At the February 2017 Southern Star Party (Go here to read more about this event) Deon and Ronelle Begemann unveiled their binocular stand. It is basically the standard parallelogram design but it is very affordable, very easy to put up and it works superbly well and would make an affordable addition to any astronomy enthusiast’s equipment. This is a photo review of the apparatus and for more details and a price, you must contact Deon directly.
On the 16th of July 2017 Leeuwenboschfontein had a light sprinkling of snow and the staff there were kind enough to send us some photos.
Leeuwenboschfontein is situated in the Western Cape on the very western edge of the Little Karoo at an altitude of just over 1 000m. It is a fantastic place for stargazing and observing and was the venue for the thirteenth Southern Star Party held in February 2017 (more about that event can be found here). We are already planning the 14th Southern Southern Star Party scheduled for October 2017.
Anja Bruton, the Science Promotions Coordinator at SKA Africa, approached StarPeople to accompany the NSTF Brilliants group (http://www.nstf.org.za/youth/brilliants-programme/) on the tour to the SKA and SALT and we jumped at the opportunity. Anja and Dimpho would fly to Kimberly to meet up with Jansie Niehaus and Wilna Eksteen from the NSTF (http://www.nstf.org.za/) and a group of students, chosen for their exceptional performance in the 2016 Matriculation exams; specifically in the Science paper. This group would fly down from Gauteng and, after a day’s sightseeing in Kimberley, they would tackle the long journey to Carnarvon in two Quantums on Saturday the 24th. They would also be accompanied by two photographers who were tasked with documenting the trip.
Lynnette, Auke, Snorre and I would leave Cape Town for Carnarvon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnarvon,_Northern_Cape) early on Thursday the 23rd and book in at the Lord Carnarvon Guest House. Anja and the rest of the group were scheduled to arrive shortly after lunch on Saturday and on Saturday evening StarPeople were to present a stargazing session at Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base about 15 km outside Carnarvon. On Sunday morning the group would visit the SKA site itself and after that, e would depart for Sutherland. On Sunday evening there was to be stargazing session at the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre and on Monday morning we would tour the SAAO facilities on the hill before heading for Cape Town.
However, as Robert Burns once said “The best laid schemeso’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” First of all, Auke had to pull out because of domestic complications. Then the car hire company notified us that the vehicle we required could only be delivered on Friday morning and not on Thursday afternoon as requested. This, of course, scuppered our 05:00 departure plan, but Lynnette and I made sure that we had everything packed and ready to load by 08:00 when the vehicle was scheduled to arrive. However, it only arrived at about 08:30 and, when it did arrive, it was petrol and not diesel driven as had been requested. Disaster! Petrol-driven vehicles are not allowed access to the SKA site because their spark plugs generate interference for the radio telescope. It is more than 600 km to Carnarvon and we had to be there before dark. We also still had to load the vehicle so, if we sent it back and insisted on a diesel driven one, there was no chance of reaching Carnarvon before dark. We signed for the vehicle, finished loading in record time and at 09:40 we set off for Carnarvon.
The journey was long but uneventful. We stopped for petrol and Lynnette’s packed lunch in Vanrhynsdorp (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanrhynsdorp) after 290 km. We then stopped halfway up the spectacular Vanrhyns Pass to take pictures. The original pass was constructed in 1880 by Thomas Bain and climbs almost 600 m from the Knersvlakte to its summit, situated at just over 800 m, which is about the same as the top of Du Toitskloof pass. The pass has an average gradient of 1:15 with the steepest section being 1:12.
On the last stretch, we had to push it a bit and reached Carnarvon in the gathering dusk at 17:45, where we reported to Pieter Hoffman at the Lord Carnarvon guest house in Daniel Street (https://www.carnarvon.co.za/lcindex.htm). This building was the Officer’s Mess during the Anglo-South African War and he has done a magnificent job of restoring it. We unloaded, got Snorre settled in, and walked round to Lord’s Kitchen in Victoria Street (https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Restaurant_Review-g4226745-d8743616-Reviews-Lord_s-Carnarvon_Northern_Cape.html), also run by Pieter, for supper. After supper, we walked back to the Lord Carnarvon and had the amusing experience of being escorted by a police vehicle because “nobody walks around Carnarvon in the dark”. This remark struck us a rather odd considering the fact that there were quite a few other local people in the streets.
On Saturday morning, after breakfast at the Lord Carnarvon, Lynnette, Snorre and I took to the streets to do some house hunting in case we should decide to move to Carnarvon. The results of this expedition were rather disappointing as we soon discovered that, like many small country towns in South Africa, the homeowners wanted lots of cash for the property that was, in our opinion, worth a lot less. The other aspect which surprised us, even though Anja had warned us about it, was the negative sentiment toward the SKA project and the amount of disinformation circulating in the town. This varied from stories that farmers were being chased off their farms without compensation or that farms were being confiscated in order to distribute the land to previously disadvantaged persons, and even that townsfolk were to be evicted so that four blocks of houses could be knocked down to build a college. We also came across an openly hostile sign in a back yard in Kidd Street. Most obvious was the fact that almost everyone we spoke to had no bloody clue what the SKA was, or what it was about.
Shortly before 16:00 Anja let us know they had arrived and were having a late lunch at Lord’s Kitchen. We popped around and Anja introduced us to the group. After the meal the group dispersed to their various rooms and Anja, Dimpho, Lynnette and I set off for Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base, to set up Lorenzo for the stargazing later that evening. Mission accomplished we headed back to town to collect all our warm gear and have supper. After supper, the five vehicle cavalcade made its way back to Klerefontein. On a hill southeast of where we were situated was the large 7,6 m dish of the C-BASS radio telescope (https://www.ska.ac.za/science-engineering/c-bass/) catching the last rays of the setting sun as it patiently toiled away sweeping back and forth to map the radio sky in the 4,5-5,5 MHz frequency range. The C-BASS dish, recently moved from Hartebeeshoek (http://www.hartrao.ac.za/) to Klerefontein, is the southern component (the other telescope is in California) of a project to produce a microwave (short-wavelength radio) radiation map similar to the one produced by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_(spacecraft)), but at longer wavelengths than Planck. C-BASS will also measure the polarization of the radiation.
Anja split the students into two groups for the planned activities. One group stayed with Lynnette, Lorenzo and I to do some stargazing. The other group went inside to participate in Skype Q&A session with Jim Adams, Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA (https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/people/adamsj).The Milky Way was magnificent and drew many Ooh’s and Aah’s from the group. I did a basic what’s-up-tonight and then kept talking while Lynnette operated Lorenzo. There was no Moon but fortunately, Jupiter and Saturn were nicely placed and we could also show them a selection of the other well-known objects. After about an hour the groups changed around and Lynnette, Lorenzo and I repeated our earlier performance. Once we had done with the second group, it was packing up time and then back to town for a hot shower and some much-needed sleep.
Sunday morning at 06:15 it was breakfast time at Lord’s Kitchen and, after collecting our packed lunches, it was all aboard for the trip out to Klerefontein where Anja gave us a Health and Safety briefing and had us all fill in indemnity forms. During the briefing, the emphasis was placed on the mayhem electronic devices caused for the radio telescopes. Mobile phones, which all had to be switched off, were a prime source and even my hearing aid’s hands-free device, that uses Blue Tooth, had to be switched off. After all, this had been sorted out, our motorcade tackled the more than 70 or so kilometers out to the actual SKA site. Large sections have already been tarred, but there are still fairly long sections that are very rough and dusty. Lynnette and I had to leave our petrol driven vehicle with Snorre in it just inside the checkpoint at what used to be the Meysdam farmhouse and continue with Anja and Dimpho in their vehicle. Snorre was quite safe, with enough fresh air, water and food to keep him busy till we get back. We made sure that the vehicle would be in the deep shade while we were away too.
Our first stop was the very impressive, half underground, Karoo Array Processor Building. Placing the centre below ground level was essential to minimize the amount of interference from the computers. In addition to being below ground level, the whole installation is housed inside a huge Faraday cage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage). It is ironic that a radio telescope, which cannot function without massive computer support, also experiences its most annoying interference from computers. It was while touring the Processor Building point that I realized that, if I had simply put my phone on Airplane Mode, I could have brought it with me and taken photographs. Some mothers are just unfortunate to have very dense children! Our next stop was the huge, hanger-sized building where the MeerKAT dishes are assembled. It is only when one stands next to one of these huge constructions lying flat on the floor that one really gets an idea of their overwhelming size. Needless to say, at this point, I mentally administered several more resounding kicks to my posterior for not having anything to take pictures with. After completing this part of the tour it was back into the vehicles for the drive out to the telescopes.
The first stop was the KAT-7 dishes (http://www.ska.ac.za/) where all but one pointed south, collecting data on some unseen object light years away in a distant part of the Universe. KAT-7 was a precursor engineering test bed for the larger MeerKAT array and also served as a demonstration of South Africa’s technological ability when the bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was submitted. However, KAT-7, the first radio telescope ever to be built with a dish consisting of composite material, is also a science instrument in its own right. Each 12-meter dish is fitted with a prime focus receiver and a Stirling pump cooling unit that supplies the cryogenic cooling to keep the electronics at 75 K. The total collecting area of the seven dishes is about 2000 m2 and they function in the 3 to 30 cm wavelength range at frequencies between 1 200 and 1 950 MHz. KAT-7’s minimum baseline (shortest distance between two dishes) is 26 m and the maximum baseline (longest distance between two dishes) is 185 m. These seven dishes will eventually be decommissioned as science instruments when their successors, the MeerKat Array, comes online and be made available for serious amateurs.
Then we were off to find a MeerKAT dish (http://www.ska.ac.za/) that was positioned in such a way that it would be easy to photograph, which wasn’t easy because, despite the fact that they were lots of them, they were all facing in different directions. It really is an impressive sight, seeing these dishes scattered across the Karoo veldt against the backdrop of the low, dolerite topped hills that surround the area, with the dolerite providing a natural radio screen for the telescopes. Considering that only half of the MeerKAT dishes have been erected so far, one can only imagine what a spectacle it will be when all 64 MeerKAT dishes have been completed. The final Karoo Array Telescope or KAT will definitely be a must-see destination and a breathtaking spectacle for all who visit it. MeerKAT will eventually form the core of the KAT radio telescope array. These 13,5m dishes differ from those of KAT-7 in that they use an offset Gregorian configuration for the placing of the secondary dish and the receivers. Each dish is equipped with three receivers; 0,58 – 1,015 GHz, 1 – 1,75 GHz and 8 – 14,5 GHz. The MeerKAT minimum baseline is 29 m and the maximum baseline is 8 km.
Both KAT-7 and MeerKAT are entirely South African conceived, funded and built enterprises and, even after the construction of the KAT, which has multiple international partners, these two installations will remain entirely South African.
Our next stop was the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) (http://www.ska.ac.za/) which is the simplest construction imaginable and is the successor to the Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization (PAPER). PAPER has 128 antennae situated at the SKA site and 32 antennae situated in West Virginia in the USA. HERA is an American, British and South African collaboration that will eventually have 331 antennae of 14 m each at the SKA site. The existing PAPER installation will be moved to a location slightly west of the HERA installation and eventually decommissioned when HERA is fully operational. Whereas KAT-7, MeerKAT, and KAT are multipurpose installations HERA has only one fixed goal; it is going to probe back into time to try and find that moment when the very first stars switched on to light up in the Universe. In the process, it will produce a three-dimensional map of the universe during that specific period using radio waves in the 100-200 MHz frequency range. This project is the radio astronomy equivalent of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and when they succeed, this project could very well be in line for a Nobel Prize. The antennae are fixed in one position, pointing straight up at the sky and have no moving parts, which greatly reduces the cost of the installation. What makes this project remarkable is that it is constructed with materials bought off the shelf in a local hardware store by people from the local community of Carnarvon who have been trained by SKA scientists. The big dishes of KAT-7 and the even bigger dishes of MeerKAT look like science instruments. HERA, however, looks like an inverted chicken coop or perhaps some sort of landscape art and not very scientific at all.
We went back to the Processor Building to enjoy our packed lunches and, while there Lynnette noticed that one of the Quantums had a flat tyre, necessitating a wheel change. After lunch, Anja and Dimpho dropped Lynnette and I off at Meysdam to pick up our vehicle and then we all traipsed back to Klerefontein where Anja and Dimpho changed vehicles before we all drove back to Carnarvon to refuel. Lynnette and I had done that the previous evening so we just hung around until the whole convoy was ready to start the long journey to Sutherland, which Anja had elected to do via Loxton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loxton,_Northern_Cape). The just under 70 km from Carnarvon to Loxton was a breeze on a nice tarred road but then came the long 100 km grind on the R356 gravel road to Fraserburg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraserburg). We had been contemplating a visit to the palaeosurface at Gansefontein, just outside Fraserburg, but time was against as; seriously against us. We had hardly left Fraserburg when the sun set and, as it got darker, driving became more and more difficult. The 110 km stretch to Sutherland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutherland,_Northern_Cape) was going to take much, much longer than planned and our stargazing appointment at the SAAO site (http://www.saao.ac.za/about/visting/sutherland/) outside Sutherland had to be canceled. Because Lynnette and I were the last car in the convoy, we collected all the dust from the four vehicles ahead of us. This forced us to fall back more than a kilometer behind the fourth vehicle before we had a clear view of the road ahead.
We all made it safely to Sutherland and, while the majority of the group was booking into the Sutherland Hotel (http://www.sutherlandhotel.co.za/accommodation.php), Lynnette, Snorre, Anja and I as well as the two drivers of the Quantums, booked into Kambro Kind Guest House, where we were welcomed by Juanita Hutchings. Once booked in we went back to the Hotel where we had a typical Karoo supper consisting of meat, meat and more meat with a few vegetables right at the end of the buffet table. It is just a pity that the hotel did not think of having a nice fire going in the dining area on such a cold evening.
After supper Lynnette and I, Lorenzo, Anja, the photographers and several students drove out to Middelfontein to do some stargazing (http://www.roomsforafrica.com/establishment.do?id=13879&gclid=Cj0KCQjws-LKBRDCARIsAAOTNd6cUH9fdKlh5bbYksnV0F5D-BQPK4kMRrO8IdxP7D_a6uSOZX_UQX8aAoUUEALw_wcB). The photographers were spending the night on Middelfontein, but the rest of us would have to drive back to town to get some sleep. The right side sliding door on our vehicle, which had been playing up since the previous day went on strike when we started unloading. It first refused to open and then, when we forced it to open, it refused to shut without the use of considerable force and, once shut, it refused to open again so we left it shut. Then the courtesy light inside the door which was supposed to only go on when the door was open, decided it wanted to be on even when the door was shut. A resounding thump on the outside of the door convinced the light to go off and stay off. Once that was sorted out we could get round to the stargazing which was a presented in the same format as on Saturday evening at Klerefontein and, once again, worked very well. So well, in fact, that Anja had to chase us all off to bed around midnight.
On Monday morning Lynnette and I packed up before breakfast and, true to Sutherland’s reputation of being very cold, the windscreen of our vehicle was thickly frosted over and the fishpond had a layer of ice over it, thick enough to walk on. After breakfast at Kambro Kind, everyone gathered at the Hotel before departing for the SAAO site where the group spent some time examining the displays in the Visitor’s Centre before Anthony Mitas took us under his very capable wing and shepherded us up the hill to start our tour at the Southern African Large Telescope or SALT (http://www.saao.ac.za/science/facilities/telescopes/salt/). SALT is an international collaboration between South Africa and several overseas partners and is operated as a separate research entity on the SAO site.
Anthony presented a most comprehensive and informative talk to the group and, to everyone’s delight, arranged to have the 32-ton behemoth raised on its air cushions and rotated for us. After SALT we went to the 1,9-meter telescope. This is the second largest optical telescope in South Africa and, as the Radcliffe Telescope, it used to be housed in Pretoria but uncontrolled light pollution chased it south in the mid-1970’s (http://assa.saao.ac.za/sections/history/observatories/radcliffe_obs/). It has since acquired new instrumentation designed and built by SAAO-staff and still has many years of valuable scientific life ahead of it. At the telescope, we were met by Dr. Potter, a senior astronomer on the SAAO staff. Dr. Potter talked most informatively about the telescope and his own work as well as the other projects being conducted on the telescope. He also demonstrated how easy it was to operate the telescope, especially after the installation of modern electronic control systems, and showed the group around the control room as well.
After saying goodbye to Dr. Potter and Anthony, we stopped off in Sutherland to refuel and then made a beeline for Cape Town where the group had an 18:00 appointment at the SAAO headquarters in Observatory. We made one stop at the Veldskoen Farm Stall and said our final goodbyes before splitting up.
My only regret is that with the group split over several vehicles it was impossible to do any guiding while en route. Although we considered stopping the vehicles at points of interest, it would not have been practical from a safety point of view. Time constraints, which played an important role during the trip, virtually canceled the possibility of additional stops even if safety had not been an important consideration.
I will post more photos at a later stage as they become available from other people who were on the trip as well as the two official photographers.
This was an event with a difference. Jeanne’s daughter, Jade, had her birthday the previous day and this was a camp-out party on their very nice property in the shadow of Table Mountain near Kirstenbosch. We found the address easily and our summary of the property from Google Earth was quite accurate except that the oak trees on the eastern side were higher than we had estimated which made viewing Jupiter a problem.
Patience let us in and helped us to decide on where to park the car. I then carried Lorenzo and all the other gear to the area we had chosen to set up and got everything organised. We had promised to bring each partygoer a light pollution booklet, an eclipse viewer and a set of solar system stickers. Auke was going to bring the personalise Southern Star Wheels and also show the girls how to assemble and use them as well as do the what’s up. I had just finished setting up when Auke phoned to say that he was about six minutes away (right on schedule) when he discovered he had left the Star Wheels at home. At that point, he was already heading back to Somerset West to fetch them and would we please adapt the program and carry on without him.
Auke had also phoned Jeanne to inform her of the hiccup so we decided to get the girls to look at the moon, which was clearly visible while it got dark enough, to actually do a what’s up. At this point, we noticed the wisps of cloud coming over the mountain and slowly spreading away from it towards us. Using the time honoured ostrich tactics of sticking your head in the telescope and pretending you don’t see the clouds, we lined the girls up and did several rounds of moon viewing. When the moon lost its allure the girls went back to the tents and collected blankets and other warm stuff before gathering around the fire.
Lynnette had already given the handouts to Jeanne but I took a little time to explain the use of the eclipse viewer stressing all the usual things about never looking at the sun with the unprotected eyes. I also stressed the fact that one should never look at the sun through binoculars or telescopes or through a camera unless the equipment was equipped with a proper solar filter.
I then gave a short talk and a brief what’s up but by that time the clouds had already covered part of Orion and Lepus and were making their way slowly toward Canis Major. Crux was still open as was most of the southern sky and the moon. Jupiter was still stuck behind the oaks when Auke pitched and did his thing with the Southern Star Wheel and it was still there by the time he had finished his little show.
Jeanne indicated that the girls now had other activities to attend to so there would be no waiting for Jupiter. Having done what we came to do we packed up and left, shepherded out again by a very friendly Patience.
Auke arranged the Stargazing for MENSA with Yvonne, the Winelands Mensan-In-Chief. He had already presented talks to them on two previous occasions but roped Lynnette and I in for this event because more people were expected and it made sense to have more telescopes available.
The show was to take place at Stellenzicht Winery and the weather did not look good as lots of clouds and even rain was forecast. When we arrived there were lots of clouds spilling over the Helderberg, Haelkop and Stellenbosch Mountain and being driven along by a fairly strong and decidedly chilly southerly wind. We had decided to opt for the two Celestron telescopes “Little Martin” and the “One armed Bandit” partially for space reasons in the cars with the Vito temporarily out of commission and partially to benefit from their automatic finding and tracking ability. I found that in the very windy conditions Lorenzo the 10” Dobsonian would have been a more stable option.
As soon as it was reasonably dark I gave a short talk and a brief what’s up before we got round to showing various objects and talking. The tall oaks to the east kept the moon out of sight till almost closing time which was a pity because the light spill from the winery lights reduced the number of objects we could realistically see quite drastically.
The evening was a reasonable success and thanks go to Yvonne for organising the evening and also for the hospitality and the red wine to keep the chill away. We did not have rain as predicted and the clouds were confined to the mountains and their immediate surroundings but we certainly had wind in abundance. Better luck next time.
Auke, Lynnette and I pitched nice and early followed shortly by Wendy and we all promptly set about setting up the telescopes in preparation for the arrival of the Friends of the Helderberg nature Reserve later on. Wendy set up her 8” Dobsonian and Auke set up the Celestron nicknamed “Little Martin” while Lynnette and I set up the other Celestron known as the “One Armed Bandit”. Both Celestrons were automated and we hoped to gain time and make life easier by not having to adjust all the time to follow an object, as is the case with a Dobsonian. Although there are definite advantages to using an automated telescope as opposed to a good old push-and-tug Dobsonian I found that with the 5” instrument I had it was less stable and did not give me the clarity and brightness I was used to on our workhorse, Lorenzo the 10” Dobsonian. I will definitely investigate other uses for the Celestron but at present, I have my doubts when it comes to general outreach. Watch this space is I believe the expression to use.
There were still day picnickers around and when the children spotted the telescopes they made a beeline for us before we had time to set up properly. As soon as we were up and running we let them look at the moon to their heart’s content. Auke even had on eager little lass trained up in no time to operate the control paddle of his telescope; I was less adventurous. As the picnickers trickled away the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve ) started arriving and setting up their picnics.
By the time it was dark enough to do a what’s up tonight most of them had looked at the moon. I kept my introduction as short as possible and steadily increased the number of stars and constellations as the gathering dark allowed us to see more of them.
After the talk, it was back to the telescopes and we spent the rest of the evening until packing up time around 21:45 showing various objects and talking about whichever astronomy questions were put to us. All in all, it was a very pleasant and enjoyable evening with fair weather, very little wind and nice people.
Thanks to the Friends for the invitation and we are very glad the weather gods viewed our little get together favourably this time round.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The beginner’s session at the telescopes was quite successful on Friday as was the beginners talk on Saturday morning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
I also recorded some weather data, using Hans van der Merwe’s clever data logger. Here are some results that might interest amateur astronomers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The spring Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) was a success despite the fact that the weather did not really play along. All in all, 60 people registered, but due to unforeseen circumstances there were cancellations and the final total was 55.
Since the previous SSP in February we have had enough to keep us busy. We were involved in or presented the following events between the previous SSP and this one.
An outreach event at the Kogelberg Farm Hostel for Elkanah House Private School.
A Deep Sky event at Leeuwenboschfontein where we had Klaas and Wilma van Ditzhuyzen from the Netherlands as guests.
The Museum Night at the Iziko Museum in the Company Gardens.
The Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
The Eco Rangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
The Old Age Home in Porterville.
A public event at the Golf course in Porterville.
Four talks at the Durbanville Public Library.
Five public events at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront.
Eight days for National Science Week at the Iziko Museum in the Company Gardens.
An outreach event at the !Khwa ttu San Cultural and Educational Centre.
An outreach event at Labiance Primary School.
On Monday the 24th of October shortly after 07:00 Lynnette, Snorre and I left Brackenfell. This time we did not have to work right through the night to finish everything as I had the able assistance of my son, John-Henry. It was not only his physical assistance that made a difference, but his far better eye for what fits in where was a great help. We started unloading as soon as we arrived and during the course of Monday afternoon Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent.
Alan and Rose Cassells arrived on Tuesday and immediately started setting up their camp site. On Wednesday Eddy Nijeboer arrived with Auke hard on his heels and Barry and Miemie Dumas not far behind him.
This time round the mobile reception was worse than it had ever been at Night Sky and Lynnette and I had no signal whatsoever. This meant that we had to drive back to the R317, where we had a good signal, to receive and read mail. Everyone seemed to have the same problem to a greater or lesser degree except Rose and Alan.
During the course of Wednesday Pamela Cooper, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Wendy Vermeulen, Louis Fourie, Pierre de Villiers, Bennie Kotze and Peter Harvey arrived. By then Night Sky was starting to look populated and discussions were taking place all over the place as people wandered around renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.
On Friday everyone else pitched. Just before the SSP our speaker from Bangalore in India, Amar Sharma had let us know that he was not going to make it due to visa problems. These problems revolved around the slap-dash attitude of the South African diplomatic staff in Mumbai. Amar runs an astronomy tourism operation in Bangalore, (see here). Our other disappointment was that a second speaker, Dr. Wanda Diaz Merced the blind astrophysicist from Puerto Rico, had fallen ill and was hospitalized just a day or two prior to the SSP. We had especially brought along our material used in astronomy outreach for the visually impaired, so that Wanda could demonstrate it. We settled for an exhibition of this material in the tent and it drew quite a lot of attention.
The weather on Friday evening cancelled any possible viewing efforts. Barry Dumas kindly presented a very complete and quite technical talk on optical equipment and what to do and not to do when cleaning it. His talk gave lots of information on the construction of various eyepieces and how special protective materials were applied to both protect and also to improve their optical functionality. After the talk we dispersed and in general spent the rest of the evening watching the clouds and socializing.
Chris Forder was kind enough to lend a hand with some of the younger aspirant astronomer’s telescopes during the course of the weekend. The youthful telescope owners and their parents were all left much the wiser after Chris had finished his explanation.
On Saturday morning I kicked off with the beginners. I handed out all the required paperwork and printed information and talked them through the basics of using star charts. After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Prof. Herman Steyn’s talk on satellites and his work with the University of Stellenbosch’s satellite research section. He was intimately involved with the Rosetta mission and shared many of his experiences with us.
Pierre de Villiers presented a very interesting coverage of the Solar System Model designed and constructed by the Hermanus Centre. This project aims to increase the astronomy awareness of the general public and serve as a permanent outreach installation. The model now forms part of the well known scenic cliff pathway in Hermanus. After Pierre’s talk we had the usual lunchtime braai. Lynnette organized the braai drums as well as the laying and lighting of the fires with the very able assistance of Marius Reitz and Barry Dumas as well as other able bodied assistants.
After lunch we handed out the prizes for the Lucky Draws. This year, instead of depending on the traditional drawing of numbers out of a hat, we did something different. The first person to register, the first person to pay, the first couple to register and the first family to register all received prizes. Auke also decided it was Evan’s birthday and that he should also receive a prize. The fact that it was his birthday was as much a surprise for Evan as it was for the rest of us.
Then it was Auke’s turn to talk about the Centre for Astronomical Heritage. He was followed by Martin Lyons who presented a talk on how to look after your telescope optics. Martin could quite easily take his presentation on tour. With the appropriate musical background and some fancy dance steps it would be an instant comedy hit. However, please do not let the fact that it was funny detract from the value of its very sound practical advice on how to care for telescope optics. It was interesting to compare the differences in cleaning regimes between Martin and Barry.
After Martin’s talk we took the group photo. It is a great pity that not everyone pitched up for the group photograph as one likes to have everyone that attended on the photograph. Thanks to Auke’s efforts we also have a You Tube video of the behind the scenes efforts to get everyone setup for the photo. Go here to view the video.
FRONT – SEATED: Auke Slotegraaf, Lynne Court, Kiona van der Merwe, Juanita van Rensburg, Chris Vermeulen, Paul Kruger, Edward & Snorre Foster, Lynnette Foster, Rose Cassells, Alan Cassells, Caycee Cupido, Abigail Cupido, Caitlin Cupido. MIDDLE – STANDING: Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Pierre de Villiers, Bennie Kotze, Lea Labuschagne, Chris Forder, Lena Smith, Miemie Dumas, Johan Brink, Laura Norris, Pamela Cooper, Wendy Vermeulen, Rachel Norton, Peter Norton. BACK – STANDING: Peter Harvey, Jannie Nijeboer, Eddy Nijeboer, Robert Ketteringham, Ruth Kuys, Arné Esterhuizen, Evan Knox-Davies, Leslie Rose, John Richards, James Smith, Annatjie Kunz, Marius Reitz, Barry Dumas, Corné van Dyk, Louis Fourie, Gavin Cupido, Rogan Roth, Chris de Coning. INSET: Roelof van der Merwe.
ABSENT: André de Villiers, Martin Lyons, Rene Auras, Tyron Auras, Nicholas Kröner, Thomas Kröner, Nellie Brink, Dominique Brink.
The group photo was followed by the infamous Pub Quiz. Lynnette and I divided the attendees into six teams. This is quite a tricky operation. For starters, we know from past experience that separating parents from children or splitting couples are both big no-no’s. Then there is the really difficult task of trying to balance astronomy knowledge in the teams as well. Although the teams might have looked unbalanced numerically they were quite even as far as the knowledge levels were concerned. This is borne out by the fact that the final scores were quite close; team one (16), team two (20), team three (28), team four (22), team five (26) and team six (17). Each team had to choose a leader and Evan, in team two, was by far the most efficient team leader of the evening. After six rounds team three, consisting of Lynne, Juanita, Kiona, James, Lena, Leslie, Martin and Laura, was a clear winner. They had, in fact, maintained their lead since the end of round four.
After the team section we asked each team to nominate one representative to take part in the individual section. A further four rounds of questions followed and then we had a clear and very worthy individual winner in the person of Chris Forder. Congratulations Chris.
Strange how some people, even in a fun exercise like this, cannot resist resorting to looking up answers electronically or in a book. Some even erased answers and corrected them after the correct answer had been given thereby gaining an unfair advantage.
After the Pub Quiz there were still clouds around, but we decided to give it a go and Auke got the Constellation Exploration group (ConEx) together while I set up a telescope for the beginners. As luck would have it, just as we started, the clouds covered Venus, Saturn and eventually Mars too. We managed to discuss a few constellations and some objects of interests, but eventually people drifted off, as the clouds alternately advanced and retreated. For the most tenacious beginners there was eventually a fairly clear view of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) before we all went to bed.
Nobody had done the observing challenge, so there were no certificates to hand out on Sunday morning. Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to say goodbye to the early leavers and share a cup of coffee with them. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd and, as usual, we had a nice braai before setting op the telescopes to do some observing. Yes, you guessed correctly the weather cleared as soon as the SSP was over! On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre, myself, Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday morning we departed leaving the entire camp to Alan and Rose. Tersius and his team took down the tent on Tuesday afternoon and loaded up the tables and chairs, bringing down the final curtain on the 2016 Spring Southern Star Party.
A special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
Chris de Coning