The 13th Southern Star Party. The first to be held at Leeuwenboschfontein: Wednesday 22nd of February to Monday 27th February 2017.

The first Southern Star party held at Leeuwenboschfontein was a success. So, any suspicions about unlucky 13 were neatly sidestepped or perhaps the jinx only applies to people who suffer from triskaidekaphobia.

TOP: The barn with the display tables on the left, the lecture area in the centre and the kitchen on the right. 2nd FROM TOP: Our pull-up banners and some of the posters. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: This banner is always a showstopper. BOTTOM: The group at the opening.
TOP: The barn with the display tables on the left, the lecture area in the centre and the kitchen on the right. 2nd FROM TOP: Our pull-up banners and some of the posters. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: This banner is always a showstopper. BOTTOM: The group at the opening.

Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived on Wednesday the 22nd, downloaded our stuff at Dalzicht and set about getting the shed converted into a lecture area with a display section. Fortunately, their spacious kitchen made organising the coffee area very easy.

And here we all are. You can figure out who’s who on your own. I gave up putting in the names because we are not standing in nice neat rows and I could not make my list of names match the people in the photograph.
And here we all are. You can figure out who’s who on your own. I gave up putting in the names because we are not standing in nice neat rows and I could not make my list of names match the people in the photograph. Six people could not make it for the group photo.

Who attended:

Jim Adams (speaker), Jonathan Balladon, Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Steyn Botha, Samuel Botha, Dominique Brink, Johan Brink, Nellie Brink, Anja Bruton, Alan Cassells, Rose Cassells, Pamela Cooper, Chris de Coning, Micah de Villiers, Pierre de Villiers, Barry Dumas, Miemie Dumas, Clair Engelbrecht, Dwayne Engelbrecht, Arné Esterhuizen, Iain Finlay, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Louis Fourie, Maureen Helman, Cheyenne Kersting, Christine Kersting, Harald Kersting, Jamie Kersting, Evan Knox-Davies, Dianne Nxumalo-Kohler, Robin Kohler, Bennie Kotze, Paul Kruger, Lia Labuschagne, Eddy Nijeboer, Jannie Nijeboer, Lorenzo Raynard (speaker), Kim Reitz, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Rogan Roth, Johan Roux (Jnr), (Johan Jnr’s wife), (Johan Jnr’s eldest son), (Johan Jnr’s 2nd son), Alecia Roux, Henda Scott, Barry Shipman, Auke Slotegraaf, Corne van Dyk, and Chris Vermeulen, Alex Wright.

Some of the keen people pitched on Thursday and among them were Deon and Ronelle Begeman. Deon had, as promised at the previous SSP in Bonnievale, constructed two magnificent binocular viewing tripods for Auke and myself.  This is really quite an ingenious device with many improvements over what is currently on the market and it is very reasonably priced too when compared to its competitors. I will do a separate post with pictures about it at a later stage.

What a super way to advertise the Star Party against the backdrop of the busy telescope area and Leeuwenbosch’s starry skies.
What a super way to advertise the Star Party against the backdrop of the busy telescope area and Leeuwenbosch’s starry skies.

On Thursday evening Paul and I went up Swartberg in his 4×4.  It was a whole lot easier than walking up but also considerably more taxing on one’s nerves and I am not implying that Paul drove recklessly; quite the contrary. It is just that the vehicle adopts a wide variety of very unusual angles during both the ascent and descent and one has to trust the driver a whole lot more than when driving down a normal road.

TOP: I cannot recommend a visit to the hut on top of Swartberg strongly enough. This shot shows the hut in the first rays of the rising sun. CENTRE: looking east down the Nouga Valley in the early morning with smoke from the extensive veldt fires packed in the valleys. BOTTOM: Early morning looking south-west from the hut. The Langeberg lies on the far horizon and the tiny white spike of a microwave tower is just visible at the top of Rooiberg Pass.
TOP: I cannot recommend a visit to the hut on top of Swartberg strongly enough. This shot shows the hut in the first rays of the rising sun. CENTRE: looking east down the Nouga Valley in the early morning with smoke from the extensive veldt fires packed in the valleys. BOTTOM: Early morning looking south-west from the hut. The Langeberg lies on the far horizon and the tiny white spike of a microwave tower is just visible at the top of Rooiberg Pass.
Christine took this from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal just to prove that Paul and I had been on top of Swartberg. Thanks Christine for sharing.
Christine took this from the lawn in front of De Oude Opstal just to prove that Paul and I had been on top of Swartberg. Thanks Christine for sharing.

TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.

TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.

Arne and Alex had their vehicle expire on the R318 while on the way to the SSP, but they were picked up by Evan and brought to Leeuwenboschfontein. The two seemed pretty laid back about leaving the car at the side of the road until Monday when they would set about sorting it out from Cape Town.

TOP: The group attending Deon’s presentation. BOTTOM: Deon and his very good representation of the Milky Way.
TOP: The group attending Deon’s presentation. BOTTOM: Deon and his very good representation of the Milky Way.

The beginner’s session at the telescopes was quite successful on Friday as was the beginners talk on Saturday morning.

TOP LEFT: How much traffic is there in the telescope area during a star party. This tangle of lights against the star trails in the background, as captured by Auke, should give you a good indication. TOP RIGHT: Taken from a different perspective by Auke and showing the south celestial pole very nicely is a second view of the telescope area. BOTTOM LEFT: A less cluttered short exposure of the telescope area showing Leo rising in the east. BOTTOM RIGHT: There are some very rare beings prowling the telescope area at night, as this shot would seem to prove. In real life, Eddy is not nearly as daunting I assure you.
TOP LEFT: How much traffic is there in the telescope area during a star party. This tangle of lights against the star trails in the background, as captured by Auke, should give you a good indication. TOP RIGHT: Taken from a different perspective by Auke and showing the south celestial pole very nicely is a second view of the telescope area. BOTTOM LEFT: A less cluttered short exposure of the telescope area showing Leo rising in the east. BOTTOM RIGHT: There are some very rare beings prowling the telescope area at night, as this shot would seem to prove. In real life, Eddy is not nearly as daunting I assure you.

Jonathan had to leave suddenly on Saturday morning as he was needed to fly a plane somewhere.  He promised he would flash his landing lights if his route took him over Leeuwenboschfontein which it apparently didn’t.

TOP LEFT: Part of the smallish group. TOP RIGHT: Me demonstrating the Southern Star Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: Samuel and Steyn. BOTTOM RIGHT: Steyn on the left, John in the background on the right and Henda up front.
TOP LEFT: Part of the smallish group. TOP RIGHT: Me demonstrating the Southern Star Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: Samuel and Steyn. BOTTOM RIGHT: Steyn on the left, John in the background on the right and Henda up front.

During my beginners’ session on Saturday morning, Jim Adams, retired Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA and Anja Bruton Science Engagement Coordinator at the SKA arrived. The problem was that Lorenzo Raynard Communications Manager at the SKA, who was due to give the first talk had not pitched and all efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. Jim, hearing of our predicament, very kindly agreed to give the talk he was scheduled to give that afternoon in Lorenzo’s slot. So we started off with “Spinoff: How investing in astronomy and space science changes life on Earth”. Jim proved to be every bit as good a speaker as Anja had said he was; relaxed, knowledgeable and very good at fielding questions too.

In the meantime, Lynnette and Anja were frantically trying to trace Lorenzo.

Martin Lyons and his wife Pat flew in (literally) especially for the social braai in the lapa at the campsite during lunchtime on Saturday.  They stayed until after lunch and then flew home again. According to Paul and Louis, the takeoff was actually quite tense but Martin, during subsequent discussions, downplayed any suggestion of problems.

Just before the braai the Vito was attacked by a vicious tree and lost its back window.

The Vito was the victim of an unfortunate incident just before the braai on Saturday when it was attacked by one of the vicious trees at Leeuwenboschfontein.
The Vito was the victim of an unfortunate incident just before the braai on Saturday when it was attacked by one of the vicious trees at Leeuwenboschfontein.
TOP LEFT: Eddy and Jannie. TOP CENTRE: Louis and Deon. TOP RIGHT: Cheyenne Kersting CENTRE LEFT: Alex and Arne BOTTOM LEFT: Chris de Coning RIGHT: Micah and Auke.
TOP LEFT: Eddy and Jannie. TOP CENTRE: Louis and Deon. TOP RIGHT: Cheyenne Kersting CENTRE LEFT: Alex and Arne BOTTOM LEFT: Chris de Coning RIGHT: Micah and Auke.
TOP: Corné hard at work. CENTRE: A relaxed group outside with Alan and Rose who drove through to visit for the day. Thanks, guys! BOTTOM: Is Louis explaining where to find the stars? We will have to ask Bennie.
TOP: Corné hard at work. CENTRE: A relaxed group outside with Alan and Rose who drove through to visit for the day. Thanks, guys! BOTTOM: Is Louis explaining where to find the stars? We will have to ask Bennie.
TOP LEFT: Claire and Dwayne relaxing. TOP 2nd FROM LEFT: Barry and Miemie. TOP 2nd FROM RIGHT: A Cape Centre group tucking in. CENTRE LEFT: Alan’s version of the Polynesian fire poi possibly needs some practice. CENTRE: Myself, Lynnette and Jim. CENTRE RIGHT: Kim and Marius. BOTTOM LEFT: The Kerstings. BOTTOM RIGHT: Micah and Chris.
TOP LEFT: Claire and Dwayne relaxing. TOP 2nd FROM LEFT: Barry and Miemie. TOP 2nd FROM RIGHT: A Cape Centre group tucking in. CENTRE LEFT: Alan’s version of the Polynesian fire poi possibly needs some practice. CENTRE: Edward, Lynnette and Jim. CENTRE RIGHT: Kim and Marius. BOTTOM LEFT: The Kerstings. BOTTOM RIGHT: Micah and Chris.
TOP LEFT: Chris. TOP CENTRE: Jannie and Eddy. TOP RIGHT: Henda. CENTRE: Lia and Paul. BOTTOM LEFT: Lia. BOTTOM CENTRE: Evan and Jim. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Rose.
TOP LEFT: Chris. TOP CENTRE: Jannie and Eddy. TOP RIGHT: Henda. CENTRE: Lia and Paul. BOTTOM LEFT: Lia. BOTTOM CENTRE: Evan and Jim. BOTTOM RIGHT: Alan and Rose.

By now Lorenzo had been traced and was on his way but would not make it in time for his time slot. We, or at least Anja, talked Jim into giving a second talk in Lorenzo’s slot. This talk “Robots in Space and Space Exploration; Past, Present and Future” went down very well with the audience.  Lorenzo finally pitched later on Saturday afternoon. As his talk would cut into observing time we decided to rather have him give his talk on Sunday morning.

After Jim’s talk and the lively question session we took the usual group photograph and, as is usual, some people did not pitch up. People who were absent were Jonathan Balladon, Steyn & Samuel Botha, Dominique & Nellie Brink and Lorenzo Raynard.

The group photograph was followed by the Pub Quiz which, this year, was orchestrated the usual degree of malevolence and cunning by Auke.  After several gruelling rounds the overall winner, by a very large margin was Alex.  Well done Alex, you left several past winners staggering around in your slipstream’s dust.

TOP LEFT: Jim Adams and during his first presentation. CENTRE LEFT: Handing over Jim’s speaker prize. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Anja and Lorenzo in conversation on Sunday morning. TOP RIGHT: Alex, the overall winner of the Pub Quiz, receiving his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Snorre surveying the proceedings.
TOP LEFT: Jim Adams during his first presentation. CENTRE LEFT: Handing over Jim’s speaker prize. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette, Anja and Lorenzo in conversation on Sunday morning. TOP RIGHT: Alex, the overall winner of the Pub Quiz, receiving his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Snorre surveying the proceedings.

The number of beginners at the telescopes on Saturday evening was disappointing but I am hoping it was the sudden drop in temperature that convinced them to stay indoors.

Paul’s star trails arch over the telescope area.
Paul’s star trails arch over the telescope area.

Lorenzo’s talk on Sunday morning. “The public face of SKA in South Africa” was reasonably well attended and, after some discussion, the great dispersal began and the site emptied fairly rapidly. This year, though, more people stayed on to observe the partial solar eclipse on Sunday afternoon.

TOP: My series of photographs following the solar eclipse with a late afternoon shot of Leeuwenboschfontein from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke’s very artistic shot of the shadows cast by the people around the telescope. BOTTOM RIGHT: A picture of the sun through one of Chris’s filters.
TOP: My series of photographs following the solar eclipse with a late afternoon shot of Leeuwenboschfontein from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke’s very artistic shot of the shadows cast by the people around the telescope. BOTTOM RIGHT: A picture of the sun through one of Chris’s filters.

Dwayne and Claire, who got engaged during the 11th SSP at Night Sky Caravan Farm, missed the 12th SSP because they were getting married. Now, while attending the 13th SSP, Mr and Mrs Engelbrecht announced they were expecting their first child. I suppose it will be too much to expect them to call the baby SSP, but it would be nice if they would.

On Monday morning we packed up and after Calla had very professionally helped close of and dust proof the gaping hole where the Vito’s rear window had been, Lynnette, Snorre and I also left for home.

Solar Eclipse – 03 November 2013

Solar eclipse:  Like the Curry Cup, unfortunately not for Cape Town.

The Northern parts of South Africa will be able to see some of the action somewhere between shortly after 15:00 and just before 17:00.  The actual times and how much of the eclipse you will see depend on exactly where you are.

For more information you can visit the Johannesburg Planetarium’s general webpage or go directly to their graphic representation. NASA has a general eclipse website with comprehensive information on past and future eclipses.  There is a good animation you can view at this UK site or you can go to the Facebook page covering the event. Kos Coronaios and the Soutpansberg Astronomy club will also be covering the event at their monthly stargazing event in Louis Trichard.  If you are in that area go to their Facebook page for more information.

Please remember that you must not look directly at the sun with the naked eye.  Sunglasses, no matter how state of the art they are, old x-ray plates, glass smoked black with a candle, pieces of green wine bottles or any one of the multitude of home made devices, are all inadequate.  Using them could leave you, and especially your children, with permanent damage that might only manifest itself long after the event.

Athlone School for the Blind

Athlone School for the Blind
Day three of National Science Week 2013 at the Bellville Public Library

On day three of our recent National Science Week nine day scienceathon (a phrase coined by Evan) Lynnette, Auke and I had the privilege of presenting a short astronomy program to a group of 43 learners and their four teachers from the Athlone School for the Blind at the Bellville Public Library.

DSC_0011_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Chandraplakate_Sop_Toebroodjes
Teachers and staff of the Bellville Public Library serving soup and sandwiches to the learners from the Athlone School for the Blind. Some of the Chandra Braille posters are in the tables

At the heart of the presentation were the fantastic Braille astronomy pictures with their accompanying Braille explanations, courtesy of Kimberly Kowal Arcand.  Kimberly is part of the NASA/Chandra X-ray telescope’s educational project to take astronomy to the visually impaired and she is based at Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

DSC_0032_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Brailleposters_Seniorleerder
WOW! I didn’t know it was that hot.

 

DSC_0048_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Brailleposter_Hande_Lees
Can you believe how big and far away it is!

The group of learners represented a spectrum of visually impaired, multiply disabled and blind learners.  Not all the learners had mastered the Braille system, so we split the group.  While the teachers assisted those who could read Braille with the printed material, I gave a short talk to the others on the importance of space research and also talked about the efforts in the United States to give visually impaired people access to astronomy.

DSC_0027_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Brailleposters_Ki nders
Hey guys, this is way cool. How do they know all this stuff?
DSC_0043_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Brailleposter_Leerder_Lees
So if we are at the bottom we are standing on our heads?
DSC_0045_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Brailleposter_Leerder_Onderwyseres_Lees
Yes, we can ask Edward and Lynnette to come to the school and tell us more about all this.
DSC_0051_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Brailleposter_Juniorleerder_Lees
This is crazy stuff, man, Cool but really crazy!

The expressions of wonder and amazement on the faces of the learners reading the printed material and experiencing the Braille images and the information they contained for the first was, to say the very least, an exceptionally rewarding experience.  Some of these expressions have been captured in the photographs Lynnette took and it is a pity that we have no actual recording of the enthusiastic comments passed by the learners.

Perhaps the most poignant experience was having blind learners request that they be photographed with us and knowing that they would never see the photograph.  Many of the others also wanted to be on these photos too, but it was the requests from the blind ones that we found particularly touching.

DSC_0038_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Groepfoto_Edward
The group wanting to be photographed got larger and larger with every click of the shutter.
DSC_0042_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Groepfoto_Lynnette
Lynnette had her own supporters group and the lad in red was especially keen to be in on the action.
DSC_0036_NSW_BellBib_D1_ASB_Groepfoto_Edward
The boy in the middle requested to be photographed with me. He is totally blind yet his brother has perfectly normal sight. Life really is not fair.

 

 

Kepler’s Tally of Planets

NASA’s Kepler mission has so far discovered more than 100 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars. In the New York Times Kepler’s impressive record is depicted in a very interesting interactive graphic which you will find here.  All the planets, with a known size and orbit, are shown in the graphic, including the five planets orbiting Kepler 62, which were announced on April 18.  You can read the full article here.

Astronomers have announced finding a pair of planets which seem to have all the characteristics required to support life.  The pair are situated 1 200 light years away in the northern constellation Lyra.  As far as astronomical distances are concerned this is “just around the corner” but, taking into account the current technical abilities of human space flight, going there is currently only possible in the science fiction realm.

Nevertheless the discovery is very important as it adds to our growing knowledge and understanding of the universe. These two planets are the outermost two of five worlds circling a previously anonymous  yellowish star, slightly smaller and dimmer than our Sun, which will now go down in the cosmic history books as Kepler 62. These planets are apparently about half as large as Earth and initial indications are that they are rocky planets covered by oceans with humid, cloudy skies, although that is at best a highly educated guess.

William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center, head of the Kepler project, described one of the new worlds as the best site for Life Out There yet found in Kepler’s four-years-and-counting search for other Earths. He treated his team to pizza and beer on his own dime to celebrate the find. “It’s a big deal,” he said.

Sadly, as things stand now, it is unlikely that anybody will ever know if anything lives on these planets. The odds that humans will travel there any time soon without some “Star Trek” technology are negligibly small, but the news has certainly sent astronomers over the Moon.

Setting the Dark On Fire: Beautiful View of Clouds of Cosmic Dust in the Region of Orion

Dense clouds of gas and dust in the depths of space are recognized as the birthplace of new stars.  At the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, capsule which humans can see, buy viagra the dust clouds are dark and effectively obscure the background stars. William Herschel, help observing such a cloud in Scorpius remarked, “Hier ist wahrhaftig ein loch im Himmel!”

To truly come to grips with the processes involved in star formation, a method is required that will enable astronomers to see into and beyond these clouds.  The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes, is the largest single-dish submillimetre-wavelength telescope operating in the southern hemisphere, and is exactly what the doctor, or at least the astronomers ordered, for studying the birthplace of stars..

The subject of this investigation is the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex situated 1500 light-years away from Earth, which makes it the closest region of massive star formation to Earth.  The new image in the article can be compared to an older image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope at  (http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/opo0010a/). The region in this image is located about two degrees south of Messier 42, the well-known Orion Nebula..

To view the new image and read the rest of the article click here to go to the specific ScienceDaily.page.