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.