The spring 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 26 to 30 October 2016.

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.
TOP: Loading done – the Vito from the back. MIDDLE: Loading done – the Vito from the side. BOTTOM: Loading done – the trailer.
TOP: Loading done – the Vito from the back. MIDDLE: Loading done – the Vito from the side. BOTTOM: Loading done – the trailer.

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.

TOP: Sunset from the “Post Office” at the turn-off from the R317 looking toward Mcgregor. Lynnette and I had such poor mobile reception at Night Sky that we had to drive from the camp to this spot to receive mail and make calls. BOTTOM: Sunset from the camp looking toward Swellendam. The darker blue layer on the horizon is the Earth’s shadow and the pale pink layer above it, known as the Girdle of Venus, is caused by scattering of sunlight by the upper layers of the atmosphere.
TOP: Sunset from the “Post Office” at the turn-off from the R317 looking toward Mcgregor. Lynnette and I had such poor mobile reception at Night Sky that we had to drive from the camp to this spot to receive mail and make calls. BOTTOM: Sunset from the camp looking toward Swellendam. The darker blue layer on the horizon is the Earth’s shadow and the pale pink layer above it, known as the Girdle of Venus, is caused by scattering of sunlight by the upper layers of the atmosphere.

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.

TOP & SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two views of the front (reception) portion of the tent. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM & BOTTOM: Two views of the back part of the tent where the talks took place.
TOP & SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two views of the front (reception) portion of the tent. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM & BOTTOM: Two views of the back part of the tent where the talks took place.
TOP: StarPeople’s two merit awards from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA). One was for our general outreach efforts and the other was specifically for organizing and presenting the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. BOTTOM: Two posters advertising the Sky Guide. This is an ASSA publication printed and distributed by Struik and is a must have for all amateur astronomers and interested members of the public.
TOP: StarPeople’s two merit awards from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA). One was for our general outreach efforts and the other was specifically for organizing and presenting the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. BOTTOM: Two posters advertising the Sky Guide. This is an ASSA publication printed and distributed by Struik and is a must have for all amateur astronomers and interested members of the public.

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.

TOP: Chris (back to the camera) Marius (in blue) and Louis sorting out telescope matters. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and Leslie plotting something. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Beginners Area with Paul, Alan and Rose in the very distant background BOTTOM: Auke’s ConEx (Constellation Exploration) Area with the “You are here” banner on the right.
TOP: Chris (back to the camera) Marius (in blue) and Louis sorting out telescope matters. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and Leslie plotting something. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Beginners Area with Paul, Alan and Rose in the very distant background BOTTOM: Auke’s ConEx (Constellation Exploration) Area with the “You are here” banner on the right.
TOP: From the left, Louis, Marius, Chris and Deon finding out where they are. BOTTOM: Barry, hidden behind Alan and Rose relaxing on Sunday evening as the sun sets.
TOP: From the left, Louis, Marius, Chris and Deon finding out where they are. BOTTOM: Barry, hidden behind Alan and Rose relaxing on Sunday evening as the sun sets.

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.

TOP: Harpactira species (Baboon Spider). BOTTOM: Closer view of the spider’s eyes. The downward curved chelisera, typical of four lunged spiders, are clearly visible.
TOP: Harpactira species (Baboon Spider). BOTTOM: Closer view of the spider’s eyes. The downward curved chelisera, typical of four lunged spiders, are clearly visible.

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.

TOP: Paul’s pickup and our banner at the entrance to Night Sky. The banner has seen better days and is becoming a bit tattered. It has seen many outreach events and 12 Southern Star Parties so i suppose it ought to look a bit battle scarred by now. BOTTOM: Auke in a pensive mood.
TOP: Paul’s pickup and our banner at the entrance to Night Sky. The banner has seen better days and is becoming a bit tattered. It has seen many outreach events and 12 Southern Star Parties so i suppose it ought to look a bit battle scarred by now. BOTTOM: Auke in a pensive mood.

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.

TOP LEFT: Alan and Rose at breakfast. TOP MIDDLE: Kiona looking very laid back. TOP RIGHT: John taking it very, very easy. MIDDLE: The general braai area on Saturday at lunch time. BOTTOM LEFT: Wonder what Lynne is concentrating on? BOTTOM MIDDLE: Martin, all set up to clean some unsuspecting volunteer’s telescope mirror. BOTTOM RIGHT: This is one man’s breakfast – no names no pack-drill. Actually there was also a pan of sausage and bacon to go with this lot.
TOP LEFT: Alan and Rose at breakfast. TOP MIDDLE: Kiona looking very laid back. TOP RIGHT: John taking it very, very easy. MIDDLE: The general braai area on Saturday at lunch time. BOTTOM LEFT: Wonder what Lynne is concentrating on? BOTTOM MIDDLE: Martin, all set up to clean some unsuspecting volunteer’s telescope mirror. BOTTOM RIGHT: This is one man’s breakfast – no names no pack-drill. Actually there was also a pan of sausage and bacon to go with this lot.

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.

TOP LEFT: Herman Steyn, Head of Satellite Research at Stellenbosch University, was our main speaker. TOP MIDDLE: Herman gets his speaker’s gift. TOP RIGHT: Pierre de Villiers the MMWC at the Hermanus Centre and current president of ASSA. MIDDLE: Chris Forder the very worthy winner of this year’s Pub Quiz, wearing his Pub Quiz Floating Rosette, receives his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM LEFT: Pierre receives his speaker’s gift. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Rose and Alan toasting a very convivial braai. BOTTOM RIGHT: Martin receives his speaker’s prize.
TOP LEFT: Herman Steyn, Head of Satellite Research at Stellenbosch University, was our main speaker. TOP MIDDLE: Herman gets his speaker’s gift. TOP RIGHT: Pierre de Villiers the MMWC at the Hermanus Centre and current president of ASSA. MIDDLE: Chris Forder the very worthy winner of this year’s Pub Quiz, wearing his Pub Quiz Floating Rosette, receives his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM LEFT: Pierre receives his speaker’s gift. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Rose and Alan toasting a very convivial braai. BOTTOM RIGHT: Martin receives his speaker’s prize.

In Wanda’s absence we watched a recording of her presentation “Listen to the Stars”, recorded at the TEDx Westerford in Cape Town in April 2014. If you go here you can listen to the talk too. If, after you have watched this, you are impressed go here where you can listen to the talk she gave in February 2016.

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.

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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.

TOP: This is a 30 second exposure at ISO 400 in the general direction of Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale with lots of reflected light on the extensive cloud cover. This is something which has increased steadily over the past six years and seems to have accelerated over the last two years. MIDDLE: Taken with the same camera settings, when there was a lot less cloud and the camera pointing slightly more north than in the previous photo. Note here the few clouds present all show the typical white colouring associated with light pollution. BOTTOM: This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 400 taken to the east-southeast. Swellendam to the left and Riviersonderend to the right are both out of the photo. Note the clarity of the Coal Sack and also that the small clouds on the horizon are all black or dark grey, typical of a low light pollution situation.
TOP: This is a 30 second exposure at ISO 400 in the general direction of Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale with lots of reflected light on the extensive cloud cover. This is something which has increased steadily over the past six years and seems to have accelerated over the last two years. MIDDLE: Taken with the same camera settings, when there was a lot less cloud and the camera pointing slightly more north than in the previous photo. Note here the few clouds present all show the typical white colouring associated with light pollution. BOTTOM: This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 400 taken to the east-southeast. Swellendam to the left and Riviersonderend to the right are both out of the photo. Note the clarity of the Coal Sack and also that the small clouds on the horizon are all black or dark grey, typical of a low light pollution situation.

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.

TOP: Camera set at 30 seconds and ISO 400 with the Carina area and the LMC visible. BOTTOM: Camera set at 15 seconds and ISO 1600. Hercules is in the left part of the photograph and M31 in the bottom centre. Note how light the lower portion of the photograph is over the Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale area, which was identified as a high light pollution area in previous photographs.
TOP: Camera set at 30 seconds and ISO 400 with the Carina area and the LMC visible. BOTTOM: Camera set at 15 seconds and ISO 1600. Hercules is in the left part of the photograph and M31 in the bottom centre. Note how light the lower portion of the photograph is over the Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale area, which was identified as a high light pollution area in previous photographs.
TOP LEFT: Light pollution from Robertson. MIDDLE LEFT: Looking in a southerly direction. BOTTOM LEFT: John MIDDLE: The Pleiades, the Hyades and Aldebaran. TOP RIGHT: Johan MIDDLE RIGHT: Martin, BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris Vermeulen.
TOP LEFT: Light pollution from Robertson. MIDDLE LEFT: Looking in a southerly direction. BOTTOM LEFT: John MIDDLE: The Pleiades, the Hyades and Aldebaran. TOP RIGHT: Johan MIDDLE RIGHT: Martin, BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris Vermeulen.
TOP: Back view of the Vito. MIDDLE: Side view of the Vito. BOTTOM: The trailer also loaded to capacity.
TOP: Back view of the Vito. MIDDLE: Side view of the Vito. BOTTOM: The trailer also loaded to capacity.
TOP: Snorre on his leash waiting for us to finish packing. If one lets him go at this stage he goes walkabout, attending to all sorts of urgent things, like birds, lizards, insects and anything that moves in the grass. BOTTOM: That expression clearly indicates that this whole loading exercise is taking far, far too long to his liking.
TOP: Snorre on his leash waiting for us to finish packing. If one lets him go at this stage he goes walkabout, attending to all sorts of urgent things, like birds, lizards, insects and anything that moves in the grass. BOTTOM: That expression clearly indicates that this whole loading exercise is taking far, far too long to his liking.

Page17_Immobile Snorre

Back home Snorre went into the relax-mode, but like in completely out for the count relaxed.
Back home Snorre went into the relax-mode, but like in completely out for the count relaxed.

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.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Martin Coetzee
Bennie Kotze
Chris de Coning
Kechil Kirkham

The autumn 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 05 to 07 February 2016.

The autumn Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) followed so hard on the heels of the Southern Star Party in November (read all about it here) that we felt there was hardly any break. We were booked out two weeks before the event, which was a record, and it was a huge success judging from the verbal comments and the written feedback we received. We are obviously elated at the success but also a tad tired, so the long gap till the next Star Party at the end of October is most welcome. However, that gap is already filling up with all sorts of other things so we won’t be exactly idle. We are in fact going flat-out at present to get our grant application for the National Science Week ready to send off to SAASTA by the end of February.

This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program fir the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There was lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember all recipients of the passport – it has to accompany you to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, to bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There is lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember, all recipients of the passport have to bring it to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. Bottom: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. BOTTOM: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

On Tuesday the 02nd of February at 07:00, without any sleep the previous night, Lynnette, Snorre and I left and arrived at Night Sky to find the lawn mowing in full swing. Shortly after they finished, Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent. As soon as that was done I got the projection screen set up and then it started raining lightly. The three of us went to bed early and the next morning we started organizing the tent. Alan and Rose arrived in the course of the morning and after they had set up camp they pitched in to help setting up as well. During the course of Wednesday Auke also arrived. Volker and Aka Kuehne from Pforzheim in Germany were also at Night Sky as they are every summer from early January to mid-March. This was their second SSP and as on the previous occasion they were always ready to lend a hand with just about everything.

This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.
This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.

Lynnette and I drove to Bonnievale to meet Rudolf who had found a fossil deposit and after viewing and photographing the Zoophytes trace-fossils in the Witteberg sediments, we drove back to Night Sky after some essential shopping. Before going to Night Sky we stopped off at Oppiekoppie Guesthouse (go here to see more about Oppiekoppie) to label the rooms, so everybody would know where to go when they arrived the next day. We then drove back to Night Sky for supper, putting up all the banners at the entrance on the way, to make sure nobody got lost. Shortly after supper we turned in. On Thursday Jonathan Balladon, Louis Fourie, Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer and Barry & Miemie Dumas arrived, followed by Pierre de Villiers, Karin de Bruin and Susan Joubert from the Hermanus Centre.

TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Wittenberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Witteberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. Middle: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. MIDDLE: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.

Alan once again set up his model table in the tent where he displayed the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle, the yet to be completed model of SALT and some very nifty models of the Mars habitat with the surface vehicle and fuel generation unit. During the course of the SSP, and especially on Sunday morning this attracted a lot of attention and many favourable comments.  I personally can’t wait for the completion of the SALT model.

This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.
This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.

Just as we were preparing for the evening braai on Thursday, I was laid low by a kidney stone. Juri de Wet went to a great deal of trouble to track down Dr Esterhuisen in Bonnievale who agreed to meet us at his consulting rooms. Auke drove Lynnette and I there in his car in a record time and I was given a shot of morphine to reduce the pain. The doctor liaised with an urologist; Dr Deon Marais in Worcester and off the three of us went again to the Worcester Medi Clinic. I was put on a drip and had to stay in hospital for a scan before having an operation to remove the kidney stone, the next day. Lynnette and Auke had to leave me contemplating my kidney stone, while they drove back to attend to the running of the SSP. On the Friday Alan and Rose were roped in to help organize things and keep the administration running smoothly while Lynnette came back to Worcester in Auke’s car. She stayed with me until late in the afternoon before driving back to help at Night Sky, where everyone had by now arrived. I was eventually operated on at around 18:00 on Friday and at 06:00 on Saturday, Lynnette was there again in Auke’s car, to pick me up and back to Bonnievale we went.

TOP LEFT: I herby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for the budget overruns.
TOP LEFT: I hereby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for their budget overruns.

Shortly after 08:30, on Saturday morning, I had a session with the beginner group and was rather amazed to find Pierre de Villiers, current ASSA president there. I am quite certain he is well out of the beginner category, but perhaps he just wanted to make sure I did not spout too much drivel.

Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Magda Streicher’s talk “Deep-Sky Delights” which took us on a genteel journey through the process of observing deep-sky objects and sketching them. Her talk was lavishly illustrated with personal anecdotes and examples of her own sketches. We are all looking forward to the book you intend publishing with all those sketches, Magda!

Next up was Bani van der Merwe who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so Pierre de Villiers, present ASSA president, came out to bat and he more than welcomed the extra time at the wicket. Pierre’s topic “How to foster an interest in, and enjoyment of, astronomy” was actually a workshop rather than an ordinary talk. He illustrated the various initiatives of the Hermanus Centre intended to achieve these objectives and engaged with the audience to get their ideas on the matter.

While Pierre was talking Marius, Kim, Lynnette and I packed and lit the fires for the lunch-time braai. During the course of the lunch-break it was decided that it was just too hot to go back into the tent for the remainder of the talks at 15:00, so everything was postponed until 17:00. We hoped that it would have cooled by then. The lucky draw also shifted and the Pub Quiz looked as if might have to take a back seat till October.

Ray Brederode’s presentation “The discoveries of Rosette and Philae” was very well received and generated quite a number of questions from the audience. He was followed by Charl Cater, who presented a short, but very interesting talk entitled “Green Pea Galaxies”. Auke Slotegraaf rounded of the programme with a presentation titled “To Forever Remain a Child: Astronomy and cultural heritage in South Africa.” The talk covered a number of important issues pertaining to astronomical heritage in South Africa and hopefully some members of the audience will heed Auke’s call to become involved in efforts to preserve that heritage.

On Friday night Dwayne apparently only had eyes for the stars in the love of his life’s eyes. How do I know? Because he took Claire out under the stars and proposed to her. Congratulations, this is the first engagement for the Southern Star Party and we hope that by the next SSP he will have taken the logical step and be able to bring his starry eyed wife along. We took the opportunity after the last talk to congratulate them and hope they enjoyed the bottle of wine and slab of chocolate we presented them with.

A series of images depicting the telescope are which was a focal point by day but especially at night.
A series of images depicting the telescope area which was a focal point by day, but especially at night.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.

By this time the light was just right for the group photo and after that Pierre de Villiers drew the three winners of our raffle. The first prize, a Skywatcher  Newtonian telescope was won by Chris Vermeulen (D=130, F=650, 25mm & 10mm eyepieces, Red Dot Finder, tripod and manual equatorial mount). The second and third prizes were two bottles of good red wine which went to Barry Dumas and Martin Coetzee respectively.

it was clear that time had overtaken us so we cancelled everything else and got ready for the evenings observing and related activities. It was a good evening for observing even though there were signs of clouds encroaching by about 23:00 and it actually rained around 03:00 or shortly thereafter. Martin Lyons and several other stalwarts were quick to rescue the telescopes that had been left in the telescope area by owners that had ignored the impending change in the weather.

TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours. Camera - Nikon D5100. Lens - AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G ISO 800 & f/1.8 Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals) & combined with StarStax 0.71
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours.
Camera – Nikon D5100.
Lens – AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
ISO 800 & f/1.8
Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals)
& combined with StarStax 0.71
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph also taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party by Leslie Rose.
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph, taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party, by Leslie Rose.

On Sunday Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to lay out the material for presenting astronomy to the visually impaired so that people coming to the tent to say goodbye could look at it. Part of the display was Dr Wanda Diaze-Merced’s 20 mHz Jove radio telescope. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd. On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre and I and Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday Tersius and his team took down the tent and loaded up the tables and chairs and on Wednesday the rest of us packed up and left. This brought down the final curtain on the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

Alan tending his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
Alan tending to his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.

Last but not least, 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.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Waltons.

The 10th Southern Star Party, held at Night Sky Caravan Park near Bonnievale in the Western Cape, South Africa from the 06th to the 08th of November, 2015.

The 10th Southern Star Party

As is usual, the most important topic during the run-up to the Spring Southern Star Party was the weather. The clouds played silly buggers with us in the run-up to the SSP. First they shifted away from the weekend and then they shifted back again and then partially moved away again, but eventually it looked as if we would probably have one good night on the Friday and at least half a good night on the Saturday. (View more information about the Southern Star Party here) The Southern Star Party is held at Night Sky Caravan Farm (go here to see their Facebook page) (or go here to see their add on Budget Getaways).

Lynnette, Snorre and I left on Tuesday after Lynnette had her hair colour changed to a bright red, which suits her temperament perfectly. First stop was Pitkos Padstal and Francina for a quick chat, wine purchases, olive tasting and some catching up on the local “skindernuus” or local gossip. Then on to Night Sky where either Anneliese or Tertius form Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to visit a webpage with more details about them) were due to come and pitch the big tent at around 14:00. I started unloading as soon as we arrived and Lynnette organized the mountain of stuff as I unloaded, but Bonnievale Verhurings had developed a problem and could only pitch the tent later in the afternoon. Anyway, by Wednesday evening, Alan and Rose had arrived, the banners were in place and the telescope area had been cordoned off.

Top: The final approach to the turnoff with the white roses and the red Cannas contrasting beautifully with the purple Jacarandas. Bottom Left: The section after Robertson is a very scenic drive. Bottom Middle: The Jacaranda tress are almost in full bloom. Bottom Right: The narrow bridge across the Breede River.
Top: The final approach to the turnoff with the white roses and the red Cannas contrasting beautifully with the purple Jacarandas. Bottom Left: The section after Robertson is a very scenic drive. Bottom Middle: The Jacaranda tress are almost in full bloom. Bottom Right: The narrow bridge across the Breede River.
Top: The tent on Wednesday evening. 2nd From The Top: The inside of the tent and all we need are the people. 3rd From The Top: The outside of the tent all done up. Bottom: The telescope area adjacent to the tent starting to fill up.
Top: The tent on Wednesday evening. 2nd From The Top: The inside of the tent and all we need are the people. 3rd From The Top: The outside of the tent all done up. Bottom: The telescope area adjacent to the tent starting to fill up.

On Thursday Deon and Ronelle Beugemann arrived and sometime later in the evening Sebastian Guile and Aurelie Lemiere also pitched up. Jopie and Pieternel Coetzee sent a message cancelling their participation because they thought the weather forecast was unfavourable, which proved to be a big mistake for them. Early on Friday morning Alan and I put up the projection screen and completed the final touches to the tent, ready for the rest of the crowd to arrive so we could start the programme. Roelina Losper was also a late cancellation due to illness in her family, but we hope to see her next time.

Top: Lynnette’s fantastic cell phone shot of a magical sunset moment at the dam. Middle: A beautiful, tranquil moment on the dam captured by Chris. Bottom: Chris’s daylight shot of the telescope area showing, as to be expected, no astronomers.
Top: Lynnette’s fantastic cell phone shot of a magical sunset moment at the dam. Middle: A beautiful, tranquil moment on the dam captured by Chris. Bottom: Chris’s daylight shot of the telescope area showing, as to be expected, no astronomers.

Spring Southern Star Party Programme – 06 to 08 November 2015

Friday
18:00 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
19:00 Meet-and-Greet
19:30 Beginner’s Programme starts, Fight Light Pollution! Starts, Constellation Explorers set up
20:00 All lights out!
20:00 Deep-Sky Challenge starts
20:15 Constellation Exploration starts

Saturday
08:30 Beginner’s Programme, continued
10:30 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
11:00 Africa in Space – Kechil Kirkham
11:45 Building (a pinch of) SALT – Alan Cassells
12:30 Detecting the Sun in Microwaves [demo] – Evan Knox-Davies
13:00 Braai
14:30 Modelling MeerKAT – Bani van der Merwe
15:00 A New Glimpse of the Old Cape Observatory – Auke Slotegraaf
15:45 Feedback: Constellation Exploration & Deep-Sky Challenge
16:00 World Famous SSP Pub Quiz
18:00 Group photo
19:30 Beginner’s Programme, continued
20:00 All lights out! Deep-Sky Challenge, continued, Constellation Exploration (repeat)

Sunday
09:00 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
10:00 Presentation of certificates
Farewell until next time! (2016 Autumn SSP, February 05 – 07)

Tea and coffee available 24/7. Bring your own midnight snacks!

By 18:45 almost all of the 33 prospective SSP attendees were accounted for and we had on site the following:

Deon & Ronelle Beugemann, Alan & Rose Cassells, Martin Coetzee, Evan Knox-Davies, Barry & Miemie Dumas (both new), Iain Finlay, Louis Fourie (new) Sebastian Guile & Aurelie Lemiere, Kechil Kirkham, Annatjie Kunz (new), Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer, Marius & Kim Reitz (new), John Richards, James Smith, Alida Taljard (new), Chris Vermeulen, Gerhard Vermeulen, Wendy Vermeulen (none of the Vermeulen triplets are related) and Willem van Zyl, plus Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and myself.

Dwayne Engelbrecht & Clair Ingram (new) as well as Leslie Rose were still on the road while Bani van der Merwe (new) would only arrive on Saturday.

Back & standing from left to right: Auke, Alan, Rose, Barry, Miemie, Annatjie, Alida, John, Kim, Marius, Evan, Edward, Lynnette, Bani, Leslie, Eddy, Louis, Iain, Willem, Clair, Gerhard, Dwayn, Aurelie, Sebastian. Front & seated, kneeling or reclining from left to right: Paul, Chris, James, Martin, Kechil, Jannie, Wendy, Ronelle, Deon.
Back & standing from left to right: Auke, Alan, Rose, Barry, Miemie, Annatjie, Alida, John, Kim, Marius, Evan, Edward, Lynnette, Bani, Leslie, Eddy, Louis, Iain, Willem, Clair, Gerhard, Dwayne, Aurelie, Sebastian. Front & seated, kneeling or reclining from left to right: Paul, Chris, James, Martin, Kechil, Jannie, Wendy, Ronelle, Deon. Snorre was temporarily AWOL.

The evening was clear, except for a few small clouds very low down to the southeast so, after welcoming everyone, we got started. The serious observers and astrophotographers did their own thing, as usual, and the constellation hunters gathered round Auke while the total newcomers and I sat down next to Lorenzo, the 10” Dobby.

Top: Night shot across the dam by Chris Vermeulen showing the light pollution from Bonnievale reflected on the low clouds. This has increased considerably in the recent past. Left: Another shot by Chris showing the light pollution, quite a few stars and the red trails of people moving around with red lights in the foreground. Centre: This photograph by Chris shows just how much glare is created by the red lights of the astronomers. Right: In this shot Chris has captured lots of stars including the large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: Here Chris captured the eastern sky with Orion’s belt and sword dead centre.
Top: Night shot across the dam by Chris Vermeulen showing the light pollution from Bonnievale reflected on the low clouds. This has increased considerably in the recent past. Left: Another shot by Chris showing the light pollution, quite a few stars and the red trails of people moving around with red lights in the foreground. Centre: This photograph by Chris shows just how much glare is created by the red lights of the astronomers. Right: In this shot Chris has captured lots of stars including the large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: Here Chris captured the eastern sky with Orion’s belt and sword dead centre.

My system for the beginners (Alida Taljaard and Annatjie Kunz) was to show them how to use the Discover! Charts (go here to download them for free) and ConCards (they are available for free here). Once they understand how to use them, they will be able to find their way around the sky in the future. I emphasized that Rome was not built in one day and neither does one become a clued up amateur astronomer in the course of one evening or one weekend. I used Lorenzo to show them interesting objects and pointed out the various symbols representing these objects on the charts. I explained the movements of the stars in the sky and pointed out the South Celestial Pole. Unfortunately Crux was just below the horizon so I had to employ an alternative to finding south for the group. We systematically worked our way from Pavo, and Triangulum Australe, Ara, Sagittarius and Scutum round to Pegasus and later included Taurus. By 23:30 the dew had become a problem for Lorenzo, so we decided to pack up and go to bed.

On Saturday morning the beginners and I got together in the tent and I ran through some of the key aspects of using star maps again. We were later joined by Martin Coetzee and Eddy Nijeboer. We also covered the use of the Southern Star Wheel (this can be downloaded for free here). We discussed the importance of the Loss of the Night project (please go here to read more about this) as well as sources of guidelines for amateur astronomers, such as ASSA’s Stargazing 101 notes (These notes can be viewed and downloaded here). The ASSA Big 5 in the African Sky initiative was also discussed (Please go here to read more about this project). The group was shown that invaluable amateur astronomy aid, the Star Guide Africa South.

Top: From left to right are, Eddy (standing), Martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself. Bottom: martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself.
Top: From left to right are, Eddy (standing), Martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself. Bottom: martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself.

During the discussions I emphasized that astronomy was a hobby that they should practice solely for their own enjoyment. Each person should determine their own rate of progress and also the level of expertise they personally wished to attain. There was absolutely no external pressure to perform to any predefined level or meet any externally imposed criteria.

The inevitable question about which telescope they should buy came up and my answer was none, at least not until they had achieved some proficiency with the naked eye and binoculars. When they did eventually buy a telescope, they should only do so after consultation with some knowledgeable people and not just buy one off the shelf from the local outdoor goods store.

At 11:00 Kechil presented her informative talk on Africa in Space dressed in her space suite for dramatic effect. Kechil gave an interesting overview which highlighted the role of South Africa and, in particular, the South African Space Agency.

Left: The visitor from outer space approaches. Top Right: This slide neatly sums up what Ketchil's talk was about. Bottom Right: Kechil answering questions.
Left: The visitor from outer space approaches. Top Right: This slide neatly sums up what Ketchil’s talk was about. Bottom Right: Kechil answering questions.

At 11:45 Alan demonstrated his magnificent model of SALT in a talk titled Building (a pinch of) SALT, giving details of the problems he had experienced during the building process and highlighting the importance of his visit to SALT in perfecting the model.

Top Left: The shuttle, Saturn V (1/187 scale) and SALT (1/144 scale). Bottom Left: Closer view of SALT. Top & Bottom Right: Alan demonstrating the intricate steps of the latest craze “The SALT”.
Top Left: The shuttle, Saturn V (1/187 scale) and SALT (1/144 scale). Bottom Left: Closer view of SALT. Top & Bottom Right: Alan demonstrating the intricate steps of the latest craze “The SALT”.
Chris is all ears (and eyes).
Chris is all ears (and eyes).

Just before the lunch time braai, at 12:30, Evan explained his ingenious radio telescope, which he had built using a discarded television dish aerial, in his talk Detecting the Sun in Microwaves and demonstrated it afterwards.

Top: Evan explaining the technicalities of his device. Bottom: Everyone gathered round the telescope for the demonstration.
Top: Evan explaining the technicalities of his device. Bottom: Everyone gathered round the telescope for the demonstration.

I had laid and made the fires, with the able assistance of Marius and supervision by Kim and Miemie, so by 13:00 the coals were just right and everyone could get going and prepare lunch. The braai was, as always, a very relaxed opportunity to socialize and everyone made good use of it. Bani arrived during lunch so we were all set for the afternoon’s entertainment.

Top Left: Allan in his role as Braai Master. Top Middle: Marius, Evan and James sweating it out. Centre Left: Martin getting instructions by phone. Right: Sebastian and Aurelie looking very happy. Bottom Left: Barry and Miemie having a blast.
Top Left: Allan in his role as Braai Master. Top Middle: Marius, Evan and James sweating it out. Centre Left: Martin getting instructions by phone. Right: Sebastian and Aurelie looking very happy. Bottom Left: Barry and Miemie having a blast.
Top Left: The braai extravaganza in full swing. Top Right: Leslie and James in the foreground with Annatjie in the background. Right, second from the top: James and Paul with Alan, martin and Rose in the background. Bottom Left: Annatjie getting that meat done just right. Bottom Centre: Kim, Marius and Leslie (back to the camera). Bottom Right: Miemie and Barry hard at work.
Top Left: The braai extravaganza in full swing. Top Right: Leslie and James in the foreground with Annatjie in the background. Right, second from the top: James and Paul with Alan, Martin and Rose in the background. Bottom Left: Annatjie getting that meat done just right. Bottom Centre: Kim, Marius and Leslie (back to the camera). Bottom Right: Miemie and Barry hard at work.
Left Top: James taking a peek at the sun while Ronelle waits her turn. Left Top: James Sun has brought John to his knees while Auke, Paul, Martin and Deon look on. Right: Marius taking a good look at the sun.
Left Top: James taking a peek at the sun while Ronelle waits her turn. Left Bottom: The Sun has brought John to his knees while Auke, Paul, Martin and Deon look on. Right: Marius taking a good look at the sun.

At 14:30 Bani entertained us with the trials and tribulations of building models of the radio telescope dishes in his talk Modelling MeerKAT. Over and above the technical differences he has also had to cope with a burglary which relocated his tools and a subsequent holdup at gunpoint.

Left: Bani explaining finer details. Right: Everyone gathered round to see the tiny parts.
Left: Bani explaining finer details. Right: Everyone gathered round to see the tiny parts.

Auke’s talk at 15:00, A New Glimpse of the Old Cape Observatory, took us back to the roots of scientific astronomy in Southern Africa and in fact in Africa. The talk left one very concerned about the preservation of this heritage.

Top: Auke with Louis and Chris on his left. Middle: Evan looking sceptical about the levitation technique Auke is explaining. Bottom: The Royal Observatory sketched in its very early days.
Top: Auke with Louis and Chris on his left. Middle: Evan looking skeptical about the levitation technique Auke is explaining. Bottom: The Royal Observatory sketched in its very early days.
Top Left: Rose knits while Alan and Paul ponder a problem. Right: Martin in a mischievous mood. Bottom Left: Does the bottle in his hand possibly explain why Martin doesn’t know the front of the telescope from the back?
Top Left: Rose knits while Alan and Paul ponder a problem. Right: Martin in a mischievous mood. Bottom Left: Does the bottle in his hand possibly explain why Martin doesn’t know the front of the telescope from the back?

We were running a bit late, so we skipped the feedback session and went straight on the World Famous SSP Pub Quiz. Lynnette and I had selected the teams and we hoped we had come up with reasonably balanced ones. The final teams were:

Team A – Barry & Miemie, Evan, Marius & Kim and Leslie.
Team B – Deon & Ronelle, Aurelie and Sebastian, Kechil, Eddy & Jannie
Team C – Paul, John, James, Alida, Chris and Wendy
Team D – Alan & Rose, Martin, Iain, Willem, Annatjie, Louis and Bani

Lynnette rewriting the team lists because of the non-arrivals.
Lynnette rewriting the team lists because of the non-arrivals.

The teams ended up numerically unequal because of late withdrawals mostly by novices, but we decided not to move people around because it would have meant splitting up couples, which is a very unpopular move. The first round was a team event in which we would have five rounds of five questions each. Each member of a team that dropped out received a chocolate as a consolation prize. The winning team was Team D and they each received a 250 ml bottle of Nuy Red Muscadel and a chocolate.

After the group rounds, each team selected two members to represent them in the individual competition. The final group consisted of Alan, Evan, Bani, Chris, Deon, James, Leslie and Sebastian. The individual rounds took longer than expected because we had to have repeat rounds when two people tied on the lowest score to determine who had to fall out. These delays meant we had to interrupt the competition so that we could take the group photo while the light was good. After this unscheduled break we resumed and eventually James Smith was the winner with Leslie Rose in second place and Evan Knox-Davies, winner on two previous occasions, in third place. James received the coveted SSP floating Rosette, donated by SCOPEX, as well as a bottle of red wine and a bottle of Nuy Red Muscadel.

Left: Edward the grand Inquisitor and the worthy winner of the 2015 SSP Floating Rosette. James Smith. Right: The competitors in the individual competition trying to puzzle out an obscurity.
Left: Edward the grand Inquisitor and the worthy winner of the 2015 SSP Floating Rosette. James Smith. Right: The competitors in the individual competition trying to puzzle out an obscurity.

After the Pub Quiz we had delicious cup cakes which Gesina had baked for our “10th birthday” and, as is often the case with things like this, everybody was going to photograph them but eventually nobody did! They were, however, delicious.

We made several mistakes with this Pub Quiz and if we present it in this format again, these will be rectified. The first mistake was to have eliminated teams in the group stage. We should have allowed all the teams to stay in the competition for all five or six rounds and then determined a winner based on the highest total score. The second mistake was again the elimination process in the individual section. Next time we will do six rounds and determine the winner based on the combined highest score. If there are two people with the same score, an elimination round or rounds will decide the winner.

Dwayne and his crew had made a mutton “potjie” which they were kind enough to share with Auke, Lynnette and I before the evening’s proceedings started. After supper we started the evening’s proceedings under clear skies, except for a few wisps of cloud to the north and northwest. I put the beginner through their paces with the star charts and the constellations as well as individual stars and deep sky objects to see if they had grasped the basics from the previous night and the morning session. In the process we covered the sky from Pavo all the way to Taurus again. After that we moved on to Orion, Canis Major, Lepus, Monceros, Puppis and Carina. I think the beginners have a reasonable grasp of how to use the star charts to find constellations and orientate themselves for finding specific objects; provided they do not wait too long and forget everything. I am confident that they have the basics to get their astronomy going if they practice. By midnight we had patchy high clouds moving in from the northwest and the dew was quite heavy so we decided to call it a night. Lynnette and I went to bed, but there were discussions elsewhere that went on until much, much later.

M31. I was surprised by the eventual result as this deep sky object was very close to the horizon and there was a haze on the northern horizon as well as a humidity of 80%.
M31. I was surprised by the eventual result as this deep sky object was very close to the horizon and there was a haze on the northern horizon as well as a humidity of 80%.

Most people left early on Sunday, because nobody had participated in the Deep Sky Challenge, so there were no certificates to be handed out. On Sunday evening it was fairly cloudy, so everyone that was left (Auke, Lynnette and I, Alan & Rose, Barry & Miemie, Chris, Iain & Willem, John and Louis) got together for a braai.

Monday was departure time for Auke, Barry & Miemie, Chris, John and Louis. Monday night was partially cloudy all night so no astronomy for us. On Tuesday Tertius and his crew came to take the tent down and on Tuesday night it was partially cloudy so again no astronomy. On Wednesday Alan & Rose, Lynnette, Snorre and I packed up and headed for home leaving Iain & Willem to enjoy the peace and quiet at Night Sky. On the way home we stopped off at Pitkos to buy wine, green fig and other fruit preserves, and some baby beetroot for Lynnette to pickle.

Top: The overloaded Ark, sorry Vito. .
The overloaded Ark, sorry Vito. .
The trailer, loaded to capacity and possibly a bit over the mark
The trailer, loaded to capacity and possibly a bit over the mark
This sign at Pitkos caught my eye while buying wine.
This sign at Pitkos caught my eye while buying wine.
This sign dashed any hopes I had about negotiating a discount.
This sign dashed any hopes I had about negotiating a discount.

That wraps up the Spring Southern Star party and now we start organizing the summer event from the 5th to the 7th of February, 2016.

Some comments we received from people who attended the event.

“We are back from a fantastic weekend of stargazing at Nightsky Caravan park where the Spring Southern Star party was held. Thank you to Edward, Lynette and Auke for all the hard work to make this a wonderful learning experience! We re-kindled friendships, made lots of new ones and are already looking forward to February 2016! A big thank you to all the guest speakers for once again broadening our general knowledge. We managed to spot the following constellations and deep sky objects: • Orion Constellation and Nebula • Triangulum Constellation and galaxy • Aries Constellation • Andromeda galaxy • Pegasus Constellation • Sagittarius • Corona Australis • Tucana Constellation and TUC 47 globular cluster • Musca Constellation • The Chamaeleon • Messier M7 NGC 6475 • Messier M6 NGC 6405 Butterfly cluster • Scorpius Constellation • Triangulum Australe • Pleiades in Taurus • Large Magellanic cloud • Small Magellanic cloud • Tarantula Nebula • Messier 55 NGC 6809 in Sagittarius • Messier 77 NGC 1608 in Cetus • Eridanus constellation • Teapot asterism in Sagittarius • Circinus Constellation • Planetary alignment of Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Moon. • Satellite iridium flare”

“Sjoe die tyd vlieg verby. Dis amper al weer ‘n week gelede wat ons mekaar ontmoet het. Ek wil net weereens baie, baie dankie sê vir die geleentheid wat ek
gehad het om die naweek se SSP by te woon. Ek het geweldig baie geleer. Vir my was dit ‘n belewenis en ek sal baie graag nog meer wil leer. Dankie vir ‘n stunning event en al jul moeite en reëlings was baie goed.” (Heavens but time flies. It is almost a week since we met each other.  I would like to, once more, say thenk you very, very much for the opportunity that I had over the weekend to attend the SSP. I learnt an enormous amount. I found it an exceptional experience and would very much like to learn more. Thank you for the stunning event and all your efforts; the organization was very good.)

“Ons moet eintlik vir julle dankie sê. Alles het vlot verloop danksy julle tyd en opoffering.” (We should actually thank you. Everything went very smoothly thanks to to the time and effort you put in.)

The organization for the event was excellent. The hospitality ensured that no body felt left out. Thanks to the organizers for a successful meeting.
The organization for the event was excellent. The hospitality ensured that nobody felt left out. Thanks to the organizers for a successful meeting.

Waltons in Stellenbosch – Tried and trusted sponsors of the Southern Star Party.

Waltons sponsors essentials for the 10th SSP

At each Southern Star Party (SSP) we need notebooks, find paper, pencils, clips and a host of other stationery items.  Over the past three years Waltons in Stellenbosch has been a major supporter of the SSP because they have supplied us with these items at a very respectable discount. The November 2015 SSP has been no exception with Nicardo Basson and his team of very capable assistants at the Stellenbosch branch of Waltons once again supporting us.  This SSP, the tenth one since March 2011, will once again be a resounding success thanks to their generous support.

The well appointed interior of the Waltons branch in Stellenbosch.
The well appointed interior of the Waltons branch in Stellenbosch.
It really is a pleasur to shop for things when one has a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable person like Yaseen to help one. Thanks once again Yaseen, you are a star!
It really is a pleasure to shop for things when one has a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable person like Yaseen to help one. Thanks once again Yaseen, you are a star!
The very friendly and helpful branch manager of Waltons in Stellenbosch, Nicardo Basson. Thanks once again Nicardo and we would love to have you actually attend an SSP>
The very friendly and helpful branch manager of Waltons in Stellenbosch, Nicardo Basson, chatting to Lynnette. Thanks once again Nicardo and we would love to have you actually attend an SSP.

Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.

The main objective of the weekend was to try out the enclosure the owner of Leeuwenbosch, Johan Roux, had built for the use of astronomers visiting the farm. Barry Dumas had been there during the Solar eclipse in September and found it to be very satisfactory. We had invited the members of the Cape Centre as well as Auke, Martin, Leslie, Iain, Willem and Wendy along but only Leslie, Willem, Iain, Jennifer and Wendy could eventually make it.

Our trip got off to a good start in the sense that we did not spend the entire night packing, as we often do. We were also finished and ready to go about 20 minutes before our planned departure time of 10:00 on Friday. Then disaster struck because Snorre was nowhere to be found. So we waited and notified Joan at Leeuwenboschfontein and all other parties that we were delayed. We looked everywhere, then we looked everywhere for a second, third and eventually umpteenth time, but Snorre was missing and the clock was ticking. Should we leave without Snorre and let Lynnette’s sister, Petro, feed him until we returned after the weekend? Should we cancel the trip unload everything and continue searching for him? Should we unload all the perishables, put them back in the fridge and freezer and just wait until Snorre pitched up? We decided on the last course of action. So 12:00 came and went, followed by 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00 and with each passing hour the tension mounted. Finally at about 15:30 His Nibs, Woolly Britches appeared from heaven knows where, stretching and yawning as if nothing was wrong!

Action stations! Snorre was shoved, rather unceremoniously, into his carry cage to prevent him doing another duck and Lynnette and I got everything we had unloaded back into the Vito, phoned everyone to notify them that Snorre had been found and hit the road at 16:30; a mere six and a half hours late. By the time we exited the Huguenot tunnel Leslie was already at the first stop-and-go of the road works in the Hex River-valley. The rest of our trip went very smoothly and we arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein around 18:50 to find Leslie already set up. Jennifer, who had taken the scenic route via Robertson, Ashton, Montagu, the Keisie and the Koo to Leeuwenboschfontein, had also arrived and settled in. Iain and Willem were expected the following day on their way back from Victoria West and Wendy was only due to arrive on the Sunday.

Top Left: Brackenfell Boulevard just as the dreaded 5-O'clock traffic was starting to build up. Top Right: Finally on the N1 and headed North. Bottom Left : Today we are in a hurry so we go under the mountain and not over it. Bottom Right: The Huguenot Tunnel and just visible on the left the entrance to the spare tunnel which SANRAL claims they have, in 20 years not had the cash to develop.
Top Left: Brackenfell Boulevard just as the dreaded 5-O’clock traffic was starting to build up. Top Right: Finally on the N1 and headed North. Bottom Left: Today we are in a hurry so we go under the mountain and not over it. Bottom Right: The Huguenot Tunnel and just visible on the left the entrance to the spare tunnel which SANRAL claims they have, in 20 years not had the cash to develop.
Top Left: Not even properly summer yet and we have the first veld fire in Du Toit's Kloof. Top Right: Into the Brede River Vally with mountains behind Worcester full of shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. Bottom Left: Worcester straight ahead just below the mountains. Bottom Right: Beautiful sandstone cliffs of the Hex River Mountains west of De Doorns.
Top Left: Not even properly summer yet and we have the first veld fire in the northern section of Du Toit’s Kloof pass. Top Right: Into the Breede River Valley with the mountains behind Worcester full of shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. Bottom Left: Worcester straight ahead just below the mountains. Bottom Right: Beautiful sandstone cliffs in the Hex River Mountains west of De Doorns.
Top Left: The southern end of the Hex River Valley looking toward Orchard and Sandhills. Top Right: At last we leave the N1 and now it is another 25 km on the R318 and then about 12 km on gravel to our destination. Bottom Left: Almost at the turnoff and then it is 12 km on gravel down the Nougaskloof to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom Right: Nougaspoort is the narrow entrance to Nougaskloof, just in case you were wondering.
Top Left: The southern end of the Hex River Valley looking toward Orchard and Sandhills. Top Right: At last we leave the N1 and now it is another 25 km on the R318 and then about 12 km on gravel to our destination. Bottom Left: Almost at the turnoff and then it is 12 km on gravel down the Nougaskloof to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom Right: Nougaspoort is the narrow entrance to Nougaskloof, just in case you were wondering.

We unpacked, had supper and set up as fast as we could. It was dark but lights from the two ablution blocks were a problem especially for Leslie’s astrophotography. As fast as Leslie switched them off somebody would switch them on again! We did not see our way open to driving down to the enclosed astronomy area about a kilometre away in the dark and, as there was no power down there, the move would have been entirely counterproductive for Leslie. One camping family came along to see what we were up to so I did a basic what’s up tonight with them. They were, however, such nice people that I really did not mind spending the time doing that. It was dark, very, very much darker than at any site in or near Cape Town, but the seeing was not very good because of the windy conditions and corresponding turbulence in the atmosphere.

The large Magellanic Cloud taken from the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein. Camera: NIKON D5100 Lense: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G ISO 400 10s - f/1.8 Tripod mounted
The large Magellanic Cloud taken from the campsite at Leeuwenboschfontein. Camera: NIKON D5100 Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1,8G ISO 400 & 10s – f/1.8 – Tripod mounted

By midnight I was having problems with dew despite the fact that the wind had freshened quite considerably so Lynnette and I decided to call it a night and go to bed, leaving Leslie to brave the elements. Before going to bed I took a set of dark sky readings and also used the new Loss of the Night application on my cell phone as a comparison.

There are lots of birds (both in numbers and species) insects, and there are still plenty of flowers in the veld due to the good rains that fell during the winter.
There are lots of birds (both in numbers and species) insects, and there are still plenty of flowers in the veld due to the good rains that fell during the winter.

On Saturday we had a cold, blustery wind that had developed during the early hours of the morning, and a sky full of large fluffy clouds. Poor Leslie had spent a miserably cold night on his stretcher and his set-up and camp had been so vandalized by the wind that he decided to pack it in and head back to Cape Town. No amount of persuasion, offers of more and warmer bedding or the lure of better conditions later in the weekend, could change his mind. He did agree to let me show him the astronomy enclosure but he wasn’t all that impressed because there was no power, so his equipment would not be able to function. Iain and Willem arrived later in the day and by then the wind had abated considerably and the clouds had become a lot smaller with much, much larger gaps between them too. By Saturday evening the wind had all but died down, but the wandering clouds made constructive observing very difficult even though we had eventually convinced the remaining campers that the lights in the ablution blocks did not have to be on continuously.

Top Left: Lots of interesting cloud patterns. Top Right: Beautiful Earth shadow and Girdle of Venus. Bottom Left: Nice sunset (looking east though) with my shadow in the bottom left hand corner. Bottom Right: Sunset looking across the dam and the camp site.
Top Left: Lots of interesting cloud patterns. Top Right: Beautiful Earth shadow and Girdle of Venus. Bottom Left: Nice sunset (looking east though) with my shadow in the bottom right hand corner. Bottom Right: Sunset looking across the dam and the camp site.

On Sunday the weather was much better and by the time Wendy arrived it was looking very promising for the evening’s observing. We decided to try out the observing enclosure and found, to our satisfaction, that the Guest Farm’s lights were only visible if one stood right up against the eastern wall and looked west. The 1,8 m vibracrete walls also provided ample protection from the wind. The headlights of cars passing on the road, about one km away did catch the top slabs of the western wall. Although night traffic is infrequent this problem will be discussed with the Johan Roux’s (snr. & jnr.). Despite the very dark skies the seeing was at best fair to good but not excellent or exceptional, probably due to instability in the upper atmosphere caused by the approaching front. Wendy, Iain and Willem left at about 23:00 and Lynnette and I packed up just after midnight, when the dew got the better of us. We left our telescope, well wrapped, to keep Wendy’s company for the rest of the night. Being able to leave ones equipment in safety is another advantage of having the enclosure.

Top Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking south. Top Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. The door in the corner is the entrance. Bottom Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. Bottom Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking east. The door in the corner is the loo and the red windsock just visible behind the door measures gives an indication of the wind speed.
Top Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking south. Top Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. The door in the corner is the entrance. Bottom Left: View from inside the astro-compound looking west. Bottom Right: View from inside the astro-compound looking east. The door in the corner is the loo and the red windsock just visible behind the door gives an indication of the wind direction and speed.
Top: A view of the astro-compound from the outside looking south and standing on the airstrip. Bottom: the team applying chicken manure to the grass inside and preparing the area around the compound for planting aloes and other indigenous flowering plants.
Top: A view of the astro-compound from the outside looking south while standing on the airstrip. Bottom: The work detail applying chicken manure to the grass inside and preparing the area around the compound for planting aloes and other indigenous flowering plants.

Wendy headed home on Monday and as the camp was now empty, other than for Lynnette, myself, Ian and Willem we decided to observe from the camp as it would be possible to switch off all lights. When Lynnette and I went to fetch our telescope we found that the staff was applying liberal amounts of very smelly chicken manure to the grass in the enclosure in order to speed up its growth. Observing there would have been a very smelly activity. That evening Johan Roux (snr.) joined us for some star gazing. I was astounded when he admitted that he had never spent time outside at night to specifically look at the stars. He, on the other hand, was very surprised to see what a negative effect the exposed outside lights around the homestead and guest house had on ones night vision. We will in future be allowed to switch them off when doing stargazing at Leeuwenboschfontein. Shortly after Johan left us to go to bed a sheet of thin, high cloud rolled in and put an end to our stargazing. I got up after 01:00 to answer a call of nature and found that the clouds had departed, but I was too bloody lazy to get dressed and set up the telescope again.

No I am not going to a fancy dress party as a medieval knight. This is my latest discovery, an electric head warmer. Apparently Leslie also uses it as a Dewzapper.
No I am not going to a fancy dress party as a medieval knight. This is my latest discovery, an electric head warmer. Apparently Leslie also uses it as a Dewzapper on his telescope.

On Tuesday the weather was beautiful but in the afternoon the clouds came in again and stayed. Lynnette and I decided to stick it out until Wednesday, hoping the weather would clear but it actually got worse and by 21:00 on Wednesday night it was raining steadily with some distant thunder as appropriate background music. We both had our doubts about getting the Vito through the few sticky patches on the gravel road between Leeuwenboschfontein and the R318 but it did not rain enough to adversely affect the road and by Thursday morning it was clearing nicely.

Snorre, alias Mr, Walkabout and aka The Purring Houdini.
Snorre, alias Mr, Walkabout and aka The Purring Houdini.

As a precautionary measure Mr Wanderlust was put into his harness and his leash tied to a pole where one of us could always keep an eye on him. While I went of to wash the breakfast dishes Snorre attempted to pull off one of his Houdini-style escapes from the harness but Lynnette was too quick for him, I then shoved him into his carry cage. Needless to say, Snorre was not a happy cat having his freedom of movement curtailed like that.

Standing in the centre of the campsite I attempted to construct a panoramic view of the site. West is almost dead centre in this view.
Standing in the centre of the campsite I attempted to construct a panoramic view of the site. West is almost dead centre in this view.

So, what are the prospects for Leeuwenboschfontein as a stargazing venue? I think it has definite potential and here is my list of positives, in no particular order.

  1. The owners are very positive about hosting astronomers.
  2. The average annual rainfall is much lower than that in and around Cape Town.
  3. It is within easy driving distance of Cape Town.
  4. There is fairly priced accommodation available for all tastes.
  5. The availability of an astro-enclosure means that astronomy enthusiasts do not have to fight with campers about the lights in the camp or their smoky braai fires.
  6. Astronomers will not be pestered by campers wanting to look through their telescopes or discuss astronomy down at the astro-enclosure. If anyone feels the need to do outreach they just have stay in the camp and they will be inundated.
  7. We have the concession that the outside lights of the homestead and guest house can be switched off to further reduce any influence they might have on viewing from the enclosure.

Negative aspects are possibly the following:

  1. The horizons are not ideally low in all directions but from the astro-enclosure they are more than acceptable.
  2. For the astrophotographers the non-availability of power at the enclosure is a problem but, at least for the present, a large battery and an inverter will provide a solution.

Please go here to visit Leeuwenboschfontein’s website or you may view their Facebook page here.

In my opinion there is no other site that is safe, offers the same amenities and has the same astronomy potential within easy driving distance of Cape Town. Some amateur astronomers might have private access to comparable sites but, for the average amateur in Cape Town, I think Leeuwenboschfontein offers a viable solution to a long standing problem.

Top Left: Back on the R318 heading west to the N1. Top Right: Passing what used to be Matroosberg Station. Bottom Left: The N1 and we go left. In the background some of the buildings of what used to be Bergplaas, then became Karoo 1 and now goes by the name of Karoo Hotel Village. Bottom Right: The ship and its lone sailor on the Eastern slopes of the Matroosberg that, according to some, gave the mountain its name.
Top Left: Back on the R318 heading west to the N1. Top Right: Passing what used to be Matroosberg Station. Bottom Left: The N1 and we go left. In the background some of the buildings of what used to be Bergplaas, then became Karoo 1 and now goes by the name of Karoo Hotel Village. Bottom Right: The ship and its lone sailor on the Eastern slopes of the Matroosberg that, according to some, gave the mountain its name.
Top Left: A view of the Hex River Valley from the Hex River Pass at its northern end. The arrow marks the entrance to one of the railway tunnels in the pass. Top Right: Exiting the Hex River Valley with Snorre navigating. Bottom Left: Approaching Worcester from the north-east. Bottom Right: Into Du Toit's Kloof Pass heading south.
Top Left: A view of the Hex River Valley from the Hex River Pass at its northern end. The arrow marks the entrance to one of the railway tunnels in the pass. Top Right: Exiting the Hex River Valley with Snorre navigating. Bottom Left: Approaching Worcester from the north-east. Bottom Right: Into Du Toit’s Kloof Pass heading south.
Top Left: The northern entrance of the Huguenot Tunnel and the arrow marks the spare tunnel wich was dug at the same time as the one in use now. Top Right: Out of the tunnel and heading toward the toll gates. Bottom Left: Past Paarl and Klapmuts we get our first clear view of Table Mountain. Bottom Right: About to leave the N1 and then it is just a short drive home and after coffee the dreaded unpacking and putting away.
Top Left: The northern entrance of the Huguenot Tunnel and the arrow marks the spare tunnel which was dug at the same time as the one in use now. Top Right: Out of the tunnel and heading toward the toll gates. Bottom Left: Past Paarl and Klapmuts we get our first clear view of Table Mountain.
Bottom Right: About to leave the N1 and then it is just a short drive home and after coffee, the dreaded unpacking and putting away.

 

Feedback on the Summer Southern Star Party: February 2015

The things that people said.

These are comments we received after the February Southern Star Party held at Night Sky Caravan Farm between Bonnievale and McGregor in the Western Cape.

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Soos gewoonlik, was die admin van die SSP sonder veel moeite gedoen. Baie dankie aan Ed en Auke vir hul hulp en bystand. Sonder hulle sou dit ook nie vir my moontlik gewees het nie. Dit is mos so dat as mens iets geniet, dan is dit maklik!  Soos wat die tyd aanstap en ons nou al by die 9de SSP verby is, probeer ons elke jaar om “iets anders” te doen. Dit word nou egter al hoe moeiliker om elke keer “iets anders” te doen, want mens wil ook nie te veel van die gewone patroon afwyk nie. Maar ons gaan ons bes doen om die 10de SSP ‘n ware fees te maak!

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It was totally awesome in all astronomical proportions and yes you can pre-book me for November 2015 as I will be there.

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Thanks so much for that wonderful weekend. It was our first Star Party, but definitely not the last one. Unfortunately we are not able to come in spring but we are coming to the next summer party.

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Thank you for organising such a lovely experience with all you bright stars last weekend.

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Thank you very much – was an awesome weekend. See you again. Ons wil net BAIE dankie sê vir n ongelooflike naweek. Die organisasie was puik en ons het oneindig baie geleer.  Hou ons asb op julle databasis vir alle toekomstige uitstappies.

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What a great weekend! Far away from civilisation, under the stars with some of the most intelligent people in SA!  Update on SKA, learning of the sun, history of the Cederberg Observatory and Astrophotography!  Thank you Auke for the deep sky talks and the Big 5 of the African Sky. Thank you Lynnette and Edward Foster for arranging the weekend!

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A big thanks from me for the weekend – I found it extremely well organised and very informative. I spent Saturday night / Sunday morning until 2am with Auke and a few other beginners having a never ending list of “let’s just look at one more thing”, all of it amazing and incredible!

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All in all brilliant!

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Well done on arranging another successful SSP!

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SSP Pub Quiz is fun – could include a varied range of questions from different categories. Auke is a wealth of knowledge – thanks for a great ConEx!

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Ek is ‘n totale leek wanneer dit by sterrekunde kom, maar ek het dit so geniet en het inderwaarheid reeds ‘n early bird bespreking vir Novemer 2015 gemaak!

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Net weer ‘n dankie van ons gesin af vir julle 3 (beslis ‘n wenspan!). Ons het die afgelope naweek ongelooflik baie geleer & geniet. Glo ons sal in die toekoms weer saam kamp. Dankie vir jul puik organisasie en passie waarmee jul die kamp aangebied het.

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We would like to thank you once more for your great generosity in inviting us to this informative SSP Meeting. We admire your talent and idealistic engagement in organizing and hosting such an event.

Some people took a bit longer to say what they felt

Chris Forder writes:

“I have just returned from a wonderful week-end in the company of top stars, making new friends and renewing old acquaintances. No. I’m not talking about the Oscars, I’m talking about the 2015 Southern Star Party. What a wonderful collection of people, lectures, stories and telescopes.
“The organisation was great, thanks to Ed, Lynette and Auke. You guys did a great job and even though the weather on Friday night was overcast, there were a few of us who stayed up watching the growing number of gaps in the clouds and counting the ever increasing number of stars until, at just after midnight, we could start looking through telescopes.
“Saturday was a day of lectures and there was a wide variety of subjects covered. The evening cleared up and from 20:00 we had beautiful, dark starry skies. It was a lovely evening of viewing, talking and listening to Auke’s commentary of what was above us. It was also good to see an area specifically set up for astrophotography where a few astrophotographers stayed up till dawn on Sunday imaging.
“It was a really worthwhile week-end in a first class location, enjoyed by a collection of enthusiasts of all ages. I can’t wait for the next one (as long as it does not clash with my Cederberg duties)!”

Volker and Aka Kühn (all the way from Germany) write:

“We would like to thank you once more for your great generosity in inviting us to this informative SSP Meeting. We admire your talent and idealistic engagement in organizing and hosting such an event. It was absolute perfection, except for the chilly weather, which none of us could influence.
“As you know, the success of a meeting or a conference also depends on the participants and the material they present. It was a good mixture of papers, covering the interests of beginners and the more advanced among the group. This meeting inspires me to go through my pile of National Geographicmagazines back home, to review all these interesting articles about astronomy and the universe, they published in the past.
“Unfortunately, we cannot contribute much about the Northern Sky. The light pollution in our densely populated country, besides the miserable weather most of the time, limited our interests in sky watching there. However, we’ll contact our excellent WDR-TV science journalist and moderator Rangar Yogeshwar to get in touch with you. He has his own observatory near Cologn and he is travelling the world, also quite often to Southern Africa.
“The Southern Sky in contrary has always fascinated me more while travelling through the outback of Australia in 1961. I looked all night at the brilliant sky, watching orbiting Sputniks. We were in our sleeping bags under the sky without a tent and dead tired the next day.
“At this point we would like to thank all the speakers for their passionate work. We enjoyed in particular Auke’s sense of humour and admire his passion for astronomy. We were also fascinated by reading his book about the “Pearls of the Southern Sky”. Since you Lynnette, are the administrator of the SSP, the smooth run of the event was also your merit. You Ed, with all your great knowledge and life experience, you are an excellent entertainer. We learned so much from you. I am sure, all your knowledge would fill a book.
“We are looking forward to see you under the Southern Sky next year again. By then we’ll have warmer clothes and binoculars with us.”

Chris Vermeulen writes:

“If some one were to ask me about the highlights of my summer this year, my response would without a doubt be Summer SSP 2015. Now I know some people would not get it and would stand confused as to what summer SSP 2015. I would then tell them this: ‘My dear friends SSP is the life-blood that brings friends and families together. They gather in the quiet of nature and share their passion for Astronomy.’
“From the moment I arrived on Friday 20 February I was met with such warmth and enthusiasm and was immediately made to feel right at home. Not only did I meet up again with old friends (Auke who invited me – THANKS A 1’000’000), but I also got to meet wonderful people whom I have been chatting with on facebook and via email (that would be Ed and Lynnette Foster) and also Chris Forder). Over and above that I got to meet some other wonderful folks who all shared the same passion.
“Despite the clouds on Friday and a veld-fire polluting the sky with amber smoke, a couple of us were not deterred by it and even long after others have gone to bed we stood outside doing a bit of “star-spotting” through the clouds and eventually it cleared!!!! How glorious was that and before you could say “Ghost of Jupiter” telescopes were out and we explored the night sky.
“Saturday was equally exciting with many interesting talks and presentations – my personal favourite was Chris Forder on the history and existence of Cederberg Observatory – Oh my such passion!!! The evening was somewhat cloudy but yet again the winds of change cleared the skies and the skies were our canvas. From constellation exploration to astrophotography to general observations and just enjoying the beauty of our universe, it was awesome in just about every conceivable proportion.
“Although I seemed to have missed the llama rides and pole dancing (hahahaha). Come Sunday it was time to part ways and with a wealth of new friendships and a new ‘family’. Never shall I forget this special summer because that’s what Star People do – Sharing the Universe!!!
“To our Star People, Auke, Ed and Lynnette, hats off to the three of you for the fervour and dedication for putting together and arranging such an amazing event. You guys are super and thank you for a memorable time. I would most certainly not miss the next one.”

The Summer Southern Star Party: February 2015

It will rain, no it won’t, it will be overcast, no it won’t, the long term weather forecast is always wrong, no it isn’t, yr.no is always right, no they aren’t etc.

When I was much, much younger the girls used to take a flower, usually, a daisy if I remember correctly and then pluck the petals off reciting “he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me” etc. Depending on what the last petal “said”, one was then either elated or despondent. That is pretty much the way Auke, Lynnette and I spent the week leading up to the Summer Southern Star Party (SSP) held in February at the Night Sky Caravan Farm on the Farm Oudekraal between Bonnievale and McGregor. This was to be the ninth SSP and we had a larger than usual contingent of attendees, who included a fair number of newcomers, so it was quite important that the event should not be clouded over or, worse still, rained out.

Lynnette, as usual, handled all the bookings, answered all the queries and made sure all the financial I’s were dotted and T’s crossed. Auke looked after the website, organized speakers and performed his usual magic with designing any forms we needed. I just hung around in the background, ran errands and eventually did the loading and unloading. As the SSP approached the excitement levels rose because the bookings just kept coming and we eventually ended up with a record 61 final registrations. This figure could have been much higher, had 28 people not canceled toward the end. We watched the weather reports anxiously as they changed from sunny, to rainy, to cloudy and then back to rainy and finally settled on partially cloudy before we left for Night Sky. Apart from the weather, we thought that we might also have to contend with load shedding, but Gesina solved that problem for us by offering the use of a generator should the power go out on Saturday, during the talks. Eventually, all the preparation was done and it was time to pack up and go. As usual, all my good intentions of starting to pack in time to avoid the last minute rush and packing marathon that lasts into the wee small hours of the morning did not materialize. I also had one catastrophe when Lorenzo’s rocker box fell of the trailer while I was loading and smashed. That still has to be repaired too.

Rocker boxes are generally considered the least breakable part of a Dobsonian telescope. Take not that there is a limit to how much they can endure.
Rocker boxes are generally considered the least breakable part of a Dobsonian telescope. Take note that there is a limit to how much they can endure.

On the way to Night Sky we stopped off at Pitkos Farm Stall to purchase wine and fresh, ripe figs and have coffee, accompanied by Frances’s delicious roosterkoek with biltong and melted cheese. Once at Night Sky we unloaded the essentials and after lunch took a well-earned nap. Monday evening was a perfect evening for observing and taking photographs so we only got to bed around 03:00. On Tuesday we relaxed, recuperating from the hectic run-up to the SSP. Tuesday night was again a fine night although the seeing was not quite as good as on Monday.

A collage of photographs I took on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
A collage of photographs I took on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

On Wednesday Anneliese and Tersius of Bonnievale Verhurings arrived with an assistant to pitch the marquee tent and shortly afterward Alan and Rose arrived followed later by Iain and Willem. After Alan and Rose had pitched camp they got stuck in lending a hand to get the tent organized. Wednesday evening was not a good observing night at all. On Thursday we finished off the tent with the help of Alan and Rose. Marie Eygelaar arrived in the course of the morning and Auke arrived late that afternoon. Thursday evening things started out looking good from an observing point of view, but later deteriorated and we had to pack it in. Lynnette started to worry about Wendy, who was supposed to have arrived earlier in the evening, so she attempted to phone her around midnight. By sheer luck, the call actually went through and we discovered that Wendy was in Bonnievale, hopelessly lost, having spent a fair portion of the night driving around in circles in the dark. Lynnette told her to stay put and we went off to fetch her and guide her back to Night Sky. Mission accomplished and we all went to bed.

This is the Bluebird of Astronomical Happiness aka Auke Slotegraaf photographing me in the mud.
This is the Bluebird of Astronomical Happiness aka Auke Slotegraaf photographing me in the mud.

On Friday the Sale Table was set up and the urn on the Coffee Table was hot and ready for the guests. We also put up the very large and impressive clock the SSP had purchased to make sure everyone knew what time it was and to keep time during the Pub Quiz. By late on Friday afternoon most people had arrived but so had the clouds; lots of them. To compensate for the fact that no observing based activities could take place, we moved the Pub Quiz from Saturday to Friday, hoping the weather would be kinder to us on Saturday. We had two special guests at the SSP this time, Volker and Edeltraut Kühn all the way from Pforzheim in Germany. These two have been coming to Night Sky for two months every summer since 1989, but this is the first time the SSP has coincided with their stay.

There was a lot of very constructive talking during the SSP
There was a lot of very constructive talking during the SSP – Paul Kruger (orange t-shirt, myself, mr Telescope Chris Forder and Auke Slotegraaf in blue.
Marie Eygelaar in her new role of Assistant to the Chief Administrative and Financial Officer, Lynnette
Marie Eygelaar in her new role of Assistant to the Chief Administrative and Financial Officer, Lynnette
Chris's telescope before assembly
Chris’s telescope before assembly
Chris's telescope being assembled and admired by Paul Kruger, Alan Cassells and Deon Begemann
Chris’s telescope being assembled and admired by Paul Kruger, Alan Cassells and Deon Begemann
Some general shots of the marquee, inside and outside
Some general photographs of the marquee, inside and outside

One of our newcomers, Gert, Isabella and Catherina Vice come from Bredasdorp and on weekends they travel to wherever there is a show or event going and set up their stall, called “Tvice as Nice”, selling pancakes and a variety of other delicacies.  They were not at the SSP in their “official” capacity but they had come prepared to produce pancakes and compliment the Sale Table with a variety of homemade fudges. The pancakes were very well received on Friday evening and one eager individual started out with and order for five. Brilliant idea Isabella and next time I think you should provide pancakes 24/7. Do you guys do hamburgers too?

A general coverage of the Pub Quiz - note the LARGE clock
A general coverage of the Pub Quiz – Note the LARGE clock

Most of us went to bed early on Friday, convinced that the clouds were on an all-night mission. Auke, Chris Forder, Chris Vermeulen and a few other hardy souls decided to drink coffee, talk, watch the clouds, drink more coffee etc. Their patience, or was it perseverance, paid off because, just after midnight, the clouds cleared leaving them with all the stars they could have wished for, until dawn and the returning clouds sent them off to bed.

A panoramic view of the campsite early on Saturday morning
A panoramic view of the campsite early on Saturday morning

Saturday was cloudy and cooler than earlier in the week, which suited us as it made sitting in the tent listening to the talks a lot more bearable. The morning activities started at 08:30 with my presentation for the beginners. After coffee at 10:00 and some socializing, the talks kicked off at 11:00 with our main speaker Chris Forder, who presented a very interesting and entertaining history of the Cederberg Observatory. He was followed by Ray Brederode with an enlightening update on the MeerKat and SKA projects. Then it was time for the lunchtime braai and, much to our relief, Leslie and his family arrived so we did not have to implement “Plan B” to replace his talk. What was “Plan B”, by the way? Unfortunately, James Smith and Marius Reitz had to leave before the afternoon part of the programme commenced but they promised to plan their affairs better in November.

Chris Forder's talk in pictures.
Chris Forder’s talk in pictures.
Chris and I after handing over his thank you gift
Chris and I after handing over his thank you gift. Note the dreaded Vuvuzela which I was to blow the moment any presenter went over his allotted time.
Ray Brederode giving his presentation on the MeerKAT & SKA
Ray Brederode giving his presentation on the MeerKAT & SKA
Presenting Ray's thank you gift
Presenting Ray’s thank you gift

After lunch, Chris Vermeulen gave an entertaining presentation titled “Fun with the Sun & Sun viewing”. The overcast conditions, unfortunately, bamboozle his planned solar observing session. Chris was followed by Leslie Rose with “Getting started with Astrophotography” and Auke rounded off the program with his presentation on “Big 5 of the African Sky”.

Chris Vermeulens presentation on the Sun and Solar Viewing
Chris Vermeulen’s presentation on the Sun and Solar Viewing
Leslie Rose on astrophotography
Leslie Rose on astrophotography
Leslie and his son Arden with their thank you gifts
Leslie and his son Arden with their thank you gifts

 

Auke on the Big 5 of the African Sky. Rose is knitting a scarf to keep warm while looking for them.
Auke on the Big 5 of the African Sky. Rose is knitting a scarf to keep warm while looking for them.
Auke receives his thank you gift
Auke receives his thank you gift
The group on Saturday afternoon. Photograph taken by Paul Kruger. (b, l.t.r.) Auke Slotegraaf, Rhynie Greeff, Dino van Rooyen, Noeline Friend, Ali Maleka, Deon Begemann, Ronelle Begemann, Lance van Rooyen, Zander Horn, Ray Brederode, Rose Cassells, Robert Fourie, Alan Cassells, David Fourie, Lynnette Foster, Chris Forder, Chris Vermeulen, Ed Foster, Liesbeth-Helena Gouws, Graeme Silk, Vanessa Silk, Willem van Zyl, Volker Kühn, Gonda Goulooze, Iain Finlay, Barry Salmon, Corne van Dyk, Simon van Dyk, Dianne Köhler, Robin Köhler, Gert Vice, Andrea Rose, Leslie Rose, Marie Eygelaar, Isabella Vice, Catharina Vice, Wendy Vermeulen (f, l.t.r.) Monique Naude, Damian Schlechter, Martin Coetzee, Paul Kruger, Aka Kühn, Jamie Kersting, Christine Kersting, Arden Rose, Peti Troski, Lea van Dyk, Aurelie Lemiere, Sebastian Guile. (inset) Marius Reitz, Snorre, James Smith.
The group on Saturday afternoon. Photograph was taken by Paul Kruger.
(b, l.t.r.) Auke Slotegraaf, Rhynie Greeff, Dino van Rooyen, Noeline Friend, Ali Maleka, Deon Begemann, Ronelle Begemann, Lance van Rooyen, Zander Horn, Ray Brederode, Rose Cassells, Robert Fourie, Alan Cassells, David Fourie, Lynnette Foster, Chris Forder, Chris Vermeulen, Ed Foster, Liesbeth-Helena Gouws, Graeme Silk, Vanessa Silk, Willem van Zyl, Volker Kühn, Gonda Goulooze, Iain Finlay, Barry Salmon, Corne van Dyk, Simon van Dyk, Dianne Köhler, Robin Köhler, Gert Vice, Andrea Rose, Leslie Rose, Marie Eygelaar, Isabella Vice, Catharina Vice, Wendy Vermeulen
(f, l.t.r.) Monique Naude, Damian Schlechter, Martin Coetzee, Paul Kruger, Aka Kühn, Jamie Kersting, Christine Kersting, Arden Rose, Peti Troski, Lea van Dyk, Aurelie Lemiere, Sebastian Guile.
(inset) Marius Reitz, Snorre, James Smith.

It was still cloudy so everyone was given some chill time before reporting back for the group photograph and then we had supper. The cloud cover was definitely thinning so we gathered in the telescope area, glaring at the clouds, which seemed to hasten their exodus. By about 20:30 most of the clouds were gone and Auke and I could continue with the beginners observing sessions while everyone else got down to the serious business of personal observing or astrophotography. Brett du Preez, one of our SSP regulars, has moved to Pretoria where he is studying to become a veterinarian. His place in the astrophotography arena alongside Leslie was taken by Zander Horn with David and Robert Fourie.

The telescope area as the clouds began clearing on Saturday evening
The telescope area as the clouds began clearing on Saturday evening
Still a lot of cloud in that direction
Still a lot of cloud in that direction
The Astrophotographers. Leslie Rose in front and Zander and his crew at the back
Sunday morning and the Astrophotographers start packing up. Leslie Rose’s setup is closest to the camera and Zander and his crew are further back.

On Sunday it was goodbye time with lots of promises not to miss the 10th SSP in November 2015. Sunday was also Iain Finlay’s birthday and on Sunday afternoon he produced a cake (baked by Gesina) for tea. By late Sunday afternoon, it was just Lynnette and I, Auke, Alan and Rose, Wendy, Willem and Iain and Chris Vermeulen left. Chris was actually supposed to have left much earlier, as he had an appointment in Port Elizabeth the next day. He, however, enjoyed the company so much that he eventually only left at around 20:00. Snorre certainly enjoyed the SSP because there were lots of people to make a fuss of him, children to play with and lots of open space to wander around in. He was, in fact, noticeably subdued after everyone had left.

Sunday evening started out promisingly as far as observing was concerned and then around midnight, it clouded over very rapidly, sending us all to bed. Auke, Iain and Willem, as well as Alan and Rose, packed up on Monday leaving Lynnette and I with Snorre and our two German friends, Volker and Edeltraut, at Night Sky. On Monday afternoon Anneliese, Tersius and their assistant took down the marquee.  Oddly enough Lynnette and I have come to see the departure of the marquee as a sort of official end to the SSP. Lynnette and I stayed on until Wednesday hoping the weather would give us a chance to do some observing on either the Monday or Tuesday evening but there was to be no such luck.

On Wednesday we stopped off at the Pitkos Farm Stall for fresh figs, more wine and Frances’s coffee and roosterkoek. Then it was home to Brackenfell and the onerous task of unloading, unpacking and putting everything away. Maybe we should just move to Night Sky to make the whole process less of a schlep.

Thanks to Auke for his help in the planning and execution of the SSP programme and designing of forms, as well as his role as master of ceremonies and, last but not least, for preparing and presenting the Pub Quiz. A big thank you to Lynnette for handling all the administration which made the whole show run so smoothly.  Thanks, Alan and Rose, for helping to put everything up in the marquee and then take it apart again and pack it away again. Thanks also Alan for the two very professional extension leads you put together for use in the astrophotography area. Thank you also , arie for all the help you gave Lynnette.

To everyone who attended the 9th SSP heartfelt thank you. Whether you were a speaker, an ardent amateur astronomer, a keen astrophotographer, a newcomer eager to learn more about astronomy or perhaps just a supporter of a participant, your presence made the SSP a success. All the organizing in the world is worthless if nobody attends so you, the attendee, makes or breaks the SSP and we hope to see each one of you at Night Sky Caravan Farm in November for the 10th SSP.  Remember to bring friends as well!

To see some of the feedback we received please go here.

Spring Southern Star Party Astrophotos, Nov 2014

Astrophotographs taken at the Spring Southern Star Party

Four photographs taken at the SSP held on the Night Sky Caravan Farm near Bonnievale. All photographs were taken with a Nikon D5100 camera using a Nikon AF-S-NIKKOR 50mm F1.8G lens. Other details are given with each photograph.

Andromeda. The skyglow is from the lights of Robertson about 25 km away, <a href=
medicine as the crow flies. Photograph isthe result of stacking 10 photographs, here each 10 second exposures at ISO 400″ width=”800″ height=”526″ /> Andromeda. The skyglow is from the lights of Robertson about 25 km away, treat as the crow flies. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each a 10 second exposure at ISO 400
Plaeides and Taurus.  Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 0,5 second exposures at ISO 6400
Pleiades and Hyades. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 0,5 second exposures at ISO 6400
Orion. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 0,5 second exposures at ISO 6400
Orion. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 0,5 second exposures at ISO 6400
Magellanic Clouds. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 30 second exposures at ISO 400
Magellanic Clouds. Photograph is the result of stacking 10 photographs, each 30 second exposures at ISO 400

 

The Mysterious Leak after the Spring Southern Star Party: November 2014

The Mysterious Post-SSP Leak

Shortly after Anneliese from Bonnievale Verhurings had taken down the marquee at the November Southern Star party, drugstore we spotted water seeping from an area where we had driven in one of Alan’s pegs to mark off the telescope area. You can read more about the Southern Star Party here.

When we reported the leak to Gesina she was less than chuffed and I decided to find the leak and fix it as gesture of goodwill. I had, mind after all, buy fixed leaks in my garden irrigation system many times before so this should be a piece of cake. Gesina gladly supplied me with a spade, pipe connectors and wire to fix the pipe firmly to the connectors.

Willem and Alan both remarked that it was odd that the water was seeping to the surface and not squirting out in a jet or spray as the irrigation system was under pressure. I countered that, if the pipe was fairly deep down and the peg had only nicked it, making just a small hole, it would not necessarily squirt out. Alan was sceptical and pointed out that the seepage was coming from a molehole and not a peghole, which we all agreed was odd. My idea was to take sods of grass out in a line running across where we thought the pipe(s) might be buried and a good starting point seemed to be right next to the leaking molehole.

Two advisors and one digger inspect the area and prepare for action
Two advisors and one digger inspect the area and prepare for action

After making a trench about two meters long it became clear that the water was definitely following the underground mole tunnels and by then we were well away from areas where pegs had been driven into the ground. We then noticed for the first time that there were wet looking mole hills scattered around a much wider area. Careful examination quickly determined that the damp line seemed to run in the general direction of Alan’s campsite. I dug test holes along the line and clearly there was water flowing through the mole tunnels.

First sod turned and further excavation on the  water trail
First sod turned and further excavation on the water trail
Our excavation trail as we pursued the source of the water
Our excavation trail as we pursued the source of the water

Just below Alan’s campsite there was a large wet patch next to a sprinkler connection and I started a new trench there to see if we could find a pipe. The pipe was soon found and I then dug the trench further following the pipe until I reached the concrete ring surrounding the sprinkler head. The closer we got to the sprinkler head the stronger the flow of water became, until we were able to pin it down to a section about 10 cm from the concrete ring.

Alan wondering how much closer to his campsite in the background we are going to dig
Alan wondering how much closer to his campsite in the background we are going to dig
Willem is convinced we should dig to my left
Willem is convinced we should dig to my left
Bailing out the water at the original leakage sit verified that the inflow had all but stopped
Bailing out the water at the original leakage sit verified that the inflow had all but stopped

The water was very muddy so we could neither see the pipe nor the actual leak, although the flow of water was proof positive that we had found the leak. Inspection of the area where we had originally spotted the seepage revealed that the flow there had stopped completely.  Opening up around the source of the water had cut off the flow of water down the maze of mole tunnels to the exit point at least 30 meters away. There was probably a very wet mole somewhere. I filled in all our exploratory diggings leaving only the area around the actual leak open for Gesina’s team to fix later on.  We were quite relieved that the leak had not been caused by any of our activities.

Willem and Iain, who had wisely remained a distant spectator, review the operation
Willem and Iain, who had wisely remained a distant spectator, review the operation

Spring Southern Star Party: 21st to 23rd November 2014

Spring Southern Star Party in November 2014 at Night Sky Caravan Farm

Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived on Monday the 17th after a visit to Snorre’s Vet in Montagu. We suspected that his testicles were growing back and Dr Pritchard, although skeptical, agreed to examine him and, in the unlikely event of a regrowth, he would remove them free of charge. They hadn’t, he didn’t, and we departed mildly embarrassed at our ignorance, but quite relieved to have been wrong. At Night Sky we settled in but found to our dismay that the gas water heater in our house was malfunctioning. Gesina de Wet, the owner of Night Sky Caravan Farm, was not home as she was lending a hand with an ill grandchild in Cape Town, so she had to deal with the problem by remote control through a repair man in Ashton. The mobile reception at Night Sky is notoriously unreliable, which made solving the problem even more difficult, but eventually everything was sorted out, thank you Gesina for your efforts.

Contolled chaos as we pack before the SSP
Controlled chaos as we pack for the SSP
Before we leave there is stuff everywhere and it looks as if we will never finish in time
Before we leave there is stuff everywhere and it looks as if we will never finish on time
Everything has to be supervised, and checked
Everything has to be supervised, and checked by Snorre
The main loading area and now the Vito and trailer look as if they will be too small for the mountain of stuff
The main loading area and now the Vito and trailer look as if they will be too small for the mountain of stuff

Monday night was bright and almost cloudless so we got in some astronomy and on Tuesday Anneliese from Bonnievale Verhurings arrived to put up the marquee. The apparent ease with which she and her two assistants (one male and one female) put up a 12 x 7 metre tent is a joy to behold. As soon as she left, Lynnette and I started organizing things on the inside but, at that point, Marinda and her team arrived to mow the grass. We had quite a job convincing them that they could not mow inside the tent and neither was it necessary to mow under the ropes between the tent and the tent pegs. After the cacophony of two stroke lawnmower engines had subsided and the dust had settled, Lynnette and I finished most of the work in the marquee. On Tuesday night we had rain which put paid to any astronomical aspirations we might have had. The rest of the work in the tent we finished on Wednesday morning.

Monday evening's sunset
Monday evening’s sunset
Tuesday morning sunrise with the waning crescent Moon
Tuesday morning sunrise with the waning crescent Moon

Alan and Rose arrived around mid-afternoon on Wednesday and Alan produced his innovative pegs to mark out and rope off the telescope area, thanks Alan. Alan also brought along insulation material which we wrapped around the urn and fixed in place with cable ties. I suspect this must have reduced the amount of electricity the urn uses by about 50%, thanks again Alan. Last time around Alan produced the two lights we use at the coffee table, so I wonder what sort of rabbit he is going to produce in February. There are actually a number of persons and organizations that have contributed to or assisted with the SSP in some way or other over the past three years and you can read more about them here.

Arranging the tables and chairs in the marquee
Arranging the tables and chairs in the marquee
The screen is up and we are almost ready to go
The screen is up and we are almost ready to go
The SSP banner is in place and all we need now is the people
The SSP banner is in place and the Sale Table is ready for the Sky Guides and Auke’s fantastic Astronomy Calender, so all we need now is the people
The Coffee Table with the overflow from the Sale Table and the urn sporting its insulating jacket, thanks to Alan
The Coffee Table with the overflow from the Sale Table and the urn sporting its insulating jacket, thanks to Alan

Wednesday evening was mostly cloudy so, once again, no astronomy. Iain and Willem arrived on Thursday and set up camp close to their usual spot and Thursday evening produced more scattered clouds so astronomy again took a back seat. By mid-morning on Friday the rest of the troops started to arrive with Deon and Ronelle Begemann leading the charge followed by Johan Uys.

The telescope area properly marked out, thanks to Alan and also well signposted
The telescope area properly marked out, thanks to Alan and also well signposted
The marquee seen from the telescope area displaying the SKA-banner
The marquee seen from the telescope area displaying the SKA-banner
The entrance to the marquee dispalying a welcoming sign for Kos, just in case he pitched up unexpectedly
The entrance to the marquee dispalying a welcoming sign for Kos, just in case he pitched up unexpectedly
For the hopefulls we added fine print to the sigh.  One attendee actually pointed out to us that it was illegal to advertise something you did not have!
For the hopefulls we added fine print to the sigh. One attendee actually pointed out to us that it was illegal to advertise something you did not have!
The camp slowly fills up
The camp slowly fills up

The “locals” who attended were Ross Bauer & Elmare Cross, Ray Brederode, Charl & Yolande Cater, Dwayne Engelbrecht, Jackie Halford, Eduard & Erika Hoffman, Sebastian Guile, Lia Labuschagne, Jennifer Lamberth, Paul Nicolaides & Rhiannon Thomas and Alex & Louka Nicolaides, Robin Köhler & Dianne Nxumalo-Köhler, Suann & Aidan Smith and Gerhard Vermeulen.

The SSP “regulars”, Alan & Rose Cassells, Ludwig Churr & Sandy Struckmeyer, Brett du Preez, Iain Finlay, Wim Filmalter, Evan Knox-Davies, Paul Kruger, Leslie Rose, and Willem van Zyl.

People who came from a good deal further away than usual to attend the SSP were Deon & Ronelle Begemann – Stillbaai, Kobus Hoffman from Missouri – that’s right, the one in the USA, Rudi Lombard & Miemie Kock from Klerksdorp, Bastian Paetzold & Salika Rafiq all the way from London, Johan Uys & Anita Hechter from Klein Brak, Thinus van der Merwe from Bloemfontein (Boyden).

Much to our dismay, one group brought their dog. For future reference please note that Gesina does not allow dogs at Night Sky. She is not anti-dog as she owns several, but she is definitely anti-dog-poop, which she has to pick up in the camp after the dogs and their owners have gone home. Take note that Gesina has, in the past, sent people with dogs packing and we would like to prevent this happening to SSP attendees.

Friday evening’s braai went of very well and Auke’s What’s-Up-Tonight was, as usual, informative, thorough and humorous. After Auke’s tour of the night sky Lynnette and I took the newcomers/beginners to one side and talked them through some basic astronomy and also used Lorenzo to show them some of the well-known objects in the night sky. The heavy dew put an end to many of the viewing efforts.

Ray Brederode’s SSP ended almost before it started.  He had hardly set up and introduced himself to fellow astrophotographic enthusiast, Leslie Rose, when he received an emergency call from his wife, Jo.  Their cat had suffered a serious injury and she and their two children were traumatized by the incident.  Ray immediately packed up and headed home to be with his family. We subsequently heard from Ray that they are supporting each other to handle the unfortunate episode.

Alan and Rose in the foreground, well organized as usual
Alan and Rose in the foreground, well organized as usual
Ludwig and Sandy share a quiet moment at the braai
Ludwig and Sandy share a quiet moment at the braai
the fires are going, the coals are ready and some of the braaiers are at their posts
The fires are going, the coals are ready and Thinus and Dwayne are in action
This might be Evan's version of the Haka, we will have to ask him.
This might be Evan’s version of the Haka, we will have to ask him.  Paul, Suann and Rhiannon don’t seem too impressed anyway, probably staunch Bok supporters
Edward, Auke and Evan.  Is this part of a dustbin dance?
Edward, Auke and Evan. Is this part of a dustbin dance?

Lynnette and I are both very security conscious and, when we went to bed, Auke was still out and about. We completely forgot that he was sharing the house with us and apparently locked both doors. When Auke eventually came to bed he could not get in despite what he calls concerted and forceful attempts. He eventually gave up and slept in his car. Now you are probably wondering why he did not bang on our window until we woke up and let him in?  Because he is and officer and a gentleman and considerate and self-sacrificing to boot, so he would rather inconvenience himself than wake us up; at least that is what I like to believe.

On Saturday morning we kicked off with the newcomers/beginners at the astronomically unacceptable time of 08:30. During this session we handed out Southern Star Wheels, a set of Discover star charts and a set of Auke’s ConCards and demonstrated how to use them. We also discussed light pollution, dark adaption, the use and purchase of binoculars and telescopes as well as naked eye viewing. After breaking for coffee it was time to welcome everyone formally and start the official programme.

The newcomers in the marquee on Saturday morning
The newcomers in the marquee on Saturday morning.  Is Erika throwing her hands up in despair?
Edward encouraging the newcomers to become enthusiastic amateur astronomers
Edward encouraging the newcomers to become enthusiastic amateur astronomers.  Snorre’s slightly pulled back ears denote skepticism.

Between the coffee break and the lunch time braai Thinus van der Merwe (ASSA Bloemfontein) told us all about “Amateur Astronomy at Boyden Observatory” and then Charl Cater (UCT) introduced us to “Real backyard science – amateur spectroscopy”.

After Charl’s talk it was time to braai and then we set about dealing with rest of the program and Brett du Preez a SSP regular and an astrophotographer of merit, shared his latest adventure with us “Making a solar/lunar telescope”. Edward Foster, standing in for Johan Uys who had to withdraw at short notice, explained “Why the Western Cape isn’t all nice and flat”.

Lia, who attended the handing over of the telescope by UCT to the Hermanus Centre in the morning was led astray by a malfunctioning GPS on the way to Night Sky. To prevent the programme getting completely out of line, we unfortunately had to skip her talk and ask Auke to move the Pub Quiz forward. Lia’s interesting talk, The fascinating moons of the Solar System will have to wait a while.

The Pub Quiz was in a new format with loads of interesting questions, thanks to all Aukes’s hard work. After a long and grueling contest the winner of the famous Floating Rosette was Yolande Cater who now joins the illustrious past winners of this prestigious prize, (Pierre de Villiers , Evan Knox-Davies (2x), John Richards (2x))

The group photo of the attendees at the eighth Southern Star party in November 2014 ant Night Sky Caravan Farm
The group photo of the attendees at the eighth Southern Star party in November 2014 ant Night Sky Caravan Farm

Once the excitement of the Pub Quiz had died down we could tuck into the cake Gesina had baked to mark the eighth time the SSP had been held. The cake was beautifully done in white and blue icing with blue stars and served up with a glass of the dessert wine for which the area is rightly famous.

The cake Gesina baked for the SSP's eighth birthday
The cake Gesina baked for the SSP’s eighth birthday

After supper I took any interested beginners/newcomers and ran them through the use of star charts to find objects in the sky. We used naked-eye observations, binoculars and the ever faithful Lorenzo when we wanted a closer look at specific objects. The clouds started coming over around 23:00 and eventually put a stop to everyone’s observing efforts. We went to bed but apparently some interesting discussions continued in the marquee and this time we also took great care not to lock the doors. I was not going to stretch my luck or Auke’s patience more than absolutely necessary.

On Sunday morning Wim left around 06:00 and by 09:30 many others were also ready to leave. After all the farewells had been said only Lynnette and I, Alan and Rose, Iain and Willem and Lea were left. We were all staying on in the hope of being able to do some astronomy.

On Sunday morning Alan also handed over the model of the shuttle that he built for us from a standard kit. One needs to see all the modifications and additions he made to believe it. Over and above the extremely high quality of workmanship the value added to the model by his ingenuity is quite breath-taking.

Alan and the Shuttle model - a work of art.
Alan and the Shuttle model – a work of art.
This was a standard, of the shelf model and it is now a souped up Alan Cassels special.  Thanks Alan.
This was a standard, of the shelf model and it is now a souped up Alan Cassels special. Thanks Alan.

Our hopes of being able to do some astronomy during the next couple of nights were scuttled by the weather which was cloudy on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.

Lia left around midday on Monday as she had other appointments and on Tuesday Anneliese and her team arrived to take down the marquee. Shortly after she and her team had left we spotted water seeping from an area where we had driven in one of Alan’s pegs to mark of the telescope area. You can read more about the hunt for the illusive leak if you go here.

The rest of us packed up on Wednesday while a north-westerly breeze was slowly building up to a mini gale. The wind, in fact, almost blew Alan’s caravan apart near Worcester forcing them to continue home at a snail’s pace. He and Rose only got home around 19:00 that evening and Alan has a lot of work to do on the caravan before the next SSP.

More pictures of the SSP can be found on the SSP website at this web page.