanks to Elsabe and Theo for advice and help on the evening. StarPeople had a lot of fun and we would like to think that the Museum benefited from having us there. If we get invited again, and we sincerely hope we will, there are some changes we will make to improve our service delivery.

Bonnievale Bonanza 2014

Bonnievale Bonanza, November 2014

Auke. Lynnette, Snorre and I set out for Bonnievale on Thursday 30th October where Star People was due to set up at the annual Bonnievale Bonanza. The general idea was to provide an opportunity for the general public to view the Sun during the day and the Moon and, hopefully, some stars in the evening.  We would of course also answer questions and dispense astronomical pearls of wisdom to all and sundry during the course of the day and the evening. This year was a special occasion because the Bonanza was in its 20th year and Huipie Schreuder, the dynamic organizer of the Bonanza for eight years running, had vowed to finally lay down the reins and retire.

Roadside breakfast on the way to Bonnievale
Roadside breakfast on the way to Bonnievale

Annaliese and her two assistants from Bonnievale Verhurings arrived exactly on time to pitch the marquee tent. After they left Auke Lynnette and I put up the bunting and some of the banners while we waited for our official armbands and an identification disc for the Vito. Once we had received them we went back to our guest house, Bonnies Bed & Breakfast where we had a nice relaxing braai before going to bed.

Auke taking a pipe-break in the garden at Bonnies
Auke taking a pipe-break in the garden at Bonnies

On Friday morning we had an early breakfast end then set off for the High School sport fields where the Bonanza was to be held. The rest of the morning was spent setting up the rest of the banners, putting up our poster display, putting together the Solar System and organizing the hand-outs. Although Lorenzo was set up for solar viewing the partially cloudy weather did not make it easy as one no sooner had the sun in the eyepiece when it nipped in behind a cloud. When it reappeared one had to go through the whole rigmarole of getting it in the field of view all over again. This was very frustrating for the operator and boring for the potential viewers waiting in the queue. When the clouds became too numerous in the west we switched to the 2nd quarter moon that was handily positioned to the east and quite clearly visible. No sooner had we done this than a contingent of high level clouds appeared, backed up by a squad of lower level fluffy ones and preceded to play hide and seek with the Moon. The wind had also picked up and was causing us some concern as the tent started lifting alarmingly in the stronger gusts. We phoned Annaliese and she dispatched her husband Tertius to attend to the problem. He tightened all the guy ropes and assured us the tent had survived much stronger winds in the past.

Inside the tent and out of the wind
Inside the tent and out of the wind
General view of the tent as passers bye would see it
General view of the tent as passers bye would see it
From the inside looking out at the Earth, Mars and the Moon
From the inside looking out at the Earth, Mars and the Moon
The two main banners outside the tent
The two main banners outside the tent
Lorenzo keeping Mars and the Earth company
Lorenzo keeping Mars and the Earth company
ELF Astronomy and Star People's posters on my home made poster stands
ELF Astronomy and Star People’s posters on my home made poster stands
Lynnette, Lorenzo and two solar viewers
Lynnette, Lorenzo and two solar viewers

Come evening the Moon was fairly clearly visible for a while, much to the delight of the many eager viewers. The badly placed spotlights were, as in 2013, a serious problem for viewing anything fainter than the Moon. By 21:00 the clouds were gaining the upper hand and the Moon was only visible for short periods so we decided to pack up and get some sleep.

The first of the evenings Moon viewers
The first of the evenings Moon viewers
At times we had a lot of people who wanted to look at the Moon
At times we had a lot of people who wanted to look at the Moon

On Saturday morning the weather looked a bit better and the wind had died down so we set Lorenzo up for solar viewing. As the day progressed the clouds cleared more and more and it also became hotter and hotter. By around 16:30 the clouds were building up again in the west making solar viewing very difficult so I switched to the Moon. By around 18:00 the clouds were really becoming a serious problem but the Moon was still visible for reasonable periods until by 21:30 it became clear that the clouds were winning so we packed up and went home.

Saturday morning solar viewing in full swing
Saturday morning solar viewing in full swing
This tall gentleman was a great hit with the children
This tall gentleman was a great hit with the children
Anneliese and Tertius waiting in line to take a look at the Sun
Anneliese and Tertius waiting in line to take a look at the Sun
Moon viewing fighting a losing battle against the gathering clouds
Moon viewing fighting a losing battle against the gathering clouds
Despite the clouds there were lots of potential viewers
Despite the clouds there were lots of potential viewers
Officially due to none of our doing, we were billed as the "Observatory" on the programme
Officially due to none of our doing, we were billed as the “Observatory” on the programme

Bonnievale Bonanza 2014 was over and done with.

Kopbeenskloof – May 2014

Exploring the Astronomy Potential at Kopbeenskloof

This report is a bit late.  I thought I had written it and obviously I hadn’t so now I have to write it and look as sheepish as possible about the fact that it’s so late.

In May Lynnette and I went of to investigate a place we’d had our eye ever since we’d visited Leeuwenboschfontein a few kilometres further down the road in 2012. Other than the ominous sounding name it has the added attraction of being situated at over 1200 m above sea level and that, makes it one of the highest farms in the Western Cape Province.  For the astronomers who also hike or walk during daytime, there are lots of trails and hikes and the farm is also ecologically interesting as it straddles the transition from typical Renosterveld to the Cape Mountain Fynbos.

The farm is run by Wouter and Elsabé Stemmet and regularly hosts groups of up to 200 from various youth organizations such as the Voortrekkers and Land Care & Land Services. These groups make use of a number of very basic wooden chalets containing only bunk beds. For the chalets there are adequate ablution facilities and a large, well equipped kitchen as well as an outside braai area. Wouter and Elsabé also cater for large functions and large groups, if asked to do so.

View of the one group of chalets
View of the one group of chalets
View of one of the second group of chalets
View of one of the second group of chalets
The very nice outside braai area for the chalets
The very nice outside braai area for the chalets
Part of the interesting inside braai area
Part of the interesting inside braai area

A separate camping area for tents and caravans that has its own ablution facilities is also available.

There is a rustic cottage for four that has no electricity and one heats the shower water by making a fire, situated about 200 m from the main house and the chalets.

The guest house, that could sleep nine in three en-suite bedrooms with double beds and three single beds in open areas, is situated about two km away from the main house and the chalets. The house has a kitchen with a stove, microwave and fridge and also has a large inside fireplace suitable for having a braai, should the weather turn nasty. All bedding and towels are supplied and further details can be found on their website if you go here.  One last thing is that mobile phone reception is limited to one spot in the garden of the main house and I do not know if one can get a signal for all three service providers there.

To get there one takes the R318 from the N1 and, after 26 km you turn left onto the Nougaspoort gravel road. After six km the turnoff to Kopbeenskloof is on your right and then you just follow the road to the main farm house, the chalets and the rustic cottage, or go past the house, keeping to the left and after two gates, you will be at the guest house.

The reason we went there was to try and evaluate Kopbeenskloof for future astronomy outings.  It might work for a Star Party but the chalets are very basic and the area around the chalets does not really lend itself to placing telescopes and I can also see the astrophotography people experiencing problems with power. I  think the chalets and the camping are too far apart to allow the groups to interact easily. I would, however, not rule the site out for Star Parties, as one could possibly overcome some of the perceived difficulties by negotiating with Wouter and Elsabé.

The rustic cottage could work for a small group with Dobbies, or even equipment that will run off batteries, which I am sure the owners would be more than happy to allow one to re-charge the next day.

The outside amenities at the guest house. Fortunately no longer  in use but the pines on the left lie to the south of the house and those in the background are to the west
The outside amenities at the guest house. Fortunately no longer in use but the pines on the left lie to the south of the house and those in the background are to the west
The back of the guest house as seen from the south east.  The pines to the west of the house can be seen in the background
The back of the guest house as seen from the south east. The pines to the west of the house can be seen in the background
This is Leeuwenboschfontein's "Eagles Nest"  to the North west of Kopbeenskloof. Where I intend spending a clear night with a telescope  some time in 2015.  Line of site distance from the guest house to there is about 10 km.
This is Leeuwenboschfontein’s “Eagles Nest” to the north west of Kopbeenskloof, where Lynnette and I intend spending a clear night with a telescope some time in 2015. Line of site distance from the guest house to there is about 10 km.

The guest house is a suitable site for doing astronomy and astrophotography but obviously only for small groups. There are some limitations as the house has tall pine trees on both the western and southern sides. The trees are about 25 m from the house but the area other side the trees is open so one can put a telescope there. The areas north and east of the house are open but the house then creates a high horizon to either the south or the west. The site is dark but unfortunately when we were there the weather was not good and we had partially cloudy weather on the first two nights and complete overcast on the third night. One aspect of the site that needs mentioning is the very noticeable sky glow from Worcester if there is even the slightest hint of cloud along the western horizon.

Sunset was quite spectacular and here one gets a good idea of how low the horizon on that side is
Sunset was quite spectacular and here one gets a good idea of how low the horizon on that side is
More sunset a little later on
More sunset a little later on
A single shot up at Scorpio
A single shot up at Scorpio
The sky glow from Worcester and De Doorns reflected against the low clouds
The sky glow from Worcester and De Doorns reflected against the low clouds at around 21:30
Venus and the moon in the dawn sky
Venus and the Moon in the dawn sky
Moon and Earth shine before dawn
Moon and Earth shine before dawn

Here are my Sky Quality Meter readings taken at the guest house on Kopbeenskloof.

Place: Kopbeenskloof Guesthouse
Locality & GPS: -33°35’53”, 19°57’27”, 1250m

Date: 26/05/2014
Time (SAST): 00:10
Temp (°C): 11.00
Comments: (Z)
Average (10) (MSAS): 21.21
StdDev (MSAS): 0.034705
NELM (V mags): 6.2298

Date: 26/05/2014
Time (SAST): 00:50
Temp (°C): 11.00
Comments: (Z)
Average (10) (MSAS): 21.17
StdDev (MSAS): 0.013333
NELM (V mags): 6.2102

Date: 27/05/2014
Time (SAST): 23:20
Temp (°C): 08.00
Comments: (Z)
Average (10) (MSAS): 21.37
StdDev (MSAS): 0.051034
NELM (V mags): 6.3152

Date: 27/05/2014
Time (SAST): 23:50
Temp (°C): 08.00
Comments: (Z)
Average (10) (MSAS): 21.42
StdDev (MSAS): 0.008498
NELM (V mags): 6.3408

I think one needs to get a group together, stay at the guest house, do some astronomy there and then take a decision on how suitable the site is. A summer visit might be our best bet.