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 Carina Nebula is about 7500 light-years away in the direction of the Carina constellation. Carina was originally part of a very large constellation Argo Nevis but Nicolas de Lacaille divided it into three new constellations in 1763, Carina (the keel), Puppis (the poop deck) and Vela (the ship’s sails). It is also known as NGC 3372 and was discovered in 1751 by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille while observing from the Cape of Good Hope. It is a colossal emission nebula about 300 light-years wide that contains extensive star-forming regions. A very interesting object in the Carina Nebula is the Homunculus Nebula which is a planetary nebula that is being ejected by a luminous blue variable star, Eta Carinae (shorthand ? Carinae or ? Car). This star is one of the most massive stars known and has reached the theoretical upper limit for the mass of a star and is therefore unstable. The instability results in periodic outbursts during which it brightens and then fades again. During one such outburst between the 11th and the 14th of March 1843, it became the second brightest star in the sky but then faded away. Around 1940 it began to brighten again, eventually peaking in 2014 but not achieving nearly the levels of brightness seen in 1843.
Leslie Rose is one of the regulars who attend the Southern Star Party and the photograph featured here, was taken by Leslie. The first SSP he attended was in March 2011 when Leslie had neither telescope nor camera!