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.

0-dsc_5074ab_groepfoto

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 SALT-model goes to Scotland.

StarPeople’s SALT-model is off to the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation Conference to be held at the Edinburg International Conference Centre from the 26th of June to the 01st of July. This conference is advertised as “…. the most prestigious event for developers of ground- and space-based telescopes, the supporting technologies, and the latest instrumentation.

Some images of Alan's magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)
Some images of the magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which Alan built for StarPeople.

Dr Dave Buckley (Director: SALT Science) at the SAAO (South African Astronomical Observatory) and a South African team are taking a container full of innovative instruments developed at the SAAO to the conference. Dave approached us as he wanted to take Alan’s excellent model of SALT along to show off at the conference.

TOP LEFT: The base of the packaging being prepared. TOP RIGHT: SALT’s base and the telescope trusses put into place. BOTTOM LEFT: The next layer of packing material goes in. BOTTOM RIGHT: A final layer of packaging material before the rest of the model are packed.
TOP LEFT: The base of the packaging being prepared. TOP RIGHT: SALT’s base and the telescope trusses put into place. BOTTOM LEFT: The next layer of packing material goes in. BOTTOM RIGHT: A final layer of packaging material before the rest of the model are packed.

In preparation for the trip Alan has packed the model with great care. StarPeople are very excited that the model we commissioned Alan to build is going places were no model of SALT has been before.

I apologize, but I couldn’t resist that quip!

TOP LEFT: A view from the top of the mirror and trusses of the telescope. TOP RIGHT: The smaller bits and pieces are put in place. BOTTOM LEFT: Now everything is packed away safely. BOTTOM RIGHT: Final layers of packaging positioned so that nothing can fall out if the packages is accidentally flipped over. (Heaven forbid!)
TOP LEFT: A view from the top of the mirror and trusses of the telescope. TOP RIGHT: The smaller bits and pieces are put in place. BOTTOM LEFT: Now everything is packed away safely. BOTTOM RIGHT: Final layers of packaging positioned so that nothing can fall out if the packages is accidentally flipped over. (Heaven forbid!)

StarPeople are very excited on Alan’s behalf because of the recognition this gives his exceptional model building skills and it is just a pity Dave couldn’t fit him into the container as well.

We hope Dave and his team and the SALT-model have a safe trip and make their mark for South African Astronomy (and Alan) at the conference.

There we have it. SALT in a box, ready to go.
There we have it. SALT in a box, ready to go.

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.

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

Musings on the Standard Length markers by of a would-be amateur astronomical digger.

There are five of these structures which I previously labelled North (N), medicine North+1 (N1), viagra North+2 (N2), purchase North+3 (N3) and North+4 (N4) going from the most northerly to the most southerly one. Auke and Evan very carefully measured the distances between these structures and found that, by using them in various combinations; it was possible to obtain very accurate lengths of between 10 to 100 English feet in any multiple of 10 feet.

We still, however, do not know what was mounted on these bases and it certainly appears as if, whatever that was, differed from mounting to mounting. This assumption is made purely on the basis of the current appearance of the remains of the Standard Length bases.

Below are images of the five objects in question.

NORTH SLM
NORTH SLM (N)
NORTH-2 SLM
NORTH-1 SLM (N-1)
NORTH-2 SLM
NORTH-2 SLM (N-2)
NORTH-3 SLM
NORTH-3 SLM (N-3)
NORTH-4 SLM
NORTH-4 SLM (N-4_

N and N-2 are similar in design but not in size. N-1 and N-4 have similar designs but their sizes differ slightly and the block with the hole in is situated to the north in N-1 and to the south in N-4. The odd one out is N-3, although it seems to have been similar to the plinth still present in N, N-2 and N-4 and presumed to have been present in N-1 judging by the markings and fragments present there. This plinth, therefore, appears to be common to all of the Standard Length bases.

N-1 and N-4 distinguish themselves from the others by the presence of the smaller block with the square hole in it and the two metal lugs on the north and south sides of that hole. In both of these structures the metal lugs seem to have been later additions.

However, closer inspection of N-1 and N-4 reveals another difference. The basic construction between the larger and smaller sections differs in both cases.  The smaller block seems, in both cases, to have a courser concrete foundation which also appears to be shallower in both cases.

I think that the smaller structure with the square hole and two metal lugs in N-1 and N-4 was added after the construction of the larger sections with the plinth. I also think that the two metal lugs were added after the construction of the base in a third operation. Something fitted into that hole which, based on the fragments found on site, was lined with wood but that something was not stable enough, so the metal lugs were added as anchor points.

If you want to read about the work leading up to this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV)

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Friday & Saturday 15/16 August 2015.

Auke has soldiered on without me, very competently assisted by Johan, Chris Vermeulen, Leslie and several other stalwarts.

The Ron Atkins Observatory (RAO) has been tidied up by Johan, the Moreas have flowered and Auke has started a programme to document everything on the site using photogrammetry techniques. It is really a fantastic technique but it means I will have to exhume the Standard Length Markers – for the third time.

More about these developments later but here are some of Auke’s photographs showing the progress in the meantime.

Chris Vermeulen and I studying the excellent publication on the history of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope by Dr Ian Glass
Chris Vermeulen and I studying the excellent publication on the history of the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope by Dr Ian Glass. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
Me working on the final phase of cleaning up the RAO
Me working on the final phase of cleaning up the RAO. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
The ROA cleaned up and ready for visitors. Photo Auke Slotegraaf
The ROA cleaned up and ready for visitors. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)
The RAo now has a proper access pathway constructed from all the bits of building rubble lying around, thanks to Johan Brink's hard work Photo Auke Slotegraaf
The RAo now has a proper access pathway constructed from all the bits of building rubble lying around, thanks to Johan Brink’s hard work. (Photo Auke Slotegraaf)

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

 

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Sunday 19 July 2015.

On Sunday the 19th of July a drop or two of rain was forecast for around 11:00. Auke, Evan, Johan and I decided to ignore that and carry on digging and measuring. Episode four covers my efforts to clean and measure the remains of the five Standard Length Markers (SLM). To do this I had to first exhume them, after having buried them as a protective measure, the previous week.

For my own reference I have, rather unimaginatively, called the most northerly one “North” and, working my southward, called the others “North+1”, “North+2”, “North+3” and “North+4”. I will abbreviate this even further and refer to the SLM as N, N1, N2, N3 & N4 so please remember that I am not referring to South Africa’s highway marking system. An important feature is that no two of these Standard Length Markers (SLM) are identical. They do, however, share certain features.

North (N):

The picture shows the entire North (N) SLM. Its longer dimension is orientated North-South

The picture shows the entire North (N) SLM. Its longer dimension is orientated North-South

This is a closer view of the pedestal forming the southern end of the SLM (N)
This is a closer view of the pedestal forming the southern end of the SLM (N)

This is 10,0 cm thick and seems to be common feature of all five SLMs. This seems to have been a base for a second layer, about 7,0 cm thick, but no remnants of this were found for N, although they do feature in other markers. The pedestals all seem to have had three metal pegs (P1, P2, P3 in the photo), 3,0 cm in diameter, about 8,0 cm long with a notch or groove in one end, presumably the top. The rust spots in the photo are not the remains of the actual pegs but show where they rested on this lower section. The upper section of the pedestal seems to have served the specific purpose of holding pegs in position. One such peg was found loose in the soil covering this marker.

The pedestals seem to have been encased in a wooden framework. In four of the five cases (N, N-1, N-2 & N-4) this was attached by a metal fixture on each of the pedestal’s four sides. These points are marked by a star and an arrow in the photograph. No wood or any parts of the actual metal fixture were found at N. The faint cross marked as the “Centre Point” is the point from which the distance between the markers was measured by Auke, Evan and the rest of the team.

N-1:

This is the second SLM from the northern end and, as can be seen it consis of two sections
This is the second SLM from the northern end and, as can be seen, it consists of two sections

The second SLM (N-1) consisted of two sections. The smaller, northern section had two metal fixtures on its northern and southern edges that looked as if they had been put in after the initial construction, In the centre of the northern section, centrally positioned between the two metal fixtures, is a square hole. The sides and base of the hole appear to have been lined with wood; remains of this lining were found in the hole.

 The southern portion originally had the pedestal mounted on it but all that is left is one piece of cement that might have been part of it
The southern portion originally had the pedestal mounted on it, but all that is left is one piece of cement that might have been part of it
One of the metal pegs, which we suppose were part of the pedestal, was found in the central hole of the northern section
One of the metal pegs showing the notch in what was most probably the top. This peg was found in the central hole of the northern section and we think it was one of three mounted in the pedestal
A second view of one of the peg found in the northern section of N-1
A second view of one of the peg found in the northern section of N-1
This picture shows the northern section of N-1 with the peg (A) and the two metal inserts B1 and B2
This picture shows the northern section of N-1 with the peg (A) and the two metal inserts B1 and B2
This picture shows the southern section of N-1. The scouring and chipping are common techniques used by masons when they have to add sections to existing surfaces
This picture shows the southern section of N-1. The scouring and chipping are common techniques used by masons when they have to add sections to existing surfaces
One of the two metal inserts which appear to have been an afterthought and which we assume were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
One of the two metal inserts (on the northern side of the square hole) which appear to have been an afterthought and which we assume were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
The metal inserts on the southern side of the square hole. These inserts appear to have been an afterthought and we assume they were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole
The metal insert on the southern side of the square hole. These inserts appear to have been an afterthought and we assume they were used as anchors. They seem to have had a hole through them so one supposes they formed part of a system used to stabilize whatever fitted into the square hole

N-2:

This structure resembles the first marker but has a shorter north-south axis (125 cm as opposed to 183 cm)
This SLM-structure (N-2)  resembles the first SLM but has a shorter north-south axis (125 cm as opposed to 183 cm)
Here the remnants of the wooden frame, which appears to have been mounted around each pedestal, can be seen
Here the remnants of the wooden frame, which appears to have been mounted around each pedestal, can be seen
This picture of the pedestal clearly shows the positions of the metal pegs (P1, P2 & P3) and the positions of the metal fasteners which appear to have held the wooden frame in place (B1, B2, B3 & B4)
This picture of the pedestal clearly shows the positions of the metal pegs (P1, P2 & P3) and the positions of the metal fasteners which appear to have held the wooden frame in place (B1, B2, B3 & B4)
Here two pieces of the 7,0 cm thick slabs, which we think formed the top of each of the pedestals is shown. One of the metal pegs, referred to previously, can be seen in the photograph
Here two pieces of the 7,0 cm thick slabs, which we think formed the top of each of the pedestals are shown. One of the metal pegs, referred to previously, can be seen in the photograph
This is a view of N-2 from the eastern side and pieces of the decayed wooden frame and the position of the metal fastener on that side of the pedestal are visible
This is a view of N-2 from the eastern side and pieces of the decayed wooden frame and the position of the metal fastener on that side of the pedestal are visible
This is the eastern side of the pedestal on N-2. The remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
This is the eastern side of the pedestal on N-2. The remnants of the metal fasteners, that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position, are clearly visible
This is the southern side of the pedestal on N-2. Here to the remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
This is the southern side of the pedestal on N-2. Here to the remnants of the metal fasteners that must have held the wooden frame around the pedestal in position are clearly visible
The metal peg found on the pedestal at N-2 and some of the pieces of rusted fixtures that once held the wooden frame in place
The metal peg found on the pedestal at N-2 and some of the pieces of rusted fixtures that once held the wooden frame in place
A closer view of the rusty remains of the fasteners at N-2
A closer view of the rusty remains of the fasteners at N-2

N-3:

This was the smallest of the five structures. The wooden frame around the pedestal was also constructed differently.

A general view of the N-3's pedestal as we uncovered it
A general view of N-3’s pedestal as we uncovered it
N-3's pedestal after we had cleaned it up
N-3’s pedestal after we had cleaned it up

One metal peg was still in place and one was found loose but both were very badly corroded. Two holes that once held pegs can also be seen on the top slab of the pedestal. On the right hand corner there is still one bracket in place and it appears that each corner had two brackets. There are no metal fasteners on the base section of the pedestal, as in the three SLMs to the north of this one.

This is the only bracket which was still in place on the wooden frame around N-3
This is the only bracket which was still in place on the wooden frame around N-3
Photograph of three brackets and the two pieces of a broken one recovered at N-3
Photograph of three brackets and the two pieces of a broken one recovered at N-3
 A closer view of one bracket at N-3 with measurements
A closer view of one bracket at N-3 with measurements

N-4:

The most southerly SLM had many characteristics in common with N-1.

N-4's structure before we cleaned it up
N-4’s structure before we cleaned it up
N-4's pedestal situated north of the section containing the square hole. This is the opposite of N-1.
N-4’s pedestal situated north of the section containing the square hole. This is the opposite of N-1.
This is teh southern part of N-4 clearly showing the square hole and the two metal fasteners/inserts
This is the southern part of N-4 clearly showing the square hole and the two metal fasteners/inserts

There was nothing left of the wooden frame although the same metal fasteners as in SLMs N, N-1 & N-2 seem to have been used. No trace was found of the top slab or of the pegs from the pedestal. Neither was there any sign of a wooden lining for the square hole, as in N-1. The two metal anchor inserts (B1 & B2) were also similar to those in N-1 and also appear to have been added after the initial construction.

A closer look at the northern metal insert.
A closer look at the northern metal insert.
The Southern metal insert and, as in N-1, it seems that both of these were put in place after the initial construction
The Southern metal insert and, as in N-1, it seems that both of these were put in place after the initial construction

We can only hope that somewhere there is a description of how these SLM’s were used and what was mounted on them. I doubt if we will be able to deduce too much more from what we have uncovered.

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

 

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV) 

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO continues
Sunday 12 July 2015

On Saturday 11th of July Auke, Evan and Johan braved the rain to expand the diggings. I had been too chicken to get wet on the Saturday so I only joined them on the Sunday. Ketchil also visited us on the Sunday, fresh from her recent overseas gallivanting and Leslie arrived later in the day. He had been delayed for three hours while becoming intimately acquainted with his new cell phone. The main digging objective was to uncover as much of the Franklin Adams Observatory (FAO) as possible.  At the same time we would take accurate measurements and photographs of everything we found.

We were also anxious to pinpoint some of the places from which photographs had been taken in the past. This was particularly tricky, because there are now trees where none had been before and there are trees on older photographs that are not there now. Buildings are also a problem because some have been demolished, or had bits added on, and other structures have sprung up where there were none on the older photographs. Evan and I were tasked with this activity and, after some deliberation we thought we had found the spot from which a specific photograph, showing the two piers and sections of the FAO, had been taken.

Wearing my archaeology uniform an suitably protected against the chilly Northwesterly wind
Wearing my archaeology uniform an suitably protected against the chilly Northwesterly wind
From left to right we have Evan, Auke, Kechil hidden behind Auke, Johan and Leslie down on his knees all on the site of the FAO
From left to right we have Evan, Auke, Kechil hidden behind Auke, Johan and Leslie down on his knees all on the site of the FAO

A Tecomaria hedge, which had not been on the photograph in question, now made it impossible to see the FAO from that point. To verify the correctness of our deductions we had to be able to see over the hedge. I climbed onto one of the Moonwatch Pillars (MWP) (number five from the northern end) on the western side of the hedge, while Evan climbed up a tree on the eastern side. Evan could see me but he could not see the position of the southern pier in the FAO. Evan stayed up the tree and I balanced a length of metal irrigation pipe against MWP number five and held a second section of pipe upright in the middle of the FAO’s southern pier. From Evan’s arboreal vantage point the two pipes lined up perfectly so we now knew exactly where the photographer had stood to take the photo. To provide hard evidence we found a rather rickety stepladder and, while I did my best to keep it steady and stop it toppling over while Evan balanced himself precariously on top of the ladder and took the photograph, clearly showing the two irrigation pipes in line. The farthest one (held in position by Auke and Johan) served as a substitute for the non-existent southern pier of the FAO.

That's me up on the MWP and Evan handing me an irrigation pipe before he runs around to the other side of the hedge to climb his tree
That’s me up on the MWP and Evan handing me an irrigation pipe before he runs around to the other side of the hedge to climb his tree

The rest of the morning was spent opening up as much of the FAO observatory as we could find and cleaning away soil from the bits we had already found, so that we could see the construction details and also take measurements.  Of note was the fact that the two piers had been constructed differently. The southern pier seems to have been a better construction, judging by the appearance of the concrete and the brickwork.  In the photographs the southern pier is also the larger (taller) of the two piers so maybe it required a bigger and sturdier base.

Auke demonstrating the latest in archaeological dance moves to Kechil
Auke demonstrating the latest in archaeological dance moves to Kechil, flanked by Leslie (left) and Johan (right) measuring and me fiddling around behind the Eucalyptus tree
Leslie seems dismayed by the fact that Auke wants him to dig down another two meters
Leslie seems dismayed by the fact that Auke wants him to dig down another two meters
The south pier of the FAO with the two additional mountings visible just left of the pier
The south pier of the FAO with the two additional mountings visible just left of the pier

We could find no trace of any foundations. Where the foundations should have been, we did find definite signs of filling in with stones, bits of brick and pieces of masonry. It appears as if trenches had been dug, filled in with pieces of stone and building rubble and probably stamped down firmly before the concrete sections were cast in boxes on top of the filling material. This observation ties in with the appearance of the beam on the site. It has three relatively smooth sides and one very uneven side with impressions that could well be from the stones in the foundation trenches. The FAO was a wooden construction so it would probably not have required conventional foundations.

Leslie and Johan hard at work clearing and cleaning the southern pier of the FAO and just in view on the left are two identical structures to those uncovered next to the southern pier
Leslie and Johan hard at work clearing and cleaning the southern pier of the FAO and just in view on the left are two identical structures to those uncovered next to the southern pier

While looking for foundations we found numerous pieces of glass, most of them in the north and north-eastern section. Most of them appear to be ordinary window glass but there was one piece of bottle, without any distinctive markings as well. In the south-eastern corner of the dig I found the base of a ceramic container which dates to the late 1800’s or very early 1900’s.  This fits in neatly with the FAO’s time frame.

Lunch on the stoep of the Auditorium
Lunch on the stoep of the Auditorium
Auke's raised hand and pointing finger say it's back to work we go!
Auke’s raised hand and pointing finger say it’s back to work we go!

After lunch there was more cleaning and measuring and then we set about trying to find the row of Standard Length Markers (SLM) between the FAO and the Ron Atkins Observatory (ROA). Evan did his thing with the tape measure after careful examining the 1911 Gill-survey. With the first prod with his garden fork he struck cement!  Some quick spade work followed to uncover the second marker from the southern end so that the cleanup and measuring team could swing into action. In short order we found the next three north of that one, and then zeroed in on the most southerly marker. Two of these markers still had the wooden frames, in which the concrete had been cast, in place.

The northern SLM, or at least as much of it as we found that day
The northern SLM, or at least as much of it as we found that day
The SLM second from the northern end and again as we thought this was all there was
The SLM second from the northern end and again as we thought this was all there was
The third SLM from the northern end but here to there was more to be uncovered
The third SLM from the northern end but here to there was more to be uncovered
Leslie working on the fourth SLM from the northern end.
Leslie working on the fourth SLM from the northern end.
The fifth and southernmost SLM which also had some hidden surprises waiting to be uncovered
The fifth and southernmost SLM which also had some hidden surprises waiting to be uncovered

There is still some uncertainty about exactly how these bases for the SLM were constructed or what had been mounted on them. They differ considerably in size and appearance and method of construction.  After the measuring had been done, we covered them in lightly to prevent them from being disturbed and marked their positions with sticks stuck into the ground. We wrapped candy tape around these sticks to make them clearly visible. While placing these sticks I discovered that there was another slab about 20 cm north of the most northerly marker, which we hadn’t detected, and this raised the question as to whether we had not perhaps missed similar sections at the other SLMs. The sun was already setting, so we decided that investigation would have to wait until the next dig.

If you want to read about the work done before and after this post go to

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

AND

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV) 

AND

Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (I)

The search for the foundations of old buildings at the SAAO begins
Friday 03 July 2015.

The first thing to do was to set up our table and chairs and lay out all the equipment at the southern end of the row of Moonwatch Pillars (MWP’s). The next thing was to sit down and go through all the documentation Auke had meticulously prepared, stuff comparing plans dating from Sir David Gill’s 1911 document right up to the 2009 survey, view as well as several aerial photographs. Auke’s first objective was to find whatever remained of the Franklin Adams Observatory (FAO), dating back to 1903.

Tables, chairs, books, maps and photographs at the "base camp"
Tables, chairs, books, maps and photographs at the “base camp” with two Moon Watch Pillars in view on the left and right.
Auke on the way down to the dig with the Auditorium in the background
Auke on the way down to the dig with the Auditorium in the background

Structures on the maps and photographs that could be easily identified were the MWP’s and also the Moonwatch Hut (MWH), situated west of pillars seven, eight and nine (counting from the Southern end). On an undated aerial photograph the Cape Centre Dome was situated to the West of this hut. The Cape Centre Dome will be referred to as the Ron Atkins Observatory (RAO) in this and other documentation. Further west of the RAO, on the same photo, there appeared to be two smaller structures, which Auke had simply identified as F1 and F2. The FAO lay west of F1 and F2, about the same distance away as the RAO was from the MWH. The FAO appears on Gill’s 1911 map, on a 1932 survey map and again on a 1937 aerial photograph but disappears after that. The RAO, on the other hand, does not feature on any of these documents, but shows up on the undated aerial photo, which Auke thinks was taken after 1957 based on the fact that it shows the MWP’s. The FAO, however, no longer appears on this specific photograph.

We decided to first do some work on the RAO as part of the circular foundation was still visible.  The centre point of the RAO was 17m directly west of MWP seven. After some spade and broom work we had the greater portion of the circular foundation of the observatory uncovered as well as a substantial section of the floor. In the middle we found a large keyhole shaped structure that had very probably been the base of the telescope pier. In the wider section of the keyhole were three short pieces of rusty metal reinforcing rods still embedded in the concrete and the stub of one that had snapped off level with the floor. The wider end of this keyhole feature seems to contain more stone and rubble then the narrow end and the entire keyhole area is separated by a gap of 25 to 35 mm from the actual floor of the RAO. This gap was probably intended to isolate the keyhole section from any vibrations cause by walking on the floor of the RAO. Just outside the eastern edge of the outer wall (closest to the MWH) we found two cables that must have supplied electricity to the RAO.  At this point we broke for lunch.

The partially uncovered Ron Atkins Observatory. A the remains of the circular foundation, B the rusty reinforcing rods in the wider part of the keyhole structure, C the narrow section of the keyhole structure and D part of what remains of the floor
The partially uncovered Ron Atkins Observatory. A the remains of the circular foundation, B the rusty reinforcing rods in the wider part of the keyhole structure, C the narrow section of the keyhole structure and D part of what remains of the floor
A closer look at the keyhole structure. A, B & C the rusty reinforcing rods, X the remains of a rod which had already rusted away and D the gap between the keyhole structure and the surrounding floor
A closer look at the keyhole structure. A, B & C the rusty reinforcing rods, X the remains of a rod which had already rusted away and D the gap between the keyhole structure and the surrounding floor
What appear to have been two electrical supply cables on the eastern side of the Ron Atkins Observatory
A and B appear to have been two electrical supply cables on the eastern side of the Ron Atkins Observatory
Whatever it was I thought it was over to our right
Whatever it was I thought it was over to our right
Consultation of notes and maps followed
Consultation of notes and maps followed
Auke is of the opinion that whatever it was, was over to our left
Auke is of the opinion that whatever it was, was over to our left

After lunch we tackled the problem of locating the FAO.  From the maps and photographs we worked out that the middle of the northern pier in the FAO should be situated 25 m west of MWP seven, in other words, just eight metres west of the RAO. We measured off the distance and marked the spot. To our right, as we faced the RAO, lay a section of a concrete beam which we thought might represent part of the support for the roll-off roof. The beam is 30 x 30 cm and roughly 2 m in length; smooth on three sides and very rough on the fourth with bits of stone embedded in the concrete on that side. Careful excavation around the beam revealed nothing that could possibly be interpreted as part of a building’s foundations.

Taken from the supposed site of the Ron Atkins observatory A is the line of Moon Watch Pillars, B is where the Ron Atkins Observatory was, C points in the direction of where we thought the northern pier of the Frank Adams Observatory should be and D is teh concrete beam which we suppose was part of the support structure for the FAO
Taken from the supposed site of the Ron Atkins observatory A is the line of Moon Watch Pillars, B is where the Ron Atkins Observatory was, C points in the direction of where we thought the northern pier of the Frank Adams Observatory should be and D is the concrete beam which we suppose was part of the support structure for the FAO

Time was running out so we decided to dig an exploratory trench running from a point, which we were convinced was outside the eastern wall of the RAO, directly across the area in a westerly direction. In theory, this trench should intersect with at least two of the original walls. The theory proved to be incorrect. We were certain that our position was correct so the empty trench left us with two possibilities.

On the left our exploratory trench which revealed produced nothing by way of evidence for the FAO but we are convinced it is hidden somewhere under the grass
On the left our exploratory trench which produced nothing by way of evidence for the FAO, but we are convinced it is hidden somewhere under the grass

The FAO-site is situated below the 100 year flood line and this area has been subjected to a considerable infilling over the years in an effort to raise it higher above the adjacent Liesbeeck River. It is, therefore, quite feasible that the remains of the building are buried a lot deeper than we have been digging. The second possibility is that the remains of the building were dug up and used as landfill closer to the river.

More digging will hopefully give us some answers, but our time had run out and Auke and I had to pack up and go if we intended beating the dreaded Friday afternoon traffic on the N2 and N1 respectively.

If you want to read about the work done after this post go to

 

Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (II)

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Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (III)

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Astro-archaeology at the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town (IV) 

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Digging up the SAAO: Standard Lengths / Distance Markers (V)