Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve: Saturday 04th of March 2017.

After our previous bad luck with the weather at the Helderberg Nature Reserve, we were holding thumbs that history would not repeat itself. Fortunately, it didn’t and we could actually show people things in the sky other than clouds.

This eager young viewer quickly got the hang of the control pad on “Little Martin” and under Auke’s watchful eye set about finding the moon.
This eager young viewer quickly got the hang of the control pad on “Little Martin” and under Auke’s watchful eye set about finding the moon.

Auke, Lynnette and I pitched nice and early followed shortly by Wendy and we all promptly set about setting up the telescopes in preparation for the arrival of the Friends of the Helderberg nature Reserve later on. Wendy set up her 8” Dobsonian and Auke set up the Celestron nicknamed “Little Martin” while Lynnette and I set up the other Celestron known as the “One Armed Bandit”. Both Celestrons were automated and we hoped to gain time and make life easier by not having to adjust all the time to follow an object, as is the case with a Dobsonian.  Although there are definite advantages to using an automated telescope as opposed to a good old push-and-tug Dobsonian I found that with the 5” instrument I had it was less stable and did not give me the clarity and brightness I was used to on our workhorse, Lorenzo the 10” Dobsonian. I will definitely investigate other uses for the Celestron but at present, I have my doubts when it comes to general outreach.  Watch this space is I believe the expression to use.

TOP LEFT: Auke and I setting up. Lorenzo stayed at home and the “One Armed Bandit” was out in the field with Auke’s “Little Martin”. CENTRE LEFT: Myself and Auke sort out last minute details. BOTTOM LEFT: Some of the picnickers were quick to latch onto the opportunity to do some viewing even if the event wasn’t really for them. TOP RIGHT: Wendy’s 8” Dobsonian drew immediate attention. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wendy and a small crowd of enthusiastic potential viewers.
TOP LEFT: Auke and I setting up. Lorenzo stayed at home and the “One Armed Bandit” was out in the field with Auke’s “Little Martin”. CENTRE LEFT: Myself and Auke sort out last minute details. BOTTOM LEFT: Some of the picnickers were quick to latch onto the opportunity to do some viewing even if the event wasn’t really for them. TOP RIGHT: Wendy’s 8” Dobsonian drew immediate attention. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wendy and a small crowd of enthusiastic potential viewers.

There were still day picnickers around and when the children spotted the telescopes they made a beeline for us before we had time to set up properly. As soon as we were up and running we let them look at the moon to their heart’s content.  Auke even had on eager little lass trained up in no time to operate the control paddle of his telescope; I was less adventurous. As the picnickers trickled away the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve ) started arriving and setting up their picnics.

TOP: The Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve starting to arrive, well equipped for the evening’s picnic and dressed appropriately in case the temperature dropped. 2nd FROM TOP: The Moon was up so we could view that before it got dark enough to do a what’s up. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: While some looked at the moon others enjoyed a leisurely picnic. BOTTOM: Edward presenting the what’s up.
TOP: The Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve starting to arrive, well equipped for the evening’s picnic and dressed appropriately in case the temperature dropped. 2nd FROM TOP: The Moon was up so we could view that before it got dark enough to do a what’s up. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: While some looked at the moon others enjoyed a leisurely picnic. BOTTOM: Edward presenting the what’s up.

By the time it was dark enough to do a what’s up tonight most of them had looked at the moon.  I kept my introduction as short as possible and steadily increased the number of stars and constellations as the gathering dark allowed us to see more of them.

TOP: Wendy and the 8” getting some photographic exposure. CENTRE: One advantage of using the OAB is that one does not have to keep adjusting to keep the object in the eyepiece. I still prefer Lorenzo despite the convenience of the OAB. BOTTOM: Auke and “Little Martin” in the background while the two ladies on the right evaluate the setup.
TOP: Wendy and the 8” getting some photographic exposure. CENTRE: One advantage of using the OAB is that one does not have to keep adjusting to keep the object in the eyepiece. I still prefer Lorenzo despite the convenience of the OAB. BOTTOM: Auke and “Little Martin” in the background while the two ladies on the right evaluate the setup.

After the talk, it was back to the telescopes and we spent the rest of the evening until packing up time around 21:45 showing various objects and talking about whichever astronomy questions were put to us.  All in all, it was a very pleasant and enjoyable evening with fair weather, very little wind and nice people.

Thanks to the Friends for the invitation and we are very glad the weather gods viewed our little get together favourably this time round.

Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve: Saturday 12th March 2016.

On Saturday morning Auke sent Margie a message asking what plan B was because the weather forecast at yr.no (the Norwegian weather site which you can see here) said it was going to become cloudy from 17:00 onward with the possibility of rain. The Friends (go here for more about the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve – FHNR) and Margie looked out of their windows and decided it was fine weather and was going to stay that way. The FHNR also have a Facebook page which you can visit here.

Auke, Lynnette and I arrived on time and set up under cloudless skies in the Helderberg Nature Reserve (go here to learn more about this jewel in Somerset West) and it looked as if, for once, yr.no had got it completely wrong. People started arriving and setting up their picnics and it looked increasingly as if it was going to be clear all evening but then at 19:00 the wind shifted to the south and the temperature dropped a few degrees. Shortly after this change the first wisps of cloud appeared from the direction of False Bay and pretty soon the wisps had become large chunks and shortly thereafter it was completely overcast. The conclusion is that the Norwegian weather forecasters might be late sometimes, but they are only very, very seldom wrong.

TOP: The assembled Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve. BOTTOM LEFT: Daniel Snyman setting up his refractor. BOTTOM RIGHT: Daniel and his very cute daughter getting the moon in their sights while it was still visible and in the background Auke chats to Yolandri, the nature conservationist.
TOP: The assembled Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve. BOTTOM LEFT: Daniel Snyman setting up his refractor. BOTTOM RIGHT: Daniel and his very cute daughter getting the moon in their sights while it was still visible and in the background Auke chats to Yolandri, the nature conservationist.

Clearly there was going to be no stargazing but what was there going to be? After a hurried council of war between Margie and Auke it was decided that Auke would present his normal What’s Up in a different format to substitute for the lack of moon and stars.

TOP: The Friends all in the dark but all listening attentively as Auke takes them through Astronomy 101 the Slotegraaf version. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke demonstrating the differences between refractors and reflectors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Maphefu and the Friends in the background captivated by Auke’s presentation.
TOP: The Friends all in the dark but all listening attentively as Auke takes them through Astronomy 101 the Slotegraaf version. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke demonstrating the differences between refractors and reflectors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Maphefu and the Friends in the background captivated by Auke’s presentation.

Auke pitched in and first up explained the difference between refractors and reflecting telescopes using Daniel Snyman’s refractor and his Dobby, Maphefu. He then launched into a brilliant coverage of astronomy, astronomy history, cosmology and indigenous astronomy that entertained the Friends for more than an hour. Well done Auke!

We will be back at a later date to do the stargazing.

Observe the Moon night with the Eco-Rangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve: 22 January 2016.

Auke, Lynnette and I arrived at about 19:30 to begin setting up. Andreas had taken the Eco-Rangers and some parents on one of his very instructive night walks in the reserve and when they returned we had to be up and running. There was a fairly strong gusting wind and I was worried that we might not be able to get a stable picture on the screen with the Celestron refractor and the Martin-Cam. I was also holding thumbs that the electronic gremlin which Martin had fixed, would stay fixed and not derail my efforts as it had on our previous visit.

By the time we had Lorenzo and the Celestron set up and I was certain that the electronics were behaving themselves, the line of torches appeared amongst the trees, heralding the approach of Andreas and the Eco-Rangers.

Auke got the group settled down and did a basic introduction before the observing started. At my telescope, there was some initial confusion. Some of the Eco-Rangers insisted that they wanted to look at the moon through the telescope and not on the screen. After several explanations, I got the message home and the group settled down.

The camera was set up out of harm’s way and set to take photos at specific intervals. As it was dark the shutter speed was fairly slow so any movement caused a blurring effect. These three shots show Auke in action with the Eco-Rangers shortly after they arrived back from their walk. Careful observers will recognize the Southern Cross and the two pointers in the background.
The camera was set up out of harm’s way and set to take photos at specific intervals. As it was dark the shutter speed was fairly slow so any movement caused a blurring effect. These three shots show Auke in action with the Eco-Rangers shortly after they arrived back from their walk. Careful observers will recognize the Southern Cross and the two pointers in the background.
If you were standing still you have a solid image and if you moved the image is blurred. The Southern Cross is very clear in the bottom image.
If you were standing still you have a solid image and if you moved the image is blurred. The Southern Cross is very clear in the bottom image.

One of the Eco-Rangers made a short video of the telescope and the changing Moon as I moved the image on the screen. Quite nifty, complete with a voice recording.

The Celestron and its mount in reflecting the green glow from the light on the battery and in the background some artistic torch work by some of the Eco-Rangers.
The Celestron and its mount in reflecting the green glow from the light on the battery and in the background some artistic torch work by some of the Eco-Rangers.

By 22:00 it was all over and we packed up kindly supported by Wendy, Claudia, Andreas and on or two other adults. Thanks for the help and we hope to see you all again soon.

Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve: February 2015

A relaxing evening in the Helderberg Nature Reserve with interesting people.

We left Brackenfell in good time so as to be able to pick up Auke in Somerset West and still set up telescopes in time for the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve who were undertaking a twilight walk in the Reserve. While we were unloading, Auke and Lynnette managed to get in several gentle reminders that I was not to lose the Vito’s keys again. I suppose it will be a long time before that little incident is finally put to rest, if ever. Go here if you wish to read more about my mistake or here if you want to know the eventual outcome.

Claudia and her able associates had organized lavish picnic baskets for us, including a bottle of pink bubbly.  We had definitely landed firmly in the lap of luxury, but barely had time to eat some of the delicacies on offer, when the first torches twinkled through the trees to the North, announcing the group’s approach.

Many of the people were actually quite knowledgeable, which was a pleasant change from the largely totally uninformed groups we often have to deal with. Having Lorenzo and Maphefo side by side also made a considerable difference in the number of people we could handle. Having the two telescopes there greatly reduced the waiting time in the queues and also helped us cover a wider range of objects in the available time.

Auke sat off to one side and conducted his usual very informative what’s up tonight laser guided star talk. He also fielded many of the questions taking the pressure off Lynnette and I at the telescopes. Quite a few of the people actually went from the telescopes to Auke and then came back to the telescopes again, although most seemed to only move from the telescopes to Auke.

The weather was fairly clear with only a few small scattered clouds to the south and south-east.  The wind, which we initially hardly felt among the trees did, however, cause some upper air instability.  This resulted in quite lot of twinkle and sparkle of objects as high up as 20 degrees above the horizon. Toward 21:30 the wind became quite strong and gusty hastening our departure from the Reserve.

All in all, it was a successful evening with about 80 people of which about 20 were children. We must really remember to take along a stepladder for the dimensionally challenged viewers.

In case anyone is wondering why there are no photographs of the event there is a simple explanation.  Lynnette took them and I downloaded them but now i cannot find them.  If and when I do find them they will be posted here.