At the February 2017 Southern Star Party (Go here to read more about this event) Deon and Ronelle Begemann unveiled their binocular stand. It is basically the standard parallelogram design but it is very affordable, very easy to put up and it works superbly well and would make an affordable addition to any astronomy enthusiast’s equipment. This is a photo review of the apparatus and for more details and a price, you must contact Deon directly.
On the 16th of July 2017 Leeuwenboschfontein had a light sprinkling of snow and the staff there were kind enough to send us some photos.
Leeuwenboschfontein is situated in the Western Cape on the very western edge of the Little Karoo at an altitude of just over 1 000m. It is a fantastic place for stargazing and observing and was the venue for the thirteenth Southern Star Party held in February 2017 (more about that event can be found here). We are already planning the 14th Southern Southern Star Party scheduled for October 2017.
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.
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.
Results for Experiment 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).
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.
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.
Results for Experiment 2.
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.
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.
The first Southern Star party held at Leeuwenboschfontein was a success. So, any suspicions about unlucky 13 were neatly sidestepped or perhaps the jinx only applies to people who suffer from triskaidekaphobia.
Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived on Wednesday the 22nd, downloaded our stuff at Dalzicht and set about getting the shed converted into a lecture area with a display section. Fortunately, their spacious kitchen made organising the coffee area very easy.
Jim Adams (speaker), Jonathan Balladon, Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Steyn Botha, Samuel Botha, Dominique Brink, Johan Brink, Nellie Brink, Anja Bruton, Alan Cassells, Rose Cassells, Pamela Cooper, Chris de Coning, Micah de Villiers, Pierre de Villiers, Barry Dumas, Miemie Dumas, Clair Engelbrecht, Dwayne Engelbrecht, Arné Esterhuizen, Iain Finlay, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Louis Fourie, Maureen Helman, Cheyenne Kersting, Christine Kersting, Harald Kersting, Jamie Kersting, Evan Knox-Davies, Dianne Nxumalo-Kohler, Robin Kohler, Bennie Kotze, Paul Kruger, Lia Labuschagne, Eddy Nijeboer, Jannie Nijeboer, Lorenzo Raynard (speaker), Kim Reitz, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Rogan Roth, Johan Roux (Jnr), (Johan Jnr’s wife), (Johan Jnr’s eldest son), (Johan Jnr’s 2nd son), Alecia Roux, Henda Scott, Barry Shipman, Auke Slotegraaf, Corne van Dyk, and Chris Vermeulen, Alex Wright.
Some of the keen people pitched on Thursday and among them were Deon and Ronelle Begeman. Deon had, as promised at the previous SSP in Bonnievale, constructed two magnificent binocular viewing tripods for Auke and myself. This is really quite an ingenious device with many improvements over what is currently on the market and it is very reasonably priced too when compared to its competitors. I will do a separate post with pictures about it at a later stage.
On Thursday evening Paul and I went up Swartberg in his 4×4. It was a whole lot easier than walking up but also considerably more taxing on one’s nerves and I am not implying that Paul drove recklessly; quite the contrary. It is just that the vehicle adopts a wide variety of very unusual angles during both the ascent and descent and one has to trust the driver a whole lot more than when driving down a normal road.
TOP LEFT: We had some magnificent thunderclouds on Thursday. TOP RIGHT: Paul snapped his first lightning bolt from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM LEFT: Paul’s night shot of the Leeuwenbosch complex from the top of Swartberg. BOTTOM RIGHT: Paul’s early morning shot of the hut and his pickup.
Arne and Alex had their vehicle expire on the R318 while on the way to the SSP, but they were picked up by Evan and brought to Leeuwenboschfontein. The two seemed pretty laid back about leaving the car at the side of the road until Monday when they would set about sorting it out from Cape Town.
The beginner’s session at the telescopes was quite successful on Friday as was the beginners talk on Saturday morning.
Jonathan had to leave suddenly on Saturday morning as he was needed to fly a plane somewhere. He promised he would flash his landing lights if his route took him over Leeuwenboschfontein which it apparently didn’t.
During my beginners’ session on Saturday morning, Jim Adams, retired Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA and Anja Bruton Science Engagement Coordinator at the SKA arrived. The problem was that Lorenzo Raynard Communications Manager at the SKA, who was due to give the first talk had not pitched and all efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. Jim, hearing of our predicament, very kindly agreed to give the talk he was scheduled to give that afternoon in Lorenzo’s slot. So we started off with “Spinoff: How investing in astronomy and space science changes life on Earth”. Jim proved to be every bit as good a speaker as Anja had said he was; relaxed, knowledgeable and very good at fielding questions too.
In the meantime, Lynnette and Anja were frantically trying to trace Lorenzo.
Martin Lyons and his wife Pat flew in (literally) especially for the social braai in the lapa at the campsite during lunchtime on Saturday. They stayed until after lunch and then flew home again. According to Paul and Louis, the takeoff was actually quite tense but Martin, during subsequent discussions, downplayed any suggestion of problems.
Just before the braai the Vito was attacked by a vicious tree and lost its back window.
By now Lorenzo had been traced and was on his way but would not make it in time for his time slot. We, or at least Anja, talked Jim into giving a second talk in Lorenzo’s slot. This talk “Robots in Space and Space Exploration; Past, Present and Future” went down very well with the audience. Lorenzo finally pitched later on Saturday afternoon. As his talk would cut into observing time we decided to rather have him give his talk on Sunday morning.
After Jim’s talk and the lively question session we took the usual group photograph and, as is usual, some people did not pitch up. People who were absent were Jonathan Balladon, Steyn & Samuel Botha, Dominique & Nellie Brink and Lorenzo Raynard.
The group photograph was followed by the Pub Quiz which, this year, was orchestrated the usual degree of malevolence and cunning by Auke. After several gruelling rounds the overall winner, by a very large margin was Alex. Well done Alex, you left several past winners staggering around in your slipstream’s dust.
The number of beginners at the telescopes on Saturday evening was disappointing but I am hoping it was the sudden drop in temperature that convinced them to stay indoors.
Lorenzo’s talk on Sunday morning. “The public face of SKA in South Africa” was reasonably well attended and, after some discussion, the great dispersal began and the site emptied fairly rapidly. This year, though, more people stayed on to observe the partial solar eclipse on Sunday afternoon.
Dwayne and Claire, who got engaged during the 11th SSP at Night Sky Caravan Farm, missed the 12th SSP because they were getting married. Now, while attending the 13th SSP, Mr and Mrs Engelbrecht announced they were expecting their first child. I suppose it will be too much to expect them to call the baby SSP, but it would be nice if they would.
On Monday morning we packed up and after Calla had very professionally helped close of and dust proof the gaping hole where the Vito’s rear window had been, Lynnette, Snorre and I also left for home.
Anton, Camilla and Viljé stayed on until early February after the rest of the group left on the 15th of January. They moved from Kolping guest house to our place in Brackenfell. Initially, we were a bit concerned because Camilla has a rather serious cat allergy. This was a serious for us too because it is, after all, is said and done, also Snorre’s home. Fortunately, Lynnette’s thorough cleaning coupled with a few restrictions on Snorre’s movements resulted in Camilla never experiencing any discomfort.
During the extended stay we visited several more wineries but, for Lynnette and I, the highlight of the visit was being able to take them to Leeuwenboschfontein ) for two days. Lynnette and I stayed in Bergzicht and Anton, Camilla, Birk and Viljé stayed next door in Dalzicht. Viljé absolutely loved the large lawn, the trampoline and the selection of climbing frames.
At Leeuwenboschfontein the highlight for me was walking up Swartberg to the hut and back with Anton, Camilla and Viljé. We started early at around 07:00 and the climb along the 4×4 track took just over two hours. The distance to walk is a little over 5.5 km during which one gains 300 metres in altitude. The road is very steep in sections and on the way down one has to take extra care not to slip and fall. A crucial point to remember is that there is no water en route and none at the top either.
On the way back we met Johan Roux, the owner of Leeuwenboschfontein, in his pickup taking guests up to the hut. He seemed as surprised to encounter us as I was to find him there on a weekday. He is, after all, based in Ceres and has a business to run. On the other hand if you are the boss you can pretty much do as you please I suppose.
During the climb up Swartberg Lynnette stayed at the guest house looking after Birk and Snorre. We stayed in contact with each other using our two-way radios just in case the climbing group had some sort of accident or she needed us back in hurry. The use of the radios was essential because mobile reception is very erratic at Leeuwenboschfontein and we were uncertain if there would be any reception at all while on the mountain.
When the climbing party got back to the guest house at around lunch time, Lynnette and Birk were relaxing on a blanket under one of the trees on the spacious lawn.
A slightly negative note in connection with Leeuwenboschfontein was the fact that Joan made us pay full price for Viljé. We subsequently discovered that children under the age of six, which Viljé was at the time, actually stay for free.
Without any further ado here are the pictures to tell the story of a memorable and very pleasant stay.
The day after Christmas we (Lynnette, Snorre and I) arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein just before lunch. We were followed later in the week by Iain Finlay – Willem stayed at home keeping their cats, Tiger and Aimé, company. Rob Bark with his wife Michelle and daughter Victoria were next in, followed, eventually, by Paul Kruger, with his famous breakfast. Dave, Spiro and Sharon were due to fly in from up north but eventually drove down due to thundery weather over the central parts of the country. Martin Lyons had plans to fly in as well but gave up on that idea as the altitude, heat and short runway made it unsafe for the plane he was going to use. Auke could not make it either because of last minute complications.
Monday evening was fine, Tuesday evening was completely clouded over and Wednesday evening was very windy in the early evening with a fair amount of cloud that cleared after midnight. Thursday night was a repeat of Wednesday and Friday was more of the same. Saturday was a near-perfect night to round off the weekend.
One thing that is a problem at Leeuwenbosch is the lighting along the entrance road and in the garden between the guest houses. They are all these horrible round white things that distribute light in all directions. Some sort of a cover that prevents light from escaping upward and horizontally, would solve the problem and the use of cooler bulbs would also help. I temporarily solved the problem by taking the bulbs out as soon as it looked as if all the folks in the houses had gone to bed and then replaced them when I was done observing. Johan Roux, however, has shown me where the light switches for these lights are and it is now a case of flicking two switches and seeing conditions around the guest houses and new chalets will improve by at least 200%.
The camp, however, was a bigger problem this time around. Because it was the holiday season and specifically the New Year’s weekend, the camp was full of revellers who switched on all possible lights including that infernal spotlight on the mast in the middle of the camp. Why get tipsy in the dark, after all? The light spill from this lot even affected the seeing down in the telescope area next to the runway, almost a kilometre away.
At least these light pollution problems will not be a problem during the SSP because we have Johan’s permission to switch everything off for that weekend.
On the subject of light pollution, I recorded a set of dark sky readings for those of the readers who might be interested.
I also recorded some weather data, using Hans van der Merwe’s clever data logger. Here are some results that might interest amateur astronomers.
We left in good time on Friday morning and our first stop was at the Veldskoen Padstal a few kilometers north of De Doorns for breakfast en grapes. Go here to read more about this excellent venue or click her to visit their FaceBook page. The Veldskoen has never disappointed us and their breakfast was, as always, first class. After breakfast and loading our grapes we set off on the second leg of the journey to Leeuwenboschfontein. Visit Leeuwenboschfontein’s website by clicking here to find out more about this lovely venue. We arrived there to find Iain and Willem already on site as well as a crowd of trainee drone pilots and their trainers.
Iain who was manning the admin-desk for Joan informed us that we would not be able to use the astro-enclosure that weekend because the drone trainees were doing the night-flying part of the course. So it was not just a case of not being able to drive on the runway while they were training, which I fully understood, we would also not be allowed in the astro enclosure. Apparently our presence there was disallowed by a regulation which specified that people were not allowed to be within a certain distance of an area in which drones were operating. I felt that the farm workers cottages were closer to the flying area than the astro-enclosure but my objections were met with a repetition of the statement that we would not be allowed to use the astro-enclosure as long as drone training was in progress.
This is a matter which will have to be discussed with Johan because the drone training is normally conducted during the working week so we don’t clash, but the night flying training was taking place over a weekend and a new moon weekend too. If the night flying training has to take place over a weekend than we can surely come to an agreement where they us one of the 40 weekends that are not on or close to one of the 12 new moon weekends, which is when we would like to have access to the astro-enclosure.
Anyway, there did not seem to be any wiggle room so we had to set up in the camp where there were only two other sets of non-stargazing campers and one set up on the hill at the camping site adjacent to the original fountain in the name Leeuwenboschfontein. There was still a bush up there but (un)fortunately no lion anymore.
Lynnette and I set up on the embankment next to the caravan where. Later in the evening we switched of the external lights at the ablution blocks but there was nothing we could do about the lights on the entrance road to the reception office and the guest houses. To top it all, the conventional incandescent globes had been replaced with new energy saving globes which were unfortunately much brighter than their incandescent predecessors.
The seeing was good and Lynnette and I spent most of the early part of the evening brushing up on our constellations and later switched to hunting for some deep-sky objects. Later on I decided to look for and photograph Comet 252P/Linear. Easier said than done because I had left my nice finder chart at home in Brackenfell. Lynnette, wanted to know where it was and I pointed in a general easterly direction and said, “Somewhere over there”. Her comment was, “Well why don’t you look over there then?” So I looked “over there” and, much to my surprise a very faint, vaguely greenish patch appeared in the finder scope. A quick look in the 25mm eyepiece to confirm and then switched to a 10mm eyepiece and, yes there it was. I let Lynnette look to confirm and then set up the camera on its tripod and took some photos. Mission accomplished and off to bed we went.
Somewhere in the course of the night we also had a visit from one of the drone trainees. It turned out that they had to do this course to qualify as drone pilots because they were going to use their drones for commercial gain. He personally had several drones, one of which set him back R80 000. The course set him back R40 000, but all this expenditure was worth it in view of the amount of money a qualified drone pilot could make.
Saturday was beautiful day despite some high level clouds that could not make up their minds if they were coming or going. We paid Iain, Willem and their two cats, Tiger and Aimee a visit. The cats had come along for the first time instead of going to the kennels. We did not take Snorre with us and it was just as well because poor Tiger was so nervous he hid under blankets and cushions. We had the opportunity to get a closer look at some of the drones. After the visit I set off down to the astro-enclosure by a very roundabout route so as not to be seen by either the drone trainees or their trainers. On the way there I came across a solitary male baboon, which is something we will have to reckon with if we leave equipment down there during the daytime. After taking my photos I sneaked back to the camp unobserved.
Late on Saturday afternoon Robert Bark with his wife, daughter and 8” Dobby moved into the caravan next to ours and shortly after that Louis Fourie arrived. Louis was not particularly pleased with the prospect of not being able to set up in the astro-enclosure, but decided to make the best of it and setup on the very last site at the western end of the campsite. Lynnette and I set up at the same spot as the previous evening and Robert set himself up right in the middle of the campsite, as we had once again switched off all the outside lights at the ablution blocks. Thanks to Lynnette I was able to take some good shots of the 3-day old moon setting behind the lapa on top of one of the peaks of the Nougat hills.
The seeing was not as good as the previous evening but improved steadily during the course of the night and by 03:00 it was very good again. Our drone trainee came back again and brought one of his fellow trainees along as well. They spent quite a while with us before heading off to bed as they had to do the final part of their flying test before six the next morning. After they departed Lynnette and I did some more constellation work and a little bit of observing before packing up and going to bed.
The next day, Sunday, we packed up at a leisurely pace and eventually left for home well after lunchtime and enjoyed an uneventful trip home.
I am always sorry to leave Leeuwenboschfontein but then there is also the pleasure of knowing that we will be back there at the next new moon.
Klaas contacted us in May 2015 about the Summer Southern Star Party in 2016 (go here to read more about the event). Unfortunately the dates in February did not fit in with their travel plans so they could not attend and we decided to organize a mini-substitute for them at Leeuwenboschfontein instead.
Lynnette, Snorre and I left for Leeuwenboschfontein (LBF) (click here to read more about LBF or visit their Facebook page here) on Wednesday the 02nd of March and settled in. Iain and Willem arrived the following day, while Auke, Barry & Miemie, Alan & Rose, Louis and Corné & his family, all arrived on the Friday. Klaas & Wilma also arrived on Friday having driven 400km from Olive Grove (go here to read more about Olive Grove), just south of Beaufort West, where they had spent a few days stargazing.
Lynnette and I got in some valuable stargazing time on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings and on the Friday evening we all traipsed down to the stargazing enclosure as there were three non-astronomical groups camping as well, and we could not switch off the lights at the ablution block. Louis set up outside the enclosure because it was easier than carrying everything inside and he is used to working off the back of his pick-up. Inside the enclosure we had our 12”, Alan and Rose had their 12” and Corné had his 8” (all Dobbies). Auke hadn’t brought a telescope and set himself up to do binocular viewing while Klaas had his refractor. Klaas compiled an excellent time lapse of the activity inside the enclosure during the course of the evening.
We will at some stage have to do something about making the access from the runway to the enclosure smoother for transporting the telescopes as it is quite tricky, even with headlamps. The light colour of the vibracrete walls also acts as a reflective surface on the inside of the enclosure and significantly raises the ambient light levels. We will have to consider applying a matt black paint at some stage to solve that problem.
On Saturday the weather turned nasty. We had windy conditions with gusts that at times threatened to lift the roof off the shelter over our caravan. Thanks to Willem’s intervention and the quick reaction of the LBF’s staff the roof was nailed down properly before any damage was done. Poor Snorre was very upset, firstly by the clanging of the loose galvanized sheeting in the wind and then by the sound of hammering on the roof. Later on we also had some light rain and that evening we all got together in the lapa for a braai. Klaas was dying to show us his technique for photographing bright planets and stars during the daytime but there was never a long enough break in the weather to do that. At the Star Party in 2017 will be the ideal opportunity Klaas.
On Sunday Corné and Alan & Rose departed but the weather remained overcast. It eventually cleared by midnight for a short period till around 03:00 on Monday morning. On Monday everyone except Iain and Willem packed up and left for home.
Klaas and Wilma continued their South African trip and their next stop was Elgin Valley Inn in Grabouw. They had another stop in Tulbagh before departing for the Netherlands again on the 18th of March.
Thank you to everyone who attended the event but a special word of thanks to Klaas and Wilma. It was a pleasure to meet you and to share the night sky with you. Thank you especially Klaas for you astronomy input and we hope to see you at the Southern Star Party early in 2016. You might want to visit here or go here and possibly visit here to see some of the astronomy things Klaas does. His Leeuwenbosch material can be viewed here and he also produced a time-lapse video of the activity during an observing session in the “Sterretjieskraal”, which can be viewed here.
Snorre enjoyed the weekend as usual, except for the banging on the roof on Saturday.
On Wednesday the 09th we set off for Leeuwenboschfontein (visit their website to by clicking here) within minutes of our scheduled departure time. We were quite chuffed, as we do not often manage to meet our departure deadlines for trips like this. We stopped off at Die Veldskoen Padstal (visit their Facebook page by clicking here) about 4 km north of De Doorns for a light lunch, buying a few bottles of wine and a bag of fresh cherries. For good, friendly service and quality food, I can really recommend this place. We have been stopping off there since 2008 and not been disappointed once. At Leeuwenboschfontein we found that the permanent caravans had been nicely enclosed to afford privacy and protection against the wind which often becomes quite chilly in the evenings.
Willem and Iain were already camped on site, Alan and Rose arrived on Thursday and moved into the second permanent caravan, followed by Barry and Miemie who occupied Dalzicht guest house. Johan, Nellie, and Dominique moved into the third caravan on Friday and Auke, Chris, Lenelle and Susan, all camping, also arrived during the course of Friday. Joan, who runs the reception at Leeuwenboschfontein, was kind enough to lend us a deep freeze for the campers to use over the weekend, which was very useful.
Thursday evening everyone socialized at our caravan but the evening was also very good from an astronomy point of view with excellent seeing conditions. Rose and Lynnette went to bed shortly after midnight but Alan persevered until around 02:00. Barry also put in some time with the telescope and camera and, amongst other things produced a beautiful shot of the Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070 or 30 Doradus). I was up until just before 06:00.
Friday evening saw more socializing in the late afternoon and early evening with the telescope work taking place later on and after midnight. The seeing was very good. Early on Auke and Barry remarked that one could walk away from the group around the fires and, without too much effort and hardly any dark adaptation, see 47 Tucanae (NGC 104), Omega Centauri (NGC 5139), the Jewel Box (NGC 4755), Eta Carinae, the Southern Pleiades (IC 2602) and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31/NGC 224).
Readings were taken with the Unihedron Sky Quality Meter (visit their website by clicking here to find out more) on the 09th, 10th & 11th and the average of 20 readings on each night was 21.70, 21.69 & 21.58 (Magnitudes per Square Arc-Second or MSAS) respectively. This converts NELM (Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude) values of 6.4816, 6.4772 & 6.4168. Using the Loss of the Night application and viewing 30 stars, at the same time as taking the Sky Quality readings, gave a limiting magnitude of >5 ± 0.1 on all three occasions.
On Saturday the weather closed in and light rain fell so observing was out as was the customary braai under the stars. Fortunately, Leeuwenboschfontein has a very nice enclosed central lapa for just such occasions. We spent a pleasant evening there, out of the wind and rain and warmed by the braai fires. Alan opened a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate he and Rose’s wedding anniversary, which was the following day, so it really was a festive occasion. Later in the evening Snorre managed to attract a lot of attention by climbing a tree that proved difficult to get out of but, once everybody had stopped making a fuss, he did what cats normally do; climbed down on his own.
Sunday was overcast too, but most people had planned to leave on Sunday in any case. Chris left early, followed by Johan, Nellie and Dominique and then Lenelle and Susan. Alan and Rosemary left just after lunch and Auke, who had intended staying until Tuesday, also decided to leave because the weather forecast did not look promising, from an astronomical point of view, for the next two evenings. In any case, he had a pile of calendars to pack. Before Auke left we looked over the facilities being prepared in the large shed adjacent to De Oude Opstal guest house and they look very promising indeed. With only Willem, Iain, Lynnette, Snorre and I in the camp and Barry and Miemie in Dalzicht Leeuwenbosch was suddenly very quiet. On Monday Barry, Miemie and the Fosters packed up said goodbye to Joan and to Leeuwenboschfontein and left the camp to Iain and Willem.
We arrived home safely and started the dreaded unpacking and packing away to wrap up our final visit to Leeuwenboschfontein for 2015, but we will be back in 2016. We did not make use of the stargazing enclosure next to the runway this time because there were very few other people in the camp so we could control the lights. A problem with the water supply has also resulted in the grass dying inside the enclosure so it would have been very sandy and dusty in there. Johan snr has promised the grass will be back in 2016 and so will we, hopefully on a regular basis.
Leeuwenboschfontein visit: 09 October to 14 October 2015.
The main objective of the weekend was to try out the enclosure the owner of Leeuwenbosch, Johan Roux, had built for the use of astronomers visiting the farm. Barry Dumas had been there during the Solar eclipse in September and found it to be very satisfactory. We had invited the members of the Cape Centre as well as Auke, Martin, Leslie, Iain, Willem and Wendy along but only Leslie, Willem, Iain, Jennifer and Wendy could eventually make it.
Our trip got off to a good start in the sense that we did not spend the entire night packing, as we often do. We were also finished and ready to go about 20 minutes before our planned departure time of 10:00 on Friday. Then disaster struck because Snorre was nowhere to be found. So we waited and notified Joan at Leeuwenboschfontein and all other parties that we were delayed. We looked everywhere, then we looked everywhere for a second, third and eventually umpteenth time, but Snorre was missing and the clock was ticking. Should we leave without Snorre and let Lynnette’s sister, Petro, feed him until we returned after the weekend? Should we cancel the trip unload everything and continue searching for him? Should we unload all the perishables, put them back in the fridge and freezer and just wait until Snorre pitched up? We decided on the last course of action. So 12:00 came and went, followed by 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00 and with each passing hour the tension mounted. Finally at about 15:30 His Nibs, Woolly Britches appeared from heaven knows where, stretching and yawning as if nothing was wrong!
Action stations! Snorre was shoved, rather unceremoniously, into his carry cage to prevent him doing another duck and Lynnette and I got everything we had unloaded back into the Vito, phoned everyone to notify them that Snorre had been found and hit the road at 16:30; a mere six and a half hours late. By the time we exited the Huguenot tunnel Leslie was already at the first stop-and-go of the road works in the Hex River-valley. The rest of our trip went very smoothly and we arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein around 18:50 to find Leslie already set up. Jennifer, who had taken the scenic route via Robertson, Ashton, Montagu, the Keisie and the Koo to Leeuwenboschfontein, had also arrived and settled in. Iain and Willem were expected the following day on their way back from Victoria West and Wendy was only due to arrive on the Sunday.
We unpacked, had supper and set up as fast as we could. It was dark but lights from the two ablution blocks were a problem especially for Leslie’s astrophotography. As fast as Leslie switched them off somebody would switch them on again! We did not see our way open to driving down to the enclosed astronomy area about a kilometre away in the dark and, as there was no power down there, the move would have been entirely counterproductive for Leslie. One camping family came along to see what we were up to so I did a basic what’s up tonight with them. They were, however, such nice people that I really did not mind spending the time doing that. It was dark, very, very much darker than at any site in or near Cape Town, but the seeing was not very good because of the windy conditions and corresponding turbulence in the atmosphere.
By midnight I was having problems with dew despite the fact that the wind had freshened quite considerably so Lynnette and I decided to call it a night and go to bed, leaving Leslie to brave the elements. Before going to bed I took a set of dark sky readings and also used the new Loss of the Night application on my cell phone as a comparison.
On Saturday we had a cold, blustery wind that had developed during the early hours of the morning, and a sky full of large fluffy clouds. Poor Leslie had spent a miserably cold night on his stretcher and his set-up and camp had been so vandalized by the wind that he decided to pack it in and head back to Cape Town. No amount of persuasion, offers of more and warmer bedding or the lure of better conditions later in the weekend, could change his mind. He did agree to let me show him the astronomy enclosure but he wasn’t all that impressed because there was no power, so his equipment would not be able to function. Iain and Willem arrived later in the day and by then the wind had abated considerably and the clouds had become a lot smaller with much, much larger gaps between them too. By Saturday evening the wind had all but died down, but the wandering clouds made constructive observing very difficult even though we had eventually convinced the remaining campers that the lights in the ablution blocks did not have to be on continuously.
On Sunday the weather was much better and by the time Wendy arrived it was looking very promising for the evening’s observing. We decided to try out the observing enclosure and found, to our satisfaction, that the Guest Farm’s lights were only visible if one stood right up against the eastern wall and looked west. The 1,8 m vibracrete walls also provided ample protection from the wind. The headlights of cars passing on the road, about one km away did catch the top slabs of the western wall. Although night traffic is infrequent this problem will be discussed with the Johan Roux’s (snr. & jnr.). Despite the very dark skies the seeing was at best fair to good but not excellent or exceptional, probably due to instability in the upper atmosphere caused by the approaching front. Wendy, Iain and Willem left at about 23:00 and Lynnette and I packed up just after midnight, when the dew got the better of us. We left our telescope, well wrapped, to keep Wendy’s company for the rest of the night. Being able to leave ones equipment in safety is another advantage of having the enclosure.
Wendy headed home on Monday and as the camp was now empty, other than for Lynnette, myself, Ian and Willem we decided to observe from the camp as it would be possible to switch off all lights. When Lynnette and I went to fetch our telescope we found that the staff was applying liberal amounts of very smelly chicken manure to the grass in the enclosure in order to speed up its growth. Observing there would have been a very smelly activity. That evening Johan Roux (snr.) joined us for some star gazing. I was astounded when he admitted that he had never spent time outside at night to specifically look at the stars. He, on the other hand, was very surprised to see what a negative effect the exposed outside lights around the homestead and guest house had on ones night vision. We will in future be allowed to switch them off when doing stargazing at Leeuwenboschfontein. Shortly after Johan left us to go to bed a sheet of thin, high cloud rolled in and put an end to our stargazing. I got up after 01:00 to answer a call of nature and found that the clouds had departed, but I was too bloody lazy to get dressed and set up the telescope again.
On Tuesday the weather was beautiful but in the afternoon the clouds came in again and stayed. Lynnette and I decided to stick it out until Wednesday, hoping the weather would clear but it actually got worse and by 21:00 on Wednesday night it was raining steadily with some distant thunder as appropriate background music. We both had our doubts about getting the Vito through the few sticky patches on the gravel road between Leeuwenboschfontein and the R318 but it did not rain enough to adversely affect the road and by Thursday morning it was clearing nicely.
As a precautionary measure Mr Wanderlust was put into his harness and his leash tied to a pole where one of us could always keep an eye on him. While I went of to wash the breakfast dishes Snorre attempted to pull off one of his Houdini-style escapes from the harness but Lynnette was too quick for him, I then shoved him into his carry cage. Needless to say, Snorre was not a happy cat having his freedom of movement curtailed like that.
So, what are the prospects for Leeuwenboschfontein as a stargazing venue? I think it has definite potential and here is my list of positives, in no particular order.
The owners are very positive about hosting astronomers.
The average annual rainfall is much lower than that in and around Cape Town.
It is within easy driving distance of Cape Town.
There is fairly priced accommodation available for all tastes.
The availability of an astro-enclosure means that astronomy enthusiasts do not have to fight with campers about the lights in the camp or their smoky braai fires.
Astronomers will not be pestered by campers wanting to look through their telescopes or discuss astronomy down at the astro-enclosure. If anyone feels the need to do outreach they just have stay in the camp and they will be inundated.
We have the concession that the outside lights of the homestead and guest house can be switched off to further reduce any influence they might have on viewing from the enclosure.
Negative aspects are possibly the following:
The horizons are not ideally low in all directions but from the astro-enclosure they are more than acceptable.
For the astrophotographers the non-availability of power at the enclosure is a problem but, at least for the present, a large battery and an inverter will provide a solution.
Please go here to visit Leeuwenboschfontein’s website or you may view their Facebook page here.
In my opinion there is no other site that is safe, offers the same amenities and has the same astronomy potential within easy driving distance of Cape Town. Some amateur astronomers might have private access to comparable sites but, for the average amateur in Cape Town, I think Leeuwenboschfontein offers a viable solution to a long standing problem.