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 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
“Third time lucky” is an expression one often hears and it certainly applied to or stargazing efforts at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront. After poor weather in May and worse weather in June we had fantastic open skies this time. Unfortunately the Sun wasn’t as well endowed with sunspots as we would have like it to be, which immediately brings to mind the hackneyed expression “What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts”.
Lynnette and I made had to first drop John-Henry off in Mowbray but we were still first on the scene followed by Alan and Rose, then Dirk and lastly Auke and the birthday girl, Wendy. It soon became clear that the fine weather had lured the visitors out in force and there were many more people in the Waterfront than on either of our previous visits. We were soon very busy.
Alan and Rosemary had their eight-inch Dobsonian set up close to the water’s edge. I suppose you can take a man out of the Navy but you can’t really take the sea out of a naval man, Alan? Dirk set up his Celestron close to the two red poodles, probably because he missed his Yorkies, while Auke and Wendy set up Maphefu, Auke’s eight-inch Dobsonian, an outreach veteran, next to the signpost.
Auke had his very nifty demonstration of how to use a simple pinhole to calculate the size of the Sun set up there as well. Lynnette and I set up Lorenzo our workhorse 10-inch Dobsonian, also a veteran of many outreach events, a short distance away from Auke and Wendy.
I was surprised by the large number of foreigners but should not really have been, because the V&A is known to be a magnet for foreign tourists. One Spanish family, on seeing the name Lorenzo on our telescope, came up with the following interesting piece of information.
It was a warm sunny day with very few sunspots but lots of interested and interesting people. The 30% illuminated waxing moon had risen shortly after 11:00, so it was well positioned for Alan and Dirk who do not have solar filters for their telescopes. My, soon to be patented, (Bob) Marley 40 mm Solar-finder worked very well and the erudite Mr Cassells even complimented me by saying it looked “very professional”.
Once the Sun went down it quickly became chilly but the sky was clear and we were able to show the Moon in high definition as well as Jupiter, Mars and Saturn to a host of visitors. I used a 9 mm eyepiece on Lorenzo, which gave visitors a quite spectacular view of the Moon and the other objects but also meant that I was kept busy making corrections to keep the objects in the field of vision.
We packed up at 21:00 just as the dew was beginning to become problematic. At that stage there were still quite a few people around but with a tally of 1622 visitors on our counters we felt that enough was enough. After packing up we handed over Wendy’s birthday present and went our various ways homeward.
On outings like this one always encounters people with odd requests and non-mainstream views and Saturday was no exception. There was one small group that insisted I show them the planet Nibiru and all my diplomatic attempts to convince them of its non-existence came to naught. I eventually resorted to verbal force majeure to get rid of them when they became abusive about my inability to show it to them. This by the way was all in broad daylight! Another gentleman insisted that the telescope was an instrument of the anti-Christ and that Saturn was, in fact, Satan’s seat of power. He eventually wandered of proclaiming to all and sundry that science was actually the anti-Christ not just poor Lorenzo. Lorenzo was relieved.
On Sunday it was all about unpacking and putting all the stuff out to dry before packing everything away again.
When Lynnette and I left Brackenfell the conditions were not all that good for viewing the Sun and we hoped that they would improve during the course of the afternoon and evening. The clouds were thin and patchy so there was some hope.
We had hardly stopped at the Pierhead in the Waterfront when Alan and Rose arrived followed very shortly by Auke and Wendy. Dirk had been delayed and only arrived quite a bit after the rest of us. We set up quickly and got Lorenzo and Maphefu onto the Sun. The high level clouds blurred the image and made it difficult to see the two large sunspots but when the Sun got into a fairly clear patch the image was good. The conditions were not all that pleasant and the cold wind probably reduced the numbers of visitors to the Waterfront because there were definitely fewer passersby than on our previous visit.
While Wendy and I kept the visitors busy on Lorenzo and Maphefu, Dirk was setting up and Auke and Alan were measuring out the size of the Sun in comparison to the inflatable Earth globes we had brought along. They also used chalk to draw the relative sizes of the planets around the signpost on the Pierhead.
Lynnette had packed some delicious sandwiches for the two of us, which went down really well. She had also bought a variety of very nice muffins which she shared out to the rest of the crew to have with their coffee. Lynnette also did her usual with the visitors lists when the telescope operators were tied up and operated Lorenzo when I had to do something else. Her skill at finding the Sun with the Dobsonians also came in very handy when Auke, Wendy or I struggled to find it.
The gusty conditions blew the cover off Lorenzo and sent it spinning over the edge of the pier. Fortunately it lodged in a position where Alan could retrieve it. We had two disasters with our inflatable Earth globes. In one case a boy decided to practice his soccer kick on one and broke the tag to which the string for holding it is attached. To the boy’s mother I would like to say that grabbing his hand and hustling him away as if nothing had happened, sets a very bad example to him and shows a regrettable lack of responsibility on your behalf. The same comment applies to the three youths who forcibly dislodged the other Earth globe and then had the temerity to chirp Alan when he went chasing after it to prevent it being blown into the water.
As time passed the clouds became thicker until we could no longer see the Sun at all and George also lost sight of the Moon. By 17:00 it looked as if we were fighting a losing battle and I had Lorenzo fixed on Lion’s Head giving visitors a clear view of the people sitting and walking around up there. Shortly after 17:30 we decided the weather was not going to clear so we packed up and headed for home.
The only consolation was that there had been no dew so Lynnette and I did not have to unpack and dry everything before packing it all away. However, despite the unfavourable conditions we managed to service just under 300 visitors during the course of the afternoon.
We can only hope that the 09th of July, which is when we are scheduled to set up on the Pierhead again, provides us with better viewing conditions.