Lynnette and I set up Lorenzo in the rooftop parking area of the Family Pick & Pay on the corner of Old Paarl Road and H.O. De Villiers Street in Brackenfell. The event had been advertised via local social media sites and announcements were also made by the store manager during the course of the evening.
The turnout was disappointingly low but the few people that did turn up were very enthusiastic, which compensated for the poor attendance.
Lynnette and I left Brackenfell at about 10:00 under completely overcast skies. It thinned in patches at times, but in general the prospects for viewing the Sun or the Moon, which was due to rise at about 14:00, seemed pretty close to zero.
At the Waterfront all the access arrangements made by George Moolman (Manager: Events V&A Waterfront) worked very smoothly. Once we had parked the Vito we inspected the site we had chosen on the Pierhead and decided on a tentative layout for the telescopes, poster A-frames and other paraphernalia associated with outreach events. Auke and Wendy arrived after a while, followed by Dirk. As soon as we had agreed on a final layout we unloaded and took the vehicles back to our allocated parking bays.
By shortly after 13:00 we were ready for action, but our targets were hidden by the clouds so what were we going to show the visitors? People, attracted by the telescopes and posters, approached us to find out what it was all about and we had to explain that we could not show them the Sun or the Moon, as advertised, because of the unrelenting cloud cover. Auke and Dirk got their telescopes [“Walter”, a 5-inch refractor and a 5-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain] lined up on the lower cable station and used the image to talk about how telescopes worked but, despite muttered incantations and explicit and generally unprintable expressions of displeasure, the clouds kept the Sun and the Moon well hidden.
As the afternoon wore on the clouds began to thin and we were allowed fleeting glimpses of the Sun. Every time this happened there was a flurry of activity as Lynnette, Wendy and I attempted to get “Maphefu” (8-inch Dobsonian) and “Lorenzo” (10-inch Dobsonian) aligned on the Sun only to have the clouds maliciously close in just as we almost had it in our sights. Then, finally, at about 16:30, the clouds parted and we could actually see both the Sun and the Moon. Maphefu and Lorenzo were equipped with solar filters, so Wendy and I could show visitors the Sun and some very nice sun spots, while Auke and Dirk concentrated on the Moon. When the Sun set behind the Ferris-Wheel I switched Lorenzo to the Moon and, as soon as it became dark enough to see Jupiter, I switched targets again.
For most of the rest of the evening I kept Lorenzo on Jupiter while Wendy, Auke and Dirk focused on the Moon. By 20:00 dew was becoming a problem and it became evident that we would have to consider packing up. Mars was very bright and eventually Saturn and Antares also became visible as they climbed high enough to escape the effects of the light pollution glare over the harbour. Crux and the Pointers were visible all evening as were Sirius and Canopus. By about 21:00 the dew definitely had the upper hand so we had to pack away and load all the wet telescopes and other stuff into the vehicles and head for home.
Obtaining an accurate count of the number of visitors was, as is usual, quite tricky because one has to be careful not to count the same people at each of the four telescopes. Lynnette and I both had counters and we counted just over 400 visitors, but our count is usually a bit low and the actual figure could be closer to five hundred. We also asked visitors to sign our visitors list and collected 282 names, which is definitely less than the number of visitors we had. It is surprisingly tricky to get people to sign the lists. Some people just flatly refuse and the telescope operators find it difficult to work a telescope, explain things to people and collect names and signatures at the same time.
All in all the afternoon and evening were quite successful despite the clouds. Many of the visitors also showed considerable interest in our poster display and quite a few promised to return in June when we will be set up again on the Pierhead, hopefully without clouds. Our dates for astronomy on the Pierhead at the V&A Waterfront, weather permitting, are;
Saturday, June 11th. / Saturday, July 9th. / Saturday, August 20th. / Saturday, September 10th. / Saturday, October 8th. / Saturday, November 5th. / Saturday, December 10th.
The next day all the wet things we had loaded into the Vito at the Waterfront had to be dried before we could pack them away. Banners had to be unrolled, chairs and tables taken out of their bags, A-frames unfolded and eyepieces and finder scopes inspected for signs of moisture. Even our folders with the laminated A3-posters had to be taken out of the sleeves and individually dried.
We left in good time on Friday morning and our first stop was at the Veldskoen Padstal a few kilometers north of De Doorns for breakfast en grapes. Go here to read more about this excellent venue or click her to visit their FaceBook page. The Veldskoen has never disappointed us and their breakfast was, as always, first class. After breakfast and loading our grapes we set off on the second leg of the journey to Leeuwenboschfontein. Visit Leeuwenboschfontein’s website by clicking here to find out more about this lovely venue. We arrived there to find Iain and Willem already on site as well as a crowd of trainee drone pilots and their trainers.
Iain who was manning the admin-desk for Joan informed us that we would not be able to use the astro-enclosure that weekend because the drone trainees were doing the night-flying part of the course. So it was not just a case of not being able to drive on the runway while they were training, which I fully understood, we would also not be allowed in the astro enclosure. Apparently our presence there was disallowed by a regulation which specified that people were not allowed to be within a certain distance of an area in which drones were operating. I felt that the farm workers cottages were closer to the flying area than the astro-enclosure but my objections were met with a repetition of the statement that we would not be allowed to use the astro-enclosure as long as drone training was in progress.
This is a matter which will have to be discussed with Johan because the drone training is normally conducted during the working week so we don’t clash, but the night flying training was taking place over a weekend and a new moon weekend too. If the night flying training has to take place over a weekend than we can surely come to an agreement where they us one of the 40 weekends that are not on or close to one of the 12 new moon weekends, which is when we would like to have access to the astro-enclosure.
Anyway, there did not seem to be any wiggle room so we had to set up in the camp where there were only two other sets of non-stargazing campers and one set up on the hill at the camping site adjacent to the original fountain in the name Leeuwenboschfontein. There was still a bush up there but (un)fortunately no lion anymore.
Lynnette and I set up on the embankment next to the caravan where. Later in the evening we switched of the external lights at the ablution blocks but there was nothing we could do about the lights on the entrance road to the reception office and the guest houses. To top it all, the conventional incandescent globes had been replaced with new energy saving globes which were unfortunately much brighter than their incandescent predecessors.
The seeing was good and Lynnette and I spent most of the early part of the evening brushing up on our constellations and later switched to hunting for some deep-sky objects. Later on I decided to look for and photograph Comet 252P/Linear. Easier said than done because I had left my nice finder chart at home in Brackenfell. Lynnette, wanted to know where it was and I pointed in a general easterly direction and said, “Somewhere over there”. Her comment was, “Well why don’t you look over there then?” So I looked “over there” and, much to my surprise a very faint, vaguely greenish patch appeared in the finder scope. A quick look in the 25mm eyepiece to confirm and then switched to a 10mm eyepiece and, yes there it was. I let Lynnette look to confirm and then set up the camera on its tripod and took some photos. Mission accomplished and off to bed we went.
Somewhere in the course of the night we also had a visit from one of the drone trainees. It turned out that they had to do this course to qualify as drone pilots because they were going to use their drones for commercial gain. He personally had several drones, one of which set him back R80 000. The course set him back R40 000, but all this expenditure was worth it in view of the amount of money a qualified drone pilot could make.
Saturday was beautiful day despite some high level clouds that could not make up their minds if they were coming or going. We paid Iain, Willem and their two cats, Tiger and Aimee a visit. The cats had come along for the first time instead of going to the kennels. We did not take Snorre with us and it was just as well because poor Tiger was so nervous he hid under blankets and cushions. We had the opportunity to get a closer look at some of the drones. After the visit I set off down to the astro-enclosure by a very roundabout route so as not to be seen by either the drone trainees or their trainers. On the way there I came across a solitary male baboon, which is something we will have to reckon with if we leave equipment down there during the daytime. After taking my photos I sneaked back to the camp unobserved.
Late on Saturday afternoon Robert Bark with his wife, daughter and 8” Dobby moved into the caravan next to ours and shortly after that Louis Fourie arrived. Louis was not particularly pleased with the prospect of not being able to set up in the astro-enclosure, but decided to make the best of it and setup on the very last site at the western end of the campsite. Lynnette and I set up at the same spot as the previous evening and Robert set himself up right in the middle of the campsite, as we had once again switched off all the outside lights at the ablution blocks. Thanks to Lynnette I was able to take some good shots of the 3-day old moon setting behind the lapa on top of one of the peaks of the Nougat hills.
The seeing was not as good as the previous evening but improved steadily during the course of the night and by 03:00 it was very good again. Our drone trainee came back again and brought one of his fellow trainees along as well. They spent quite a while with us before heading off to bed as they had to do the final part of their flying test before six the next morning. After they departed Lynnette and I did some more constellation work and a little bit of observing before packing up and going to bed.
The next day, Sunday, we packed up at a leisurely pace and eventually left for home well after lunchtime and enjoyed an uneventful trip home.
I am always sorry to leave Leeuwenboschfontein but then there is also the pleasure of knowing that we will be back there at the next new moon.
We started the visit with a very informative, short presentation by Auke on the Universe. Unfortunately he was hampered by projector problems which were the result of either overheating or an unstable power supply. After the talk the group set about building Southern Star Wheels in preparation for the evening’s viewing.
While the group went off to supper, we drove down to the viewing site on a netball court and also had our supper, courtesy of Lynnette. After supper we set up and waited. The group arrived but, for some unknown reason, the message about bringing the Star Wheels did not seem to have registered because, apart from two that I saw, there were none there. Auke did an extensive what’s-up-tonight, pointing out a wide range of interesting objects and constellations and, after that Lynnette operated Maphefu and Lorenzo while I set the Celestron on the Moon.
Not having heeded Martin’s instruction to write down the settings for various types of objects, but rather trusting my memory, I could find everything but not produce the sort of imagery the system was really capable off. Mrs Foster’s little boy really seems to have a persistent learning disability.
As for the learner who snubbed Lynnette, when she told somebody that the darker areas on the moon were lava plains, by remarking to bystanders, “Just ignore her, there is no lava on the Moon”; I would like to suggest that said person should do some reading. It might then be possible to convert a Smart-ass to a Bright-ass. Lynnette was just too polite to take you down a peg or two.
Generally all went well and I thought that the group of learners, who were more interested in catching up on cuddle-time than in astronomy, was significantly smaller than on the previous encounter. In all fairness though, it was lot warmer on the netball court than on the grass at Dassenberg Broilers, where we saw them last (go here to read about that occasion) and also a whole lot less windy. Thank you very much for the opportunity to do the presentation Carl, the learners and Elkanah House.
The first question was where to go to get the best view if the weather was going to allow us any kind of view at all. Auke quickly determined that the best spot would be the parking area in front of the entrance to the Steenbras Water Filtration Plant on the mountainside above Gordon’s Bay. The position at 290 m above sea level and 34° 10’29.17”S, 18° 50’51.96”E would give us a clear view across the waters of False Bay to where the Moon would set behind the mountains of the Southern section of the Cape Peninsula. So we had the place and now we began watching the weather anxiously. As we drew closer to the weekend the weather forecast became more and more favourable for that crucial period between Monday 02:00 and 07:00. Eventually it was almost certain that we would get a clear view of most of the eclipse so.
The most direct route for Lynnette and I would be the R300 and N2. Although the traffic reports said all was quiet along this route we were still concerned in view of the many incidents of stone throwing and other acts of violence, robbery and traffic disruption that had taken place on these two roads over the past months. We decided not to risk it and took a longer but safer route, arriving at the parking area shortly after 02:00. The weather was almost windless and beautifully clear but quite nippy. Next to arrive was Paul Kruger and shortly after him Wendy Vermeulen. Auke Slotegraaf and Johan Brink eventually arrived and, as we started setting were dismayed to see that there were clouds rolling in. They were ragged lot and we managed to get the start of the eclipse through the gaps and then, to our great relief the clouds dissipated leaving us with an unimpeded view of the eclipse.
I had the Nikon D5100 attached directly to Lorenzo the 10′ inch Dobby. so it was a question of push and shove all the way through the eclipse. Lynnette operated the timer so that the photographs would be more or less evenly spaced, A couple of times during the course of the eclipse the wind freshened and then died down again and shortly after totality a bank of clouds and haze began to build up to the west over the Peninsula. It soon became clear that the last stages of the eclipse and the setting of the Moon were going to be lost in those clouds and the haze that was slowly climbing higher.
Despite the loss of the last bit of the eclipse and the actual setting of the Moon it was a very successful outing. We all got good photographs and shortly after sunrise we packed up and headed home. Getting home was not a quick drive, because we had to contend with the very heavy, Monday morning, peak hour traffic but eventually we made it and then it we could go to bed for some well earned rest.
StarPeople and Snorre venture out into the countryside without Auke.
Nathalie from Porterville Tourism had been corresponding with us since late in 2014 after she heard about our activities during National Science Week from Clanwilliam Tourism. Go here to read aboutour activities during National Science Week 2014. After a lot of juggling a date was fixed and we started getting ourselves all fired up but then, at the last moment, Auke had to pull out. Despite this setback Lynnette, Snorre and I packed the Vito and set off for Porterville shortly after nine in the morning.
Once there Nathalie got us organized and sent us off to our guest house, the Rendezvous where we had a light lunch and, as the show was only due to start at 19:00, we figured that an after lunch nap would be just what the doctor ordered.
We pitched at the Golf Club just after 16:00 and were met by Chanelle who lent a very able hand with the unloading and setting up. She even produced a cup of coffee when I needed it most.
The rest of the guests trickled in and we tried to give as many as possible a glimpse of the crescent moon, that was going to dip behind the trees long before it actually set. Shortly after 19:00 the food parcels were handed out and the 50-odd people tucked into their suppers. When they were finished eating I gave a short introductory talk and after that people fetched chairs from somewhere inside the Club and positioned themselves around the telescopes, where I gave them a fairly comprehensive coverage of the visible night sky. Although the sky was not absolutely dark I was pleasantly surprised by how dark it actually was. The Coal Sack was only just visible but with some concentration one could actually make out omega Centauri and the LMC. I think that if we had put of all the lights inside the clubhouse and put out the two street lights just behind the building, we might actually have had a really dark sky.
Most of the people were very enthusiastic and appreciative of the fact that we had come all the way from Brackenfell to entertain them astronomically. Jupiter and its moons got a very warm reception from everyone. Some people were less impressed with the Orion Nebula but somehow the Tarantula tickled their fancy as did eta Carina. Omega Centauri and 47 Tuc weren’t as popular as I thought they would be but the Jewel Box was exciting for most people. The Southern Pleiades didn’t cause much of a stir though. Between Lynette and I we scored a lovely bunch of flowers and two bottles of Porterville’s grapes in liquid form; thank you Porterville. We started packing up around 22:00 and were very thankful for the assistance of Nathalie and her friends and also off Chanelle. Without all that help we would not have made it out of there before midnight.
The next day, after breakfast, we popped round to the Tourism Office to say goodbye to Nathalie and then went off to Houdconstant to buy figs before heading home to Brackenfell. Lynnette and I think the presentation was successful and will certainly take Porterville Tourism up on their invitation to do it again. Next time Auke must come along or Ronel Bakker will boycott us.
The unhappy Solar System in Sutherland’s Main Street.
In Sutherland’s Main Street there is a scale model of the Solar System. It consists of stone pillars with the names of the planets attached to the front of the pillar and a brass disc on top of the pillar giving the name of the planet and its distance from the Sun. The model was conceptualized and its construction supervised by a past president of ASSA (Astronomical Society of Southern Africa), Professor Case Rijsdijk, while he was employed by the SAAO in an outreach capacity. What very few people realize is that each disc was also designed for use by visually impaired persons. That is why there is information in Braille on each disc and the planets in the centre were also intended to convey information to the visually impaired more than being an aid to the sighted visitors. At that time there was still a visitor’s centre in the pipeline, which was to have been constructed on the vacant property across the street from the Sutherland Hotel; next to Jupiter’s pillar. The centre unfortunately never materialized.
The brass was a magnet for thieves and at one time an unsightly cage was placed around each pillar and the door to the cage secured with a large brass padlock. Now the padlocks and cages have gone and a tall pole has been planted next to each pillar and on top of each pole there is a structure with four vanes that is supposed to rotate in the wind. It appears that some of them rotate and some don’t and some have already been removed. I could also not quite figure out the significance of the colours of these rotating devices but the poles and their rotating tops are intended to draw the attention of visitors to the planets.
Take a brief tour with me as I walk the Solar System in Sutherland’s Main Street.
Next time you visit Sutherland take a walk through the Solar System even if it is a bit tattered. Walking the Solar System does give one a real feel for the vast distances involved in space travel. Bear in mind as you walk from Earth to Pluto that it has taken New Horizons, the fastest space craft ever launched, from January 2006 to July 2015 to get from Earth to Pluto travelling at a speed of 58 536 km/h.
Perhaps if more visitors paid attention to the model the local Municipality might take better care of it.
Yes, I know that is not exactly what the Seven Dwarfs sang in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and neither did we really sing either, but that is more or less what it amounted to as Auke, Lynnette and I set off for the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West. Auke had arranged with Claudia Shuster and Andreas Groenewald that the three of us would come along and give the Eco Rangers and their parents an opportunity to look at the Moon through a telescope. We brought our two Dobbies, Lorenzo and Maphefo and the Eco Rangers would supply a third Dobby. This whole outing was to have been part of the National Space Week project which SAASTA seems to have allowed to fizzle out.
Claudia was at the gate of the Reserve to meet us and, after parking the Vito, Andreas and others were on hand to help us get the telescopes to the viewing site. The chosen site was a bit unusual as it was situated on the boardwalk at the Northern edge of the dam adjacent to the restaurant in the Reserve. There might be some discussion as to whether this is the “greenest” site we’ve ever observed from but it was definitely the wobbliest. Anyone not treading very lightly on the boardwalk, promptly set the moon yo-yo-ing wildly in and out of the field of view.
After setting up the telescopes we went back to the Vito for the picnic supper Lynnette had packed for us and Andreas explained that he would first take the Eco Rangers on a short moonlight walk through the reserve after which they would arrive at the telescopes in small groups. The three of us finished supper and made our way back to the telescopes in the gathering dusk to await the rising of the moon over the Hottentots Holland Mountains and the Eco Rangers. In the meantime we were entertained by an at times cacophonous chorus of frog and bird calls. Go’here to listen to a recording I made on the cell phone
When the Eco Rangers and the accompanying adults pitched up it was not in the planned small groups at all. Instead, we were inundated by waves of eager moon-gazers from both directions on the boardwalk. Most moved quite sedately but, as is usual with children, there were groups that insisted on running resulting in an extreme case of telescope shakes. At one stage the 1957 Elvis Presler hit “I’m All Shook Up” on Capitol Records did cross my mind as an accurate title for this outing. Eventually the flood dwindled to a stream and finally to a trickle and when the last few drips and drabs had passed we started to pack up.
I carried Lorenzo back to the Vito and installed him firmly in place and then went back for the rocker box only to discover that I had lost the keys to the Vito.
First I double checked all my pockets then checked the Vito, which I had fortunately not locked, but they were gone. Everyone pitched in combing the boardwalk and the vegetation on either side with torches. Eventually we realized that it was very unlikely that we were going to find them so Lynnette phoned her sister Petro who got the spare keys from our house and she and her fiancé drove through to Auke’s place with them. Claudia went home to get some well-earned rest and Andreas took Auke home so that he could bring us the keys when they arrived, courtesy of Petro. In the meantime Lynnette and I spent some quiet time in the moonlight under the watchful eye of the Mother Goose weather vane.
When Auke arrived we could eventually start the long overdue journey home. The next day Auke kindly agreed to accompany us back to the Reserve to search for the keys in broad daylight. The search was, however, fruitless.
Bonnies Bed and Breakfast in Bonnievale, 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. According to the weather forecast we would also not be almost washed away as in 2013.
This 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 lay down the reins and retire. We were booked into Bonnies Bed & Breakfast where we had also stayed in 2013. Bonnies is situated in Van Zyl Street, and is run by Div and Wilna de Villiers. The establishment has five comfortable en suite rooms and Lynnette, Snorre and I were housed in the same room we occupied in 2013. Our room had a private entrance to a secluded patio and the beautiful garden. There is a swimming pool in another section of the garden for the hotter weather too.
All rooms offer tea and coffee making facilities and are equipped with ceiling fans and heaters. TV, M-Net, DSTV. Telephone, Cell phone, Internet & email and Fax Facilities are also centrally available.
Wilna speaks fluent German and so they regularly host German tourists. This particular skill was not called into service for our visit. Div, a native of Namaqualand, is very clued up on local tourist activities and has a well-stocked depository of brochures and pamphlets on all the local tourist attractions as well as many much further away. Div, as on our previous visit, very kindly evacuated his one garage so that we could store our trailer there. Trailers are currently prime targets for theft in the Brackenfell area and we did not want to tempt fate in Bonnievale by leaving it nicely accessible in the driveway.
On the Thursday evening we had a braai in our section of the garden. For this Div not only supplied the wood but also packed and lit the fire. The garden is a bird lover’s delight with feeding stations and water points all over the place and plants chosen to attract various bird species. There was even a pair of Barn Owls nesting in the tree next to our patio.
The full country breakfasts were more than adequate with Wilna preparing the food and Div serving and talking. The dining room also offers a view of the garden and two of the bird feeding stations. All in all, Bonnies is a comfortable and affordable place to stay with attentive and pleasant hosts. Their proximity to the main street (one block away), shops, library, post office, museum, antique stores and Tourist Information Centre are other reasons to consider Bonnie’s next time you need to stay over in Bonnievale.
Physical Address; 15 Van Zyl Street in Bonnievale
Telephone: 023 616 2251