Stargazing at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront: Saturday 14th May 2016.

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.

TOP LEFT: On the N1 heading to the V&A Waterfront for a day’s astronomy outreach. CENTRE LEFT: Look, there’s a patch of blue sky! BOTTOM LEFT: More blue sky and Signal Hill too, we just might be in luck. TOP RIGHT: What does one need for a day’s astronomy outreach in the V&A Waterfront? A lot of stuff! BOTTOM RIGHT: But wait, there’s more up front as well!
TOP LEFT: On the N1 heading to the V&A Waterfront for a day’s astronomy outreach. CENTRE LEFT: Look, there’s a patch of blue sky! BOTTOM LEFT: More blue sky and Signal Hill too, we just might be in luck. TOP RIGHT: What does one need for a day’s astronomy outreach in the V&A Waterfront? A lot of stuff! BOTTOM RIGHT: But wait, there’s more up front as well!

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.

TOP LEFT: Grey water and horizon to horizon grey clouds. CENTRE LEFT: We had come to show visitors the Sun (with some sunspots) and the Moon but ended up aiming the telescopes at all sorts of other things. Lorenzo (10-inch Dobsonian) is just visible at the extreme left and Maphefu (8-inch Dobsonian) in the centre. BOTTOM LEFT: At the slightest hint that the Sun was going to peep through the cloud blanket Wendy, Lynnette and I would scurry to try and get it in our sights. Maphefu is on the left Lorenzo just left of the centre, Walther (5-inch refractor) on the tripod just right of centre and Dirk’s 5-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, also on a tripod on the far right. TOP RIGHT: Wendy watching the clouds as they alternately show and hide the Moon from view. Dirk’s telescope with the moon visible on the small screen and Maphefu on the far right. BOTTOM RIGHT: Walther next to a small group of visitors gathered around Auke, with Maphefu in the foreground and a bit of almost-blue sky in the background.
TOP LEFT: Grey water and horizon to horizon grey clouds. CENTRE LEFT: We had come to show visitors the Sun (with some sunspots) and the Moon but ended up aiming the telescopes at all sorts of other things. Lorenzo (10-inch Dobsonian) is just visible at the extreme left and Maphefu (8-inch Dobsonian) in the centre. BOTTOM LEFT: At the slightest hint that the Sun was going to peep through the cloud blanket Wendy, Lynnette and I would scurry to try and get it in our sights. Maphefu is on the left Lorenzo just left of the centre, Walter (5-inch refractor) on the tripod just right of centre and Dirk’s 5-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, also on a tripod on the far right. TOP RIGHT: Wendy watching the clouds as they alternately show and hide the Moon from view. Dirk’s telescope with the moon visible on the small screen and Maphefu on the far right. BOTTOM RIGHT: Walter next to a small group of visitors gathered around Auke, with Maphefu in the foreground and a bit of almost-blue sky in the background

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.

TOP LEFT: Lynnette and I with Lorenzo, with cover on, is pointing straight up at the grey cloud cover. TOP RIGHT: Were Dirk and I swopping fishing or astronomy stories? BOTTOM LEFT: The Moon became visible and Dirk’s telescope (image on the small screen) and Wendy (with Maphefu) were quick to show it to visitors. BOTTOM CENTRE: Auke reading the cards and looking for some weather inspiration. BOTTOM RIGHT: All gone again so the lid goes back on Lorenzo and Auke uses his cards to amuse a young visitor while Walter stands idle on his tripod.
TOP LEFT: Lynnette and I with Lorenzo, with cover on, is pointing straight up at the grey cloud cover. TOP RIGHT: Were Dirk and I swapping fishing or astronomy stories? BOTTOM LEFT: The Moon became visible and Dirk’s telescope (image on the small screen) and Wendy (with Maphefu) were quick to show it to visitors. BOTTOM CENTRE: Auke reading the cards and looking for some weather inspiration. BOTTOM RIGHT: All gone again so the lid goes back on Lorenzo and Auke uses his cards to amuse a young visitor while Walter stands idle on his tripod.

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.

TOP LEFT: Dirk and I looking quite pleased about the fact that the clouds were considering clearing. TOP RIGHT: The sky had cleared by nightfall and we could show visitors Jupiter, the Moon, Mars, Saturn, Antares, Crux and the Ferris-Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: The brightly lit Swing Bridge. BOTTOM RIGHT: Packing everything, back into the Vito and complaining about the very heavy dew.
TOP LEFT: Dirk and I looking quite pleased about the fact that the clouds were considering clearing. TOP RIGHT: The sky had cleared by nightfall and we could show visitors Jupiter, the Moon, Mars, Saturn, Antares, Crux and the Ferris-Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: The brightly lit Swing Bridge. BOTTOM RIGHT: Packing everything, back into the Vito and complaining about the very heavy dew.

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.

TOP LEFT: Tables & chairs, taken out of their covers to dry. CENTRE LEFT: Banners unrolled to dry out. BOTTOM LEFT: A-frame poster boards unfolded to dry before packing away. TOP RIGHT: This lot under the car port is dry and ready to be packed away, till next time. BOTTOM RIGHT: All the A3-laminated material had to be removed from the sleeves and individually dried before packing away.
TOP LEFT: Tables & chairs, taken out of their covers to dry. CENTRE LEFT: Banners unrolled to dry out. BOTTOM LEFT: A-frame poster boards unfolded to dry before packing away. TOP RIGHT: This lot under the car port is dry and ready to be packed away, till next time. BOTTOM RIGHT: All the A3-laminated material had to be removed from the sleeves and individually dried before packing away.

Saturn/Moon occultation: 10th of June 2014

Lynnette and I had been caught up in the excitement about this occultation with e-mails, Facebook messages and various other media reminders urging us not to forget to get out there on Tuesday and view it; after all the phenomenon would not be seen again until the year 20-whatever.  The uncertainty factor was the weather; would it be playing for us or against us?  Like everyone else, we kept a close watch on the weather forecast and when clear skies were forecast we wondered exactly how clear they would be?  Would there not perhaps be the odd cloud ready photo-bomb that crucial moment?

Eventually clear turned out to be really cloudless here in Brackenfell so Lynnette and I set up early using Lorenzo, the trusty 10-inch Dobby, and the MartinCam.  The first choice would have been the 5-inch Meade, which can track, but I have had no luck in getting a well-focused photo with that and the MartinCam. I think the camera is just too heavy for the focuser on the telescope and causes a distortion of the light-path. This, of course, makes it impossible to focus properly. So the Dobby it would be and we would just have to improvise.

We had ample time to do several trial runs and our initial reservations about recording a video were soon confirmed. We would not be able to keep a stable image in the center of the field of view manually, which was essential for recording a video. So it was going to be single photos.

The ingress worked quite well, although the quality of the photos left a lot to be desired, but we did manage to get shots of Saturn’s disappearing act. We then ran Stellarium several times to make absolutely sure that we knew exactly where Saturn would reappear and by the time we’d done the trials again and had coffee, the big moment was on us.  Somehow we fluffed it and managed to miss the crucial first few moments of reappearance. We only picked up the blasted planet when it was well clear of the Moon’s surface.  Damn!

I suppose we should look on the bright side and consider the mission half accomplished and not the complete disaster it might have been if we had missed both ends of the event. Anyway, everything was soaked with dew at this stage so we just carted it all inside and left the stuff open to dry overnight.  In retrospect, I realize I should have set up my camera on a tripod as well but, as we all know, Hindsight is, of course, the most exact scientific discipline known to mankind.

Saturn still clearly visible in its entirety as it approaches the unlit edge of the Moon.
Saturn still clearly visible in its entirety as it approaches the unlit edge of the Moon.
Saturn just starting to slip behind the darkened edge of the Moon.
Saturn just starting to slip behind the darkened edge of the Moon.
Saturn about halfway into the disappearing act.
Saturn almost halfway into the disappearing act.
About 25% of the planet still visible at this stage.
About 30% of the planet still visible at this stage.
Almost gone
The planet is actually gone and only a section of the rings remain visible.
Just a glimmer of the rings still to be seen
Just a glimmer of the rings still to be seen
Finally gone
Finally gone

 

Variations in Jupiter’s brightness at 1 minute intervals over a 10 minute period.

During the deep-sky event of 13 to 18 December, I set up the camera on Sunday evening to try and record one of the moons slipping in behind Jupiter.  The camera was set to take 10 shots at 1-minute intervals so once started there was no intervention, i.e. changes in the settings of any sort.  When I looked at the photos I found the results rather surprising because Jupiter undergoes quite large changes in brightness over the 10 minute period.

My only (tentative) explanation is that there must have been very high thin clouds drifting across the camera’s field of view.  There was definitely no dew on the camera or the telescope so I have ruled that out and neither was there any wind.

What also puzzles me is that the stars do not show the same variation but I suppose could be due to the fact that Jupiter is so much brighter than any of the other objects in the sky resulting in more reflection of high-level moisture or even ice crystals.  I was not watching Jupiter during the period that I was taking the photographs so I do not know if these variations were visible to the naked eye.

DSC_9656_Jupiter01DSC_9657_Jupiter02DSC_9658_Jupiter03DSC_9659_Jupiter04DSC_9660_Jupiter05DSC_9661_Jupiter06DSC_9662_Jupiter07DSC_9663_Jupiter08DSC_9664_Jupiter09DSC_9665_Jupiter10