Unihedron Sky Quality Meter, Error Identification and Elimination

Background

This Unihedron Sky Quality Meter (Ser. No. 5739 / Mod. 2.17) has been used over a six-year period at various venues in South Africa. I noted that the first four to six readings in every series of measurements we took drifted lower before stabilizing. My revised operating procedure discards the first four reading in every series and this has virtually eliminated the initial drift of earlier measuring sessions. My results showed and still show inexplicable outliers which have a negative impact on the error profile of the results produced. By mounting the unit on a tripod and making sure it is level and exactly vertical instead of operating it while hand-held, I have reduced the number of outliers but not eliminated them.

  1. Experiment 1.

The results of the first experiment were obtained at Bergwater Lodge (-33°39’47.06″, 20°00’44.13″, 501m) near Montagu. The objective was to see if the readings taken with the Sky Quality Meter at the zenith (0°) and at 30° and 60° down from 0°, toward each cardinal direction varied and, if they varied, by how much. In experiment 1 the meter was hand-held.

  1. Results for Experiment 1.
The readings toward the east (E30°) and West (W30°) were consistently similar and both sets were slightly better (darker) than the zenith readings. The values toward the North (N30°) and south (S30°) were consistently less dark than the East & West readings with the N30° readings slightly better (darker) than the S30° ones. I have no explanation for the outlier in the S30°set.
The readings toward the east (E30°) and West (W30°) were consistently similar and both sets were slightly better (darker) than the zenith readings. The values toward the North (N30°) and south (S30°) were consistently less dark than the East & West readings with the N30° readings slightly better (darker) than the S30° ones. I have no explanation for the outlier in the S30°set.
The E30° readings were darker than either the 0° readings or the W30° ones. The W30° readings were marginally less dark than the 0° values. The values for N30° were quite close to the other values but not quite as dark and S30° was noticeably different and again the lowest (least dark) of the five sets.
The E30° readings were darker than either the 0° readings or the W30° ones. The W30° readings were marginally less dark than the 0° values. The values for N30° were quite close to the other values but not quite as dark and S30° was noticeably different and again the lowest (least dark) of the five sets.
The E60° readings were darker than either the 0° readings or the W60° ones and both sets were darker than the 0° values. The values for N60° and S60° were quite close to the other values but not quite as dark, however, all the different sets were much closer together than in Figures 1 and 2.
The E60° readings were darker than either the 0° readings or the W60° ones and both sets were darker than the 0° values. The values for N60° and S60° were quite close to the other values but not quite as dark, however, all the different sets were much closer together than in Figures 1 and 2.
The E30° readings were darker than either the 0° readings or the W30° ones. The W30° readings and the 0° values are very close to each other. The values for N30° and S30° were also quite close together but, in this case, the N30° values were marginally less dark than the S30° ones.
The E30° readings were darker than either the 0° readings or the W30° ones. The W30° readings and the 0° values are very close to each other. The values for N30° and S30° were also quite close together but, in this case, the N30° values were marginally less dark than the S30° ones.
The W60° readings were now the darkest ones followed by the E60° ones. The 0° readings and the S60° values are hardly distinguishable with the N60° values just slightly lighter.
The W60° readings were now the darkest ones followed by the E60° ones. The 0° readings and the S60° values are hardly distinguishable with the N60° values just slightly lighter.
Depiction of the % difference between zenith (0°) readings and other values.  Zenith values were taken as 100% so negative values indicate series of readings that were higher (darker) than zenith readings.
The depiction of the % difference between Zenith (0°) readings and other values. Zenith values were taken as 100% so negative values indicate series of readings that were higher (darker) than zenith readings.
  1. Discussion of Experiment 1.

The results in Figures 1 to 6 show that the values given by the Sky Quality Meter do differ at the different cardinal points and also at 30° and 60 ° down from the zenith (0°). At both 30° and 60°, the readings were darker toward the west and east than at 0° and less dark toward the north and south.

In order to illustrate the differences more clearly, the Sky Quality Readings were calculated as a percentage of the value obtained for the zenith (0°) and these results are depicted in Figure 7 (above). Here it is clear that W30°, E30°, W60° & N60° readings were consistently darker than the readings at 0° (average -0.4222) while those for N30°, S30°, N60° & S60° were lighter by a larger margin (average 0.8175).

  1. Future Planning.

One set of results is not enough to draw any general conclusions from and I suspect the results will vary from site to site. In all probability, they will also vary from season to season for the same site as the position of objects in the sky changes seasonally. I will select a suitable site and repeat the test at three monthly intervals over the course of one year.

  1. Experiment 2.

The values in the second experiment were obtained at the SAAO Hostel near Sutherland (-32°22’35.29″, 20°48’18.56″, 1703m). I wanted to verify that my Unihedron Sky Quality Meter’s readings were consistent at 0° when the instrument was rotated 90° between consecutive readings around the vertical axis. In experiment 2 the meter was tripod-mounted and the tripod was set to level and vertical using a spirit level.

  1. Results for Experiment 2.
The two sets of south/north (S/N) -readings are consistently darker than the west/east (W/E) -readings. Despite the three outliers, the two sets of S/N-readings lie quite close together as do the two sets of W/E readings.
The two sets of south/north (S/N) -readings are consistently darker than the west/east (W/E) -readings. Despite the three outliers, the two sets of S/N-readings lie quite close together as do the two sets of W/E readings.
  1. Discussion of Experiment 2.

From these results, it appears that the Unihedron Sky Quality Meter I use does, in fact, give different readings in the two 90° orientations around the vertical axis that were tested. Even if one takes into consideration the three outlier values the S/N values are consistently darker than the W/E values. It seems possible to produce quite different sets of values, and therefore draw different conclusions depending on how the instrument is orientated around the vertical axis.

  1. Future Planning.

I will repeat the test using all four possible 90° orientations around the vertical axis. On that occasion, it will hopefully have the time to take two or three sets of readings on the same evening and also to repeat all of them on two or more consecutive evenings.

DarkSky Weekend at Bergwater Lodge, Pietersfontein, Montagu

DarkSky Weekend at Bergwater Lodge, Pietersfontein, Montagu:  26th February to 02nd March 2014

26th of February
Lynnette, Snorre the cat and I left home in the Vito on Wednesday the 26th of February hoping to get in at least one extra night’s observing at Bergwater Lodge. On the way there we stopped off at the Pitkos Farm Stall to buy ripe figs and at Pinto’s Butchery in in Paul Kruger Street in Robertson to buy cheese grillers.  In Montagu we stopped off at Marina le Roux the vet’s surgery for Snorre’s annual check-up, which he passed with flying colours and then on to Bergwater.  It was hot when we left home and even hotter when we arrived at Bergwater Lodge.  After unloading and storing everything away we relaxed and waited to see what the weather would do in the evening.  The weather turned out to be superb for stargazing, crystal clear and the upper atmosphere nice and stable.  At 02:00 the average of 20 sky brightness readings, taken with a Sky Quality meter, was 21,6395 magnitudes per square arcsecond (MPSAS) which translates to a naked eye limiting magnitude (NELM) of  6,4544 V mags. By 04:00 we were falling over our own feet so we packed it in and went to bed.

27th of February
On Thursday Jannie and Eddie Nijeboer, who are old hands at Bergwater, arrived during the course of the afternoon and settled in.  Thursday evening started out very nicely and then, shortly after 22:00 the clouds moved in.  By 01:00 it was completely overcast and we decided it was not going to clear so we all went off to bed.

28th of February
Friday dawned bright and clear but day still ended up being very hot.  The rest of the group slowly trickled in. Wendy Cooper (Secretary of the South Peninsula Astronomy Club) arrived in good time followed by a first timer at Bergwater, John Richards (a long standing member of the Cape Centre), Ralph and Sheila Baker (novice stargazers and guests of Jannie and Eddy) also arrived with daylight to spare.  The rest, Martin Coetzee (Orion Observation Group), Lia Labuschagne, (Chair of ASSA’s (Astronomical Society of Southern Africa) Cape Center), Wendy Vermeulen (Cape Center member) and Brett du Preez (astrophotographer of considerable repute –  see the cover of the 2014 SkyGuide), all arrived after dark.

Lia and Wendy, in keeping with the well-established tradition at Bergwater, went sightseeing after dark up to Doringkloof.  We did not know about their intention to recce the area so Martin kindly drove me back to the R318 to try and contact them but without any success.  We returned to Bergwater hoping they were not in trouble and were quite relieved when they arrived shortly afterwards.

Auke Slotegraaf could not make it due to family complications and was missed by all.  Henry Oliver, Jaco Wiese and Raoul Schwenke, were due to arrive on the Saturday as Henry still had teaching commitments in Wellington.

Friday night started out with some instability in the upper air but that improved as the night progressed.  By midnight conditions were really good.  At around 04:00 on Saturday morning I managed, much to Brett’s amusement, to identify the rising Venus as a plane with its landing lights on or, alternatively, as a possible Alien UFO!  At 01:00 the average of 30 sky brightness readings was 21,7023 MPSAS which translates to a NELM of  6,4851 V mags. The serious observers got to bed well after 04:00 so none of them were about much before 11:00 on Saturday.

DSC_5873_Bergwater_01Mrt2014_Venus
Venus when I first spotted it and thought up all the fancifull explanations about what it was and was not
DSC_5887_Bergwater_01Mrt2014_Venus
Venus a short while later after the penny had dropped

1st of March
Saturday was another scorcher but after rising fairly late many of the group members took the opportunity to cool off in the swimming pool.  Brett set up his binoculars with solar filters so that everyone could look at the sunspots during the course of the day.  With Brett’s help I also managed to take a more or less reasonable photograph of the Sun later in the afternoon.

DSC_5910_Bergwater_01Mrt2014_Dagaktiwiteite
Martin and Sheila digging into some watermelon to combat the heat
DSC_5909
Brett, Martin & Eddy taking it easy in the shade

 

DSC_5908
This is not Eddies midday snooze he is looking at the sunspots through Brett’s binoculars equipped with sunfilters

 

DSC_5905
Sundry telescopes and Auke’s impressive banner depicting the Universe in six informative panels
DSC_5904
Where have all the people gone, gone to cooler spots every one ….
DSC_5903
Martin taking up position for a sunspot viewing session while Brett, Eddy, Jannie & Sheila look on. In the background is a glimpse of the magnificent scenery at the Bergwater Lodge
DSC_5900
Martin heading for the shade and Brett at the binoculars. The high level clouds in the background eventually went away
DSC_5917_Bergwater_01Mrt2014_Son
My image of the Sun. Thanks Brett.

By the time it was completely dark Henry, Jaco and Raoul had not turned up and it later materialized that Jaco’s wife Jacoleen, who is pregnant, had been admitted to an ICU for observation. The rest of the night was perfect for viewing.  Brett eventually sorted out the problem with his equipment – a too long connection cable.  As he did not have a shorter cable there, he did the next best thing and switched to binocular observation, as he had done on the previous evening.  At 11:00 the average of 30 sky brightness readings was 21,5970 MPSAS which translates to a NELM of  6,4333 V mags.  Lynnette and I only got to bed well after 04:00.

Telescope activities
An animated GIF depicting some of the action around the telescopes at night

2nd of March
At around 05:00 on Sunday morning the power went off, not only at the Lodge, but in the entire valley.  Apparently ESKOM was carrying out scheduled maintenance but somehow the Lodge had not been notified.  This caused special problems at the Lodge because it put the pumps that supply the Lodge with water out of action which meant that, when the toilets had been used once, the cisterns did not refill.  The power only came back on after 17:00 that afternoon.

The power outage and associated water problem meant that nobody could prepare breakfast so most people left earlier than usual to have breakfast in Montagu or Robertson.  Lynnette and I relaxed for the rest of the day and made our preparations for the guests we expected for the stargazing event on Sunday evening.

Public Outreach at Bergwater Lodge, Pietersfontein, Montagu

Public Outreach at Bergwater Lodge, Pietersfontein, Montagu:  02nd of March 2014

Christine had asked us to stay on after the DarkSky event and present an astronomy evening to a group from the town of Montagu and farms in the immediate vicinity of the Lodge. So, after the last of the DeepSky crowd had departed on Sunday morning, we relaxed and did some planning for the evening.  We also watched the weather rather anxiously as there were clouds around and, at one point, it actually looked as if it might turn out to be Clouds 1, Astronomy Presenters 0.  As the afternoon progressed the clouds dispersed and by the time the first guests arrived things were looking very promising.  There were just enough clouds left to create a nice sunset.

DSC_5502_Bergwater_28Feb2014_Sononder
Sunset from the Lodge. If you have sharp eyes you should be able to see the outlines of the faces of the two guardians of the Pietersfontein valley

 

DSC_5503_Bergwater_28Feb2014_Sononder
A slightly enlarged view of the same sunset so you can get a better look at the two guardians
DSCN0624_Quad3_Entrance
The courtyard at the Lodge where we held the event

All the guests had brought picnic suppers and while they tucked in Lynnette and I also had a quick bite to eat.  By the time we had finished it was quite dark and while the crowd of about 25 would be stargazers finished the last of their suppers, I started on a laser guided tour of the night sky. The tour had not quite finished when I noticed clouds sneaking in from the Northwest.  Lynnette and I quickly whipped the covers off the telescopes, which we had set up earlier, and set to work showing off some of the beauties of our night skies.

DSC_6416_Alles_oor
The courtyard after everyone had left and we were putting everything away

The clouds had other ideas and before long we had lost the Pleiades, followed quickly by the demise of the rest of Taurus and then Orion. Shortly after that the curtain came down on Jupiter and Gemini and, before long they were nibbling at Lepus as well as Canis Major and Canis Minor.  We quickly switched to the southern part of the sky and managed to squeeze in Omega-Cen, Eta-Carina, the Southern Pleiades and Jewel Box as well as one or two other objects, before the clouds caught up with us and blotted that part of the sky out too.

After conceding victory to the weather gods we stood around discussing astronomy related topics with the guests.  Leo put in a brief appearance but not for long enough to do more than point it out to the guests.  The people gradually packed up and drifted off to their cars to go home.  We were invited back by several of the attendees and have some tentative dates to work on.  Hopefully next time we will be able to outsmart the clouds.

Monday was overcast, and slightly wet but delightfully cool so we stayed put and rested.  On the way home on Tuesday we stopped at Affiplaas Farm Stall for figs and a melktert and at Pitkos Farm Stall we stopped for coffee and Francis’s delicious roosterkoek with biltong and melted cheese and also more figs.  After that it was home and the onerous task of unloading the Vito and putting things away.  Snorre, by the way, was delighted to be home and very capably supervised the unloading and putting away from a nice shady spot.

The birds, the bees and other inhabitants of the Bergwater Lodge area

This is not intended to be a complete compendium of the insects, birds, animals and plants at Bergwater Lodge.  It is far to small a collection to pretend to be anything even remotely like that. These are photos taken during the course of the recent Deepsky event presented at Bergwater Lodge.

PAN_DSC_2030_BW_Nat_Pan2-DSC_2034_BW_Nat_Pan2
A panoramic view across Pietersfontein dam from Bergwater Lodge on a rainy day. Southeast is on the extreme left and Northwest on the extreme right..
DSC_1731_Muispaaie
Mouse trails like this one crossing the road, are everywhere in the veld marking their main foraging trails.
DSC_1947_Miere
The white fluffy stuff is a fungus growing on the plant and it apparently secretes a sweetish substance which the ants then collect.
DSC_2018_Miere
After the first showers of rain these termites sent their new queens and the males out to undertake their nuptial flights and start new colonies
DSC_2094_Voels
Three South African Shelducks (Tadorana cana & Afr. kopereend) touching down on the dam.
DSC_2095_Voels
African Shelducks skiing to a stop after touching down
DSC_1954_Vinke
A Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix, Afr. Suidelike Rooivink) resplendent in his breeding plumage
DSC_1956_Vinke
Equally hansom is the Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus, Afr. Swartkeelgeelvink)
DSC_1988_Bergplooie
The impressive folding of the mountains on the far side of the dam bear silent testimony to the unimaginable forces that shaped the present day landscapes millions of years ago.
DSC_1989_Nes
Nest of a pair of Rock Martins Ptyonoprogne fuligula, Afr. Kransswael)
DSC_2370_Voelnes
The Rock Martins (Ptyonoprogne fuligula) attending their chicks.
DSC_2141_Kasterolieboom
Castor oil Plant or Castor Bean (Ricinus communis, Afr. Kasteroliboom). The plant originates from the Mediterranean region and its seeds are extremely toxic and one crushed seed will kill a child. The name Ricinus is a Latin word for tick; probably so named because the seed has markings and a bump at the end that resemble certain ticks. The common name “castor oil” probably comes from its use as a replacement for castoreum, a perfume base made from the dried perineal glands of the beaver (castor in Latin). Its other common name is palm of Christ, or Palma Christi, given because castor oil was reputedly able to heal wounds and cure certain ailments.
DSC_2142_Kasterolieboomsaad
The seedpods of the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
DSC_2376_Voel
This scruffy looking individual is a Pied Starling (Lamprotomis bicolor, Afr. Witgatspreeu) and he is every bit as shifty as he looks.
DSC_2059_Duisendpoot
These brightly coloured insects are Millipede Assassin bug nymphs (could be Ectrichodia crux) and here they are typically feeding in a group on a large millipede.
DSC_2377_Voel
A friendly Cape Wagtail (Montacilla capensis, Afr. Gewone Kwikkie) patroling for insects.
DSC_1990_Nes
Nest of a Common Hous-martin (Delichon urbicum, Afr. Huisswael). If you look very carefully the tip of a chick’s beak can just be seen peeking over the edge to the right of the white mark on the nest.
DSC_2374_Voel
One of the parent Common House-Martins.
DSC_2371_Voelnes
The Common House-Martin nest again, but this time with three beaks peeking over the edge.
DSC_2144_Doringboom
A luxurious Sweet Thorn (Vachellia karroo, afr. Afr. Soetdoring) of which there are several stands along the banks of the dam
DSC_2145_Doringboom
Yellow inflorescence and thorns of the Sweet Thorn. As you can see getting tangled up in one of these will not be a “sweet” experience.
DSC_2147_Oogpister
A Ten-spotted Ground Beetle (Termophilum decemguttatum, Afr. Kooipister or Oogpister). They are able to squirt concentrated acetic acid which, if it gets into the eyes of either humans or pets, can blind them if very prompt action is not taken.
DSC_2042_Voels
Female Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus, Afr. Klein Rooibandsuikerbekkie). The male was terribly camera shy.
DSC_2362_Jakkalsvoel
Marianne Delport says she thinks this is a young Verreaux’s Eagle (Witkruisarend), so I’ll stick with that until corrected. Marianne has Facebook page “Cape Eco-Tours”, go and have look https://www.facebook.com/Cape.Eco.Tours?ref=stream&hc_location=stream
DSC_2333_Groot_By
A large bee, probably a Carpenter Bee, visiting Lavender flowers
DSC_2347_Bye
A Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera subsp. capensis) hard at work.
DSC_2372_Aalwyn
One of the many Aloe-species (Aloe microstigma) in the area.
DSC_2383_Geitjie
This gecko lives in the kitchen. Officially named Bibron’s Thick-toed Gecko (Pachydactylus affinis, Afr. Bontgeitjie or Skurwegeitjie) he is very agile and also ultra-cautious so it took a great deal of patience getting it to “pose” for the picture.
DSC_2406_Suikerbekkie
Onece again thanks to Marianne Delport this is apparently a Jangroentjie (Malachite Sunbird, Vectannia famosa) in its “eclipse plumage.

Deepsky Event 27 December 2013 to 05 January 2014

Deepsky Event 27 December 2013 to 05 January 2014

 Thursday 26 December 2013

We intended packing on Wednesday evening and then leaving at 06:00, or by the latest at 08:00 on Thursday.  The best laid plans of mice and the Fosters often don’t materialize and we eventually pulled away at about 11:00.  Going to bed at 05:00 was not a good idea!  We stopped briefly at the Pitkos Farmstall to buy the second half of Auke’s Solstice present and also at the Affieplaas Farmstall where Lynnette bought a really delicious old style Melktert.  No, this was not a Milk Tart, it was a proper old fashioned South African Melktert.  We arrived at Bergwater and after finding Christine’s well hidden house keys and assuring Lynnette that the mouse in Christine’s bath would not object to her using the toilet, we fed the dogs and the cats, collected the keys to the Lodge and then drove to the Lodge.  Next followed the unavoidable and seemingly interminable schlep of unloading the Vito and packing everything away, but eventually that was done and we could sit back, enjoy the view and relax.

After supper we just sat outside and enjoyed the gradual transition from daylight to the Karoo night with the breathtaking horizon-to-horizon display of stars.  We spent the evening outside with our star charts and binoculars refreshing our memories about the constellations, watching satellites and enjoying the majestic passage of the galaxy as the Earth turned us through the night on our way to the next sunrise.

Before going to bed I took a set if photos of NovaCen, but forgot to take the dark sky readings.

DSC_1546_Lig_in_Braaiarea
A prime example of how not to mount outside lighting.
DSC_1544_Dam
Thorn trees in flower reflected in the dam
DSC_1564_Sononder
Enchanting sunset

Friday 27 December 2013

Today Auke and Iain are supposed to arrive.  I walked down to Christine’s house, using a short cut through the olive orchard, where I came across a nice big puffadder.  The obligatory hasty detour around the snake was too stressful for my aging sandals, resulting in two broken straps (much to Lynnette’s delight).  After that reptilian episode I fed the cats and dogs and gave them fresh drinking water.  I also caught the mouse and threw it out the back door.  The cats were puzzled by the fact that it appeared to be raining mice but, while they gathered their wits, Bella, the Dachshund, pounced and claimed it.  Still no sign of either Auke or Iain and, because there is no cell phone contact, the only line of communication is Christine’s land-line, but she was away for a few days so nobody could contact us or leave a message.

Friday night was another excellent night for stargazing and, before going to bed I remembered to take a set of dark sky readings and also another set of photos of NovaCen.

 Saturday 28 December 2013

There was still no sign of Auke or Iain.  Lynnette and I drove down to Christine’s house and, while I fed the cats and dogs, she phoned Auke from Christine’s land-line.  It turned out that a close family member had been taken ill, making it impossible for him to leave home.  Saturday evening was cloudy and not suitable for stargazing.  In the early hours of the morning I did, however, manage to get some nice pictures of the crescent Moon and Saturn in the pre-dawn sky.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Power outage for about one and a half hours from 08:00.  Leslie arrived on schedule later in the afternoon and set up his equipment.  The evening was nice and clear for stargazing and astrophotography and before going to bed I took another comprehensive set of dark sky readings.  Leslie’s efforts for the night produced a good shot of the Horse Head specially for Lynnette and a stunning image of NGC 1232 in Eridanus. I managed to get to bed by 04:30.

DSC_1520_Maan
Saturn accompanying the waning Moon in the pre-dawn skies

 Monday 30 December 2013

Ludwig and Sandy arrived.  Ludwig was still recovering from a very nasty bout of summer flu, as a result of which his voice still faded from time to time and in general he still looked much the worse for wear.  Christine returned from her holiday tanned to crisp and as garrulous as ever. After the late afternoon braai an initially promising evening for stargazing slowly changed for the worse as the clouds moved in.  By midnight it was clear that stargazing was not on and we packed everything away. By the time Leslie had packed everything away he decided that there was no point in going to bed for a few hours so he got in the car and left for home. However, before leaving, he presented Lynnette with a beautiful black and white picture which he had taken of the Horse Head, one of her favorite images in the night sky.

Tuesday 31 December 2013

Lynnette and Christine went off to Montagu which took several hours.  While there Lynnette phoned Iain and discovered that he was in hospital but that he was being released that day and, when he heard Alan and Rose were coming he said he would also come out on the 2nd of January.  Lynnette also bought four watermelons for R10 each from a neighbouring farmer and replenished our bread, Bitter Lemon, Jeripigo and braaiwors supplies. Ludwig looks marginally better this morning, but I think he should stay out of the night air so stargazing is probably not advisable for him.  We invited Christine around for a New Year’s Eve glass of Bubbly and hopefully Ludwig and Sandy will join us.

Christine did not turn up for the braai or the bubbly.  The rest of us had supper inside to keep Ludwig out of the evening chill and shared a bottle of red wine.  Actually I drank some, as did Lynnette but Ludwig abstained as he was on antibiotics and Sandy doesn’t drink.  After super wrapped up warmly and we sat around talking under the stars, touching on astronomy and a host of other topics.  I took a set of photographs of NovaCen around 01:00 after Ludwig and Sandy had gone to bed and then set up the camera to do a 3 hour exposure so I could get some good star trails.  I forgot to take the dark sky readings.

We subsequently heard that Sandy went down with the flu after they got home and Ludwig had to be hospitalized with pneumonia and a collapsed lung.  Hope they recover soon and fully.

DSC_1950_Perde
View of the Lodge from the Northwest
DSC_1988_Bergplooie
Weird and wonderful folds in the mountains on the far side of the dam.

Wednesday 01 January 2014

Ludwig and Sandy left after 11:00 and Lynnette and I have the Lodge to ourselves until Alan and Rose, and hopefully Iain too, arrive tomorrow.  Today is really hot and I measured 41°C at 12:00 but the wind has shifted to the West and I am holding thumbs that it won’t bring clouds this evening. Damnation by 14:00 it was almost completely clouded over.  Christine’s son-in-law, Raul, came round to fetch the portable braai and brought me a bottle of his home brewed and distilled Peach Brandy.  Christine pitched shortly afterwards and then the whole clan had a braai down at the pool.  Raul has bought himself a smallish Rubber Duck with which he intends going fishing at Witsand so he and a friend spent some time on the dam trying it out..

In the meantime the wind freshened considerably and turned back to the Southeast.  By 19:25 most of the clouds had departed leaving only a layer along the Langeberg Mountains and scattered remnants low down to the South and North.  Lynnette and I parked ourselves outside and spent time doing some more brushing up on our constellations.  I had the camera set op to do a long exposure hoping to get a good star trail photograph. The clouds reappeared and showed up as gaps in my star trail photograph.  The exposure for the star trail photograph was a bit short at 5800s and all the star trails were virtually straight lines.  After taking SQM-readings we went to bed at around 03:00.

Thursday 02 January 2014

Christine turned up with more watermelons and examples of two varieties of sweet melon for us to try out.  Alan and Rose pitched at around 14:00 with the news that Iain would not be coming as he was not feeling up to it after his stay in hospital.  No sign of Christo and Monique and eventually they did not pitch at all.  This Dark Sky event will go down on record as the non-arrival Dark Sky.  We opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the arrival of 2014 with Alan and Rose.  Viewing started off well with a beautiful clear sky.  Later on a few high level clouds moved in and by 02:30 we all decided to pack it in.  Although the cloud cover wasn’t extensive it was sufficient to make one keep on having to change targets, which was a nuisance.  No dark sky readings were taken due to the clouds.

DSC_1889_Timelapse_1013s_03Jan2014
A time-lapse of the observing area before we packed up

Friday 03 January 2014

When we woke up at around 10:30 the inside temperature of our room was already a warmish 38 degrees Celsius and it did not get any better towards midday.  Two sets of guests moved in and despite our reservations they were very well behaved as far as the use of lights was concerned.  Once again we had good viewing conditions and everybody kept busy doing some serious observations.  Lynnette decided to hunt for the 3 galaxies in Fornax and found two of them, sketched them and will discuss them with Auke once we are home again.  We did some stargazing with the guests when they got back from their braai with Christine’s brother.  We were rather chuffed to see that they had actually prepared red torches so as not to destroy our dark adaptation.   By 00:30 a thin mist like haze had crept up slowly all round and appeared to be intent on covering the entire sky so, after taken a series of shots of NovaCen and two 30sec exposures of the SMC/LMC area, we packed up and went to bed with the temperature in our room still a very warm 31 degrees.  No dark sky readings were taken due to the clouds which, by now, had left only a few stars around Crux as a consolation prize.  Between 02:00 and 05:00 we had several light showers of rain which helped to cool things down a bit.

DSC_1909_Sononder_Bergwater
Spectacular sunset
DSC_1841_Sekelmaan_1-2s_F8_ISO400
The crescent of the waxing moon setting

Saturday 04 January 2014

We woke up to cloudy skies and considerably cooler weather.  By 11:00 the clouds had started to break up and we had patches of blue sky which would hopefully get larger as the day wore on.  Initial hopes of clear skies were dashed later in the afternoon when more clouds moved in from the West.  The clouds provided a spectacular sunset but stargazing was out of the question. Everybody decided to have an early night and get some extra sleep.

DSC_1934_Sononder_Bergwater
Sunsets are spectacular but the clouds were not welcome

Sunday 05 January 2014

It rained lightly during the night and cooled the area down quite a bit.  It was partially cloudy throughout the morning and most of the afternoon as well as the early evening. We decided to take a walk and visit Christine, and after a nice cup of coffee we set off to the local cell phone hot spot the see if there was any cell phone reception.  Alan and Rose packed up during the morning and by lunchtime they were ready to leave. Lynnette decided to take an afternoon nap and I ventured off to the dam to take some photos of the local birds. Definitely no stargazing tonight due to heavy rain clouds and after having a light supper we stayed in our room and entertained Snorre, much to his delight!  Christine came to visit around 20:30 and we discussed our plans for Monday. By 10:30, as the Moon was setting, we went outside and found that the sky was clearing and would probably clear enough to do some astronomy by midnight.  The expectations about the sky clearing were far too optimistic, in fact it simply clouded over more and more.

DSC_1943_Lynnette_Telefoonhokkie
Lynnette trying out the technology at the cell-phone hot spot

Monday 06 January 2014

Nice cool morning but an overcast day.  Christine came around at about 10:30 with the news that it was expected to start raining at 16:00 and keep on raining right through Tuesday with flood warnings for Wednesday.  Lynnette and I discussed this and decided that even if we really rushed it would take about 90 minutes to pack everything and load up the Vito so we probably would not be able to leave before 18:00.  If it started raining we would be driving home in the rain and gathering darkness which neither of us liked the thought of.  Nevertheless we decided it would be a good thing if we loaded the telescopes and related equipment before it started raining, if it started raining.  Yours truly, who was keeping an eye on the weather decided it did not look all that much like rain, so loading the telescopes could wait until a little later.  In the meantime I got stuck into processing some photos and totally ignored the weather but, at 15:50 on the dot, it started raining.  One can never seem to trust these weather people to be accurate; I mean 15:50 is not 16:00, is it now?

Initially it was quit gusty and stormy, but then it settled down and rained softly but steadily for the rest of the afternoon and through most of the night.  Shortly after the rain started a number of the local ant colonies decided to undertake their nuptial flights and all the birds in the vicinity took the opportunity to boost their protein intake.  By 22:30 we began to wonder about the two low-water bridges we’d have to cross to get back to the tarred road and head home.

Tuesday 07 January 2014

It rained steadily all night and quite heavily at times, but by 08:00 it had started to abate.  As expected, both bridges on the road out were under water and with more rain still falling in the catchment areas, it seemed unlikely that we would get out any time soon.  To make the final loading as speedy as possible, we took advantage of a break in the weather to load the telescopes and as much of the other stuff that was not likely be required into the Vito.  Lynnette went with Christine to her house to use the land-line and let all and sundry know we would not be home today as planned and possibly not tomorrow either.  News arrived of a dam broken in Robertson and a bridge washed away there too, with potential road closures in Bonnievale due to flooding.

DSC_2015_Onweer
It was wet and getting wetter all the time
DSC_2046_Waterval
A waterfall in one of the side-kloofs feeding into the dam
DSC_2047_Vol_Rivier
The main stream feeding into the dam was in full spate
DSC_2112_Waterval
A waterfall high in the catchment area tells of more water yet to come

During the afternoon I walked down to the dam wall to photograph the overflow, which had also decreased somewhat during the day as the flooding in the rivers subsided.  The doomsayers, however, predict that the rain which had fallen during the day would be augmented by heavy rain during the night and this would cause the depth of the water over the bridges to rise again by the morning.  I think we will just have to wait and see and try and get reliable reports as early as possible in the morning so that we can finish loading the Vito quickly and get out of the valley while the going is good.

DSC_2066_Oorloop
The dam overflowing
DSC_2083_Rivier_onder_dam
Water flow below the dam. This would contribute one half of the low at the second crossing to get back to Montagu
DSC_2070_Oorloop
The arrow indicates the high water mark during the infamous 1981 floods, so we still have a long way to go this time around

Although it rained very little at the Lodge during the day, it appeared still to be raining lightly in the mountains to the North, Northeast and East, which is where the rivers currently flooding the bridges get their water from, so it looks as if we are in for a day or two longer here.  Later in the afternoon news arrived that the water levels had dropped sufficiently to allow vehicles, with very high ground clearances, to cross the flooded bridges, but it was still unsafe for vehicles with low ground clearances, like the Vito.  The Vito would most likely float and we could end up cruising down the river, and it wasn’t even Sunday afternoon anymore.

DSC_1954_Vinke
The birds did not seem to mind the rain at all
DSC_1956_Vinke
The weaver birds are a very colourful and vociferous group
DSC_2094_Voels
For the geese it was an opportunity to practice landing in formation

Wednesday 08 January 2014

Somewhere around 01:00 the thunderstorms let fly with a vengeance and continued all the way through to around 04:30 or thereabouts.  Blinding lightning flashes, rumbling thunder and for the closer lightning strikes there were rafter shaking thunderclaps and all of this to the incessant drumbeats of very large raindrops on the Lodges galvanized iron roof.  All in all, quite an impressive performance, reminiscent of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries or perhaps, more appropriately of Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain.  Poor Lynnette slept very little.  She’d hardly doze off after one peal of thunder when the next one would jerk her rudely from her slumbers.  Snorre decided that the safest place in the midst of all this din, was as close as possible to me on the bed.

When the day dawned it revealed a very wet Bergwater Lodge and Pietersfontein Valley.  Judging by the inflow into the dam we assumed correctly that the road out was impassible and this was confirmed during a visit to Christine later in the morning.  It also transpired that the road out of Montagu through Cogman’s Kloof was in danger of being closed, which would mean that, even if we could leave Bergwater Lodge we would very likely have to go out via the Koo, the N1 and De Doorns, unless we were prepared to drive back to Cape Town via Barrydale, Tradouw;s Pass, Swellendam and the N2.  Around lunch time Christine took as down to the first flooded bridge and it was immediately obvious that the Vito would not make it across.  The flooding at the second crossing was more extensive so we really only had one option – stay put.  In the late afternoon a vehicle actually got through but was unable to get back again because the flow in the second river had increased.

DSC_2133_Vol_Rivier
The first of the rivers to cross on the way to Montagu still had a lot of water
DSC_2137_Vol_Rivier
There was no way we were going to take the Vito through this lot

The weather forecast predicted heavy rain for the late afternoon and during the night.  By late afternoon the buildup of very dark threatening rain clouds was quite impressive and we began to worry that the storms during the night might bring not only heavy rain, but also hail.  In a bout with large hailstones the unprotected Vito would come a very poor second indeed.  Christine came around in the evening to report that the latest weather forecast on the TV predicted widespread heavy rains with extensive flooding during the next 24 hours.  Hello Friday – maybe – and hold thumbs that there is no hail!

I popped out at 22:30 to find it was clearing slightly and managed to get some decent shots of the slightly older than first quarter Moon.  Perhaps we can head home tomorrow!

Thursday 09 January 2014

We had some rain during the night and the weather was still partially cloudy by 08:00 but gradually cleared until we were left with just a few scattered clouds by late afternoon, most of them to the Northeast, East and Southeast.  The wind was refreshingly cool and quite gusty at times from a Northerly to Northwesterly direction.  Early reports were that the rivers were down enough to allow vehicles with a fairly high ground clearance through and the general opinion was that, if no more rain fell in the catchment areas the Vito should make it by tomorrow if the the water levels drop a little further.  While Lynnette was preparing supper I caught the kitchen’s resident Bibron’s gecko so Lynnette could have a closer look at it.  After supper we walked down to Christine’s house and had tea with her.  She drove us back at about 22:30, but it really was a lovely evening with very few clouds about, Pity the telescopes have been loaded as tonight might have been a good night to brush up on our moon knowledge.

Friday 10 January 2014

Lynnette woke me at about 01:30 to listen to the sound of potential disaster – rain!  It rained very lightly until about 05:00 and then started to clear slowly.  After surveying the surrounding hills with the binoculars I decided that the rain had been too light to increase the runoff enough and raise the water levels in the rivers appreciably so we decided to pack up and go.

DSC_2390_Snorre_Ontmoet_Perd
Snorre perched on an observing chair absolutely transfixed by his first view of a horse
DSC_2391_Snorre_Ontmoet_Perd
The horse that fascinated Snorre

Christine arrived with her staff to start cleaning the Lodge while we were loading the Vito  and confirmed that the rivers had not risen.  While changing the linen in one of the unoccupied rooms she called us over to show us how the mice had chewed up the pillows and bedspread, also urinating on them and leaving yellow stains and a very unpleasant smell.

We left at around 11:00 making our first stop at Kotie Kriel’s place to pick up a crate of freshly picked peaches.  Next stop was to pick up the watermelons and sweet melons at another farm and then it we had to tackle the two flooded bridges.  These turned out to be far less of an obstacle than we had expected and we were well and truly on our way home.

Acting on Christine’s recommendation we stopped off at Pinto’s Butchery in Robertson, where Lynnette bought a variety of sausages as well as biltong and dried wors.  Maybe dried sausage is eaten elsewhere in the world but here in South Africa it is dried wors.  I can, by the way, really recommend Pinto’s Strandlopers!

Next stop was the Pitkos Farm Stall where we had coffee and roosterkoek with biltong and melted cheese while Snorre sat in a tree pretending he was a leopard.  His tree sitting only laste until the local red ants evicted him.  After that we headed home to the dreary task of unpacking and putting everything back where it belongs.

DSC_2401_Pitkos
The Vito with Snorre up a tree where he was shortly to be evicted by the resident colony of red ants
DSC_2404_Pitkos
Lynnette pouiring the coffee before we get stuck into Francis’s roosterkoek with thinly sliced biltong and loads of melted cheese

I will be posting more photos of the wildlife in a separate post and, as soon as I have processed them I will also be posting the astrophotos that I took.  I am preparing a post about the SQM-readings we have taken in the past as well as those taken at Bergwater on this trip.

An ELF Astronomy special offer in October 2013

You snoozed you lost!  Sorry folks but the booking for these special offers has closed.  See you all next time.

Stargazing and hiking weekend at Bergwater Lodge on the farm Pietersfontein in the Montagu district.

DSC_8370_Pietersfonteindam_Lodge
Bergwater Lodge is set in magnificent surroundings
DSC_8192_Damwal_van_Huis
The view of the Pietersfontein Dam from Bergwater Lodge.

Book in Friday 18 October from 14:00 and depart on Sunday 20 October by 12:00

Accommodation consists of
Eight rooms with a double bed and two single beds and one room with only a double bed.  All bedding and towels are supplied.
R1500 for per person sharing
R1700 for single accommodation (not sharing)

Above mentioned prices include the following
A welcoming sherry, sovaldi tea or coffee
Build starwheels for use later in the evening
Supper (Friday evening at 18:00)
Stargazing – provided the weather permits it! In In the advent of inclement weather we will offer                         a substitute activity of an astronomical nature
Late night tea/coffee
Breakfast (Saturday morning from 08:30 to 09:00)
Hiking and a walk to the dam
Lunch (Saturday at 12:30)
Build starwheels / look at the sun through a telescope
Astronomy presentation
Supper (Saturday evening at 18:00)
Stargazing – provided the weather permits it!
Late night tea/coffee
Breakfast (Sunday morning from 08:30 to 09:30)
Depart by 12:00

Please note that this is a self-drive weekend.  We will provide the maps and detailed instructions on how to get to Bergwater Lodge, but everyone has to drive there in their own transport.  The distance from Cape Town is about 180 km and the last 10 kms are on a gravel road.  There is no mobile reception at Bergwater Lodge.  A land line is available in case of emergencies.

What you must provide
Any special or extra snacks and refreshments
Water bottle, sunscreen lotion, hat
Insect repellents
Warm clothes – it will probably be hot during the day but it can still become quite chilly at night
All medication, especially any prescribed medication

PAYMENT INSTRUCTIONS
Bookings must be made as soon as possible and no bookings will be accepted after the 20th of September 2013.
Please provide us with proof of payment before 20 September 2013 to secure your booking.
If you cancel before 30 September 2013 we will refund 80% of your payment. If you cancel after 30 September no refund will be made.

Contact Edward Foster at 083 787 0792, or Lynnette at 084 512 9866. Our
landline is 021 982 6496 or email us at info@elfastronomy.com

Deep-Sky April 2013 at Bergwater Lodge

Lynnette and I had planned to leave early on the Wednesday, but the best laid plans of mice, men and the Fosters often go astray and this was to be no exception.  While taking our new kitten, Snorre, out to the Vito Jaco’s cat, Muggie, came strolling over quite innocently. Snorre took one look at her and threw a fit. He turned into a biting, clawing, screaming, woolly demon with his teeth clamped very firmly onto the end of my right index finger.  Muggie very sensibly disappeared under the Vito and I headed back into the house where I managed to calm Snorre, retrieve my finger and take stock of the damage.  Four neat puncture marks, all bleeding quite profusely, one through the centre of the nail, one through the side of the nail and two in the fleshy underside of the fingertip. Lots of water, some disinfectant and a Band-Aid later and we ventured out to attempt a second departure, this time making sure that neither Muggie or any of the other neighbourhood cats were around.

IMAG0062_Snorre
Snorre, not attached to my finger any more

The journey to Bergwater Lodge was uneventful, except for the quick stop at the Vet’s in Montagu to get Snorre his first round of inoculations and a deworming treatment. At Bergwater we unpacked and settled in.  Auke arrived on Thursday and the rest of the pack trickled in during the course of Friday, except for Iain who only arrived on Saturday morning. On Friday Auke dished out the set of special ConCards he had prepared for the weekend.

 

 

DSC_6833_Gesig_Bergwater
The Old Man of the mountain in morning light
DSC_6842_Gesig_Bergwater
The Old Man of the mountain in evening light
DSC_6841_Gesig_Bergwater
It appears the Old Man of the mountain is part of an Easter Island head’s outline

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather on Friday night at Bergwater was perfect for observing and our first task was to try and see the illusive Sirius B as soon as Sirius appeared after sunset, but none of us had any luck.  Auke had also, as a homework assignment earlier in the week, asked us to determine the field of view for our binoculars and eyepieces as well as our eyepiece-Barlow combinations.  Because of the overcast conditions in Cape Town, this had not been done so, after Sirius, we all got stuck in using the special charts Auke had prepared.  At first we concentrated on Orion and, when Orion set, those of us who were still trying to complete the homework, switched to Crux. The more industrious members of the group got stuck into finding and sketching our Deep-Sky objects.

DSC_6843_Sekelmaan
The crescent moon in an ESCOM frame

On Saturday morning we had the opportunity to check the fields of view we had determined the previous evening and all the odd looking values were marked for checking that night.  While the members who had brought their families along set of for Montagu and a day at the mineral baths, the rest of us spent the day either discussing astronomical and astrophotographic matters or finishing of the rough sketches we had made the previous evening.

On Saturday evening we had another go at spotting Sirius-B, but without any luck. Then it was an all-out search for the many illusive Deep-Sky objects on the list.  Round about midnight Auke started a round of interrogation. He’d point his laser at a spot in the sky and want to know things like what object was there, what was noteworthy about the object and which constellation was it in.  Or he would point out a spot and announce that there was a galaxy there and which one was it.  This exercise very quickly sorted those that knew from those that didn’t. Eventually we did get some sleep although I am told some diehards actually sat it out until 06:00 and consumed large amounts of coffee in the process.

DSC_6849_Sononder_Bergwater
The Chelyabinsk asteroid or the Pietersfontein dragon warming up?

Sunday morning was packing up and saying goodbye time for everyone except Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and myself.  Christine had asked us to conduct a stargazing session for a group of locals on the Sunday evening.  As the afternoon progressed the clouds rolled in and it looked less and less likely that we would be able to see any stars.  The aspiring local stargazers must have come to the same conclusion as none of them turned up, but by 20:00 it was cloudless and once the crescent moon had set, it was actually a very good observing night.  Did the three of us observe?  No, we spent the evening discussing future plans for the SSP, other Deep-Sky outings, outreach projects and the future of amateur astronomy in South Africa – serious stuff man, serious stuff!

We were up bright and early to have breakfast and see Auke off at about 08:00 on Monday and we eventually left shortly after 11:00.  Did we have a leisurely drive home?  No we did not, thank you!  About seven km from the farm and three km from the R318 there was a loud snap from the driver’s door of the Vito followed by a thump and a sudden rush of fresh air.  The cable of the window mechanism had snapped, dropping the glass pane down into the depths of the door where it could not be reached.  So we drove all the way back to Brackenfell with an open window fully exposed to the noise of passing vehicles as well as the continuous blast of air.

Fixing this lot cost R3500-00 because you cannot just replace the snapped cable or the faulty piece of plastic that caused it to snap.  No, you have to replace the whole shebang, metal framework, cable, sundry bits of plastic, miscellaneous wheels and cogs and an electric motor.

Public Stargazing at Bergwater Lodge on the 18th & 19th of March 2013.

DSC_6174_Die_Begin
The picnic people start arriving
DSC_6206_Auke
The picnic in full swing
DSC_6219_Christine
Christine arranging seating for the extras
DSC_6416_Alles_oor
Peace and quiet after the crowd had left

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SSP crowd had left by 14:00 and Auke, Lynnette and myself were preparing for the group of locals who were coming for a talk and an evening’s stargazing at Bergwater Lodge.  Christine said there would be about 20 people, maybe a few more, say 25.  We only had one telescope so we thought we could make it if we also set up a pair of binoculars.  The arrangement was that the people would arrive early, have a picnic supper and then come inside for a talk while it got dark.  After the talk, we would go outside and do a laser-guided tour of the night sky and then show them the telescopic wonders of the night sky.

When the show started we had more than 50 people instead of “maybe 25” but all went reasonably well as far as the talk and the laser-guided tour were concerned, but at the telescope things were mildly chaotic, to say the least.  Lynnette manned the binoculars on a tripod, I operated the telescope and Auke mingled with the crowd handing out words of astronomical wisdom to all and sundry.

Some members of the group had imbibed liberally while having their picnic so one had to deal with quite a lot of alcohol-induced wit and wisdom.  The former was often funny and the latter was generally a nuisance.  Making sure the enthusiastic and sometimes unsteady viewers keep their distance from the equipment was a full-time job. Lynnette, for instance, turned away from the binoculars to answer a question and in those few seconds, the person at the binoculars managed to snap the mount right out of the front of the binoculars. When Lynnette pointed out that he had broken the binoculars, the man said, “So what.” shrugged his shoulders and walked away.  Thanks to Alan Cassels the binoculars have been repaired, but that person will not be welcome near any of our equipment anytime soon.

By about 10:00 everyone had left and we packed up and headed for bed.

Auke packed up on Monday morning and drove back to Somerset West, while Lynnette and I stayed behind to handle a second group scheduled for the Monday evening.  By late afternoon it had become fairly cloudy and most of the people must have seen the clouds and decided not to come because we eventually only had six people to entertain. Because of the clouds, there was really not much to show them after the talk as even the moon was partially obscured most of the time.  Everybody left at about 21:30 and, of course, by 22:00 there wasn’t cloud in the sky!

After a good night’s rest, Lynnette and I packed up the next day and headed home.  All in all quite an eventful weekend.

Variations in Jupiter’s brightness at 1 minute intervals over a 10 minute period.

During the deep-sky event of 13 to 18 December, I set up the camera on Sunday evening to try and record one of the moons slipping in behind Jupiter.  The camera was set to take 10 shots at 1-minute intervals so once started there was no intervention, i.e. changes in the settings of any sort.  When I looked at the photos I found the results rather surprising because Jupiter undergoes quite large changes in brightness over the 10 minute period.

My only (tentative) explanation is that there must have been very high thin clouds drifting across the camera’s field of view.  There was definitely no dew on the camera or the telescope so I have ruled that out and neither was there any wind.

What also puzzles me is that the stars do not show the same variation but I suppose could be due to the fact that Jupiter is so much brighter than any of the other objects in the sky resulting in more reflection of high-level moisture or even ice crystals.  I was not watching Jupiter during the period that I was taking the photographs so I do not know if these variations were visible to the naked eye.

DSC_9656_Jupiter01DSC_9657_Jupiter02DSC_9658_Jupiter03DSC_9659_Jupiter04DSC_9660_Jupiter05DSC_9661_Jupiter06DSC_9662_Jupiter07DSC_9663_Jupiter08DSC_9664_Jupiter09DSC_9665_Jupiter10

 

Deep-sky 13 to 18 Dec 2012

Presented, organized and catered for by ELF Astronomy

Disaster loomed large on the horizon when, on the preceding weekend, the Norwegian weather site, www.yr.no, predicted a very high probability of rain over the deep-sky weekend and, in fact, quite a lot of it too. Lynnette and I, very despondently, decided to phone and e-mail everybody on the 9th December and give them the option of pulling out or coming along and sitting around all weekend talking, eating, drinking and watching the rain.  Unfortunately deposits had already been paid to Bergwater so, when Ian, Brett and Leslie decided to pull out they also lost some cash.  The rest of us decided to carry on regardless but then, as often happens in cases like this, the weather forecast began to change, looking more and more promising as we crawled closer to the weekend.

Eventually we did lose the Friday night due to clouds and on Saturday night, which started out well, it clouded over around midnight so we packed up and went to bed.  Then, as often happens, it cleared shortly after we left the field of battle, but nobody had the energy to trundle out the telescopes and set up again.  Sunday night was good although there was some very high level moisture and the odd patch of thin clouds. Monday night was the best one but, unfortunately only Johan, Marietta, Lynnette and I were there to enjoy the good viewing conditions.  Nobody reported any problems with dew on any of the four nights and there was no wind to bother us.  I did observe some odd variations in Jupiter’s brightness during a short photo-session on Sunday evening but I have reported on that elsewhere.

So, all in all, those of us who decided to brave the rain that had initially been predicted, got a much better deal than they had bargained for.  Leslie and Brett actually considered coming through when the weather forecast improved on the Saturday, but then decided not to, for fear of gate crashing the party.  Perish the thought; we would have loved to have been gate crashed.

As part of plan B, in anticipation of being cooped up inside all weekend, I took along all my outreach posters and dollied up the dining area and I also brought along a batch of TED lectures to entertain the troops while they watched the rain we had all expected. For background music we had, amongst others, the Allegro Galactico with its amazing combination of Mozart, Astronomy and the adventures of Don Quijote de la Mancha and his long suffering servant Sancho Panza.  This is a delightful musical combination masterminded by the Spanish astrophysicist, Dr. Juan Ramón Pardo-Carrión. He is not only an internationally renowned scientist, but also an accomplished musician in his own right. In addition he but holds the office of vice-mayor of his home town, Fuentealbilla, where he is in charge of education and culture.

At stargazing events there is always something interesting in the way of either telescopes or gadgets and this weekend was no exception. Johan Swanepoel brought along that amazing 20 inch monster of his and I never cease to marvel at the way the whole thing folds up into a fairly large wheelbarrow which is then wheeled up the ramps into that tiny pickup of his. Marietta is a very able assistant and has quite clearly learnt a lot over the years, not only about the big telescope and where all its bits and pieces go, but also about astronomy in general.  Perhaps she should bring along one of their other telescopes and do some astronomy herself, although that might force them to buy a larger pickup!  I could not help noticing that Alan Cassels, like Johan an engineer, watched very attentively and asked lots of questions during the assembly process.  I am afraid Rose is going to have to keep a close eye on Alan and check up on what exactly he is doing when he disappears into their garage for extended periods.

While on the subject of gadgets, I must say that I was impressed with the very nifty and sturdy binocular mounts that Alan made for himself and Rose.  Even more impressive, however, was the very innovative, backlit drawing table mounted on a tripod which Alan has put together.  Maybe we should, in future, have a “Best Astronomy Related Thingy” competition? The first prize will be the privilege of making each one of us one of the winning Thingies as a gesture of appreciation for the fact that we voted for it.

The daytime temperatures were up in the high 30’s and the fans were all going flat out all weekend. The thought crossed my mind that with all that sunlight we should try and entice some of the solar viewing enthusiasts to come along next time.  The more energetic members of the group had ample opportunity to sunbathe, walk and also to swim in the dam – the swimming pool was unfortunately undergoing treatment for a serious case of algal bloom.  Evan, so it seems, has definite aquatic talents as he reputedly swam across the dam at least twice during the course of the weekend.  Perhaps Evan could popularize an astronomy triathlon with hiking and swimming as the first two items and finding 70 or 80 of the 100 Messier objects in one night as the third.  I am visualizing competitions at section level followed by an inter-section national championship meeting perhaps coinciding with SCOPEX and then an official South African (ASSA accredited of course) team competing internationally.  Imagine the excitement of going to the Stellafane Convention or the Texas Star Party to compete.  Sorry guys I forgot to take my frog pills this morning, but I am better now.

One unusual perk we had during the weekend was that the lady who runs the show on the farm, Christine, gave us free access to her small, but heavily laden nectarine orchard and also to the large apricot orchard. That was an unexpected but very nice addition to a pleasant weekend of astronomy and other activities.  Christine’s only restriction was that we were not allowed to take more than a pickup load of fruit away with us!

Bergwater Lodge has a number of advantages over Night Sky when it comes to hosting a deep-sky event or any other event.  The accommodation is good, the rooms are large with one double and two single beds, the bathrooms are more than adequate and all bed linen, towels and toilet paper are supplied.  ELF Astronomy does the catering for all meals and also supplies the all night coffee/rusks and soup/bread in the winter, so attendees only have to pack their clothes, toothbrushes and telescopes.  The only disadvantage of Bergwater compared to Night Sky, especially as far as the Southern Star party is concerned, is that the number of people that can be accommodated is limited.  Night Sky can easily handle 70 and possibly even 100 people but Bergwater can only take a maximum of 36 people if attendees are prepared to share rooms but, if people do not share, that figure could drop down as low as 12.  The unfortunate implication of this limitation is that attendance for all future events at Bergwater will be capped.