The spring 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 26 to 30 October 2016.

The spring Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) was a success despite the fact that the weather did not really play along. All in all, 60 people registered, but due to unforeseen circumstances there were cancellations and the final total was 55.

Since the previous SSP in February we have had enough to keep us busy. We were involved in or presented the following events between the previous SSP and this one.

  • An outreach event at the Kogelberg Farm Hostel for Elkanah House Private School.
  • A Deep Sky event at Leeuwenboschfontein where we had Klaas and Wilma van Ditzhuyzen from the Netherlands as guests.
  • The Museum Night at the Iziko Museum in the Company Gardens.
  • The Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
  • The Eco Rangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
  • The Old Age Home in Porterville.
  • A public event at the Golf course in Porterville.
  • Four talks at the Durbanville Public Library.
  • Five public events at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront.
  • Eight days for National Science Week at the Iziko Museum in the Company Gardens.
  • An outreach event at the !Khwa ttu San Cultural and Educational Centre.
  • An outreach event at Labiance Primary School.
TOP: Loading done – the Vito from the back. MIDDLE: Loading done – the Vito from the side. BOTTOM: Loading done – the trailer.
TOP: Loading done – the Vito from the back. MIDDLE: Loading done – the Vito from the side. BOTTOM: Loading done – the trailer.

On Monday the 24th of October shortly after 07:00 Lynnette, Snorre and I left Brackenfell. This time we did not have to work right through the night to finish everything as I had the able assistance of my son, John-Henry. It was not only his physical assistance that made a difference, but his far better eye for what fits in where was a great help. We started unloading as soon as we arrived and during the course of Monday afternoon Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent.

Alan and Rose Cassells arrived on Tuesday and immediately started setting up their camp site. On Wednesday Eddy Nijeboer arrived with Auke hard on his heels and Barry and Miemie Dumas not far behind him.

TOP: Sunset from the “Post Office” at the turn-off from the R317 looking toward Mcgregor. Lynnette and I had such poor mobile reception at Night Sky that we had to drive from the camp to this spot to receive mail and make calls. BOTTOM: Sunset from the camp looking toward Swellendam. The darker blue layer on the horizon is the Earth’s shadow and the pale pink layer above it, known as the Girdle of Venus, is caused by scattering of sunlight by the upper layers of the atmosphere.
TOP: Sunset from the “Post Office” at the turn-off from the R317 looking toward Mcgregor. Lynnette and I had such poor mobile reception at Night Sky that we had to drive from the camp to this spot to receive mail and make calls. BOTTOM: Sunset from the camp looking toward Swellendam. The darker blue layer on the horizon is the Earth’s shadow and the pale pink layer above it, known as the Girdle of Venus, is caused by scattering of sunlight by the upper layers of the atmosphere.

This time round the mobile reception was worse than it had ever been at Night Sky and Lynnette and I had no signal whatsoever. This meant that we had to drive back to the R317, where we had a good signal, to receive and read mail. Everyone seemed to have the same problem to a greater or lesser degree except Rose and Alan.

During the course of Wednesday Pamela Cooper, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Wendy Vermeulen, Louis Fourie, Pierre de Villiers, Bennie Kotze and Peter Harvey arrived. By then Night Sky was starting to look populated and discussions were taking place all over the place as people wandered around renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

TOP & SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two views of the front (reception) portion of the tent. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM & BOTTOM: Two views of the back part of the tent where the talks took place.
TOP & SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two views of the front (reception) portion of the tent. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM & BOTTOM: Two views of the back part of the tent where the talks took place.
TOP: StarPeople’s two merit awards from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA). One was for our general outreach efforts and the other was specifically for organizing and presenting the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. BOTTOM: Two posters advertising the Sky Guide. This is an ASSA publication printed and distributed by Struik and is a must have for all amateur astronomers and interested members of the public.
TOP: StarPeople’s two merit awards from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA). One was for our general outreach efforts and the other was specifically for organizing and presenting the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. BOTTOM: Two posters advertising the Sky Guide. This is an ASSA publication printed and distributed by Struik and is a must have for all amateur astronomers and interested members of the public.

On Friday everyone else pitched. Just before the SSP our speaker from Bangalore in India, Amar Sharma had let us know that he was not going to make it due to visa problems. These problems revolved around the slap-dash attitude of the South African diplomatic staff in Mumbai. Amar runs an astronomy tourism operation in Bangalore, (see here). Our other disappointment was that a second speaker, Dr. Wanda Diaz Merced the blind astrophysicist from Puerto Rico, had fallen ill and was hospitalized just a day or two prior to the SSP. We had especially brought along our material used in astronomy outreach for the visually impaired, so that Wanda could demonstrate it. We settled for an exhibition of this material in the tent and it drew quite a lot of attention.

TOP: Chris (back to the camera) Marius (in blue) and Louis sorting out telescope matters. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and Leslie plotting something. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Beginners Area with Paul, Alan and Rose in the very distant background BOTTOM: Auke’s ConEx (Constellation Exploration) Area with the “You are here” banner on the right.
TOP: Chris (back to the camera) Marius (in blue) and Louis sorting out telescope matters. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and Leslie plotting something. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Beginners Area with Paul, Alan and Rose in the very distant background BOTTOM: Auke’s ConEx (Constellation Exploration) Area with the “You are here” banner on the right.
TOP: From the left, Louis, Marius, Chris and Deon finding out where they are. BOTTOM: Barry, hidden behind Alan and Rose relaxing on Sunday evening as the sun sets.
TOP: From the left, Louis, Marius, Chris and Deon finding out where they are. BOTTOM: Barry, hidden behind Alan and Rose relaxing on Sunday evening as the sun sets.

The weather on Friday evening cancelled any possible viewing efforts. Barry Dumas kindly presented a very complete and quite technical talk on optical equipment and what to do and not to do when cleaning it. His talk gave lots of information on the construction of various eyepieces and how special protective materials were applied to both protect and also to improve their optical functionality. After the talk we dispersed and in general spent the rest of the evening watching the clouds and socializing.

TOP: Harpactira species (Baboon Spider). BOTTOM: Closer view of the spider’s eyes. The downward curved chelisera, typical of four lunged spiders, are clearly visible.
TOP: Harpactira species (Baboon Spider). BOTTOM: Closer view of the spider’s eyes. The downward curved chelisera, typical of four lunged spiders, are clearly visible.

Chris Forder was kind enough to lend a hand with some of the younger aspirant astronomer’s telescopes during the course of the weekend. The youthful telescope owners and their parents were all left much the wiser after Chris had finished his explanation.

TOP: Paul’s pickup and our banner at the entrance to Night Sky. The banner has seen better days and is becoming a bit tattered. It has seen many outreach events and 12 Southern Star Parties so i suppose it ought to look a bit battle scarred by now. BOTTOM: Auke in a pensive mood.
TOP: Paul’s pickup and our banner at the entrance to Night Sky. The banner has seen better days and is becoming a bit tattered. It has seen many outreach events and 12 Southern Star Parties so i suppose it ought to look a bit battle scarred by now. BOTTOM: Auke in a pensive mood.

On Saturday morning I kicked off with the beginners. I handed out all the required paperwork and printed information and talked them through the basics of using star charts. After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Prof. Herman Steyn’s talk on satellites and his work with the University of Stellenbosch’s satellite research section. He was intimately involved with the Rosetta mission and shared many of his experiences with us.

TOP LEFT: Alan and Rose at breakfast. TOP MIDDLE: Kiona looking very laid back. TOP RIGHT: John taking it very, very easy. MIDDLE: The general braai area on Saturday at lunch time. BOTTOM LEFT: Wonder what Lynne is concentrating on? BOTTOM MIDDLE: Martin, all set up to clean some unsuspecting volunteer’s telescope mirror. BOTTOM RIGHT: This is one man’s breakfast – no names no pack-drill. Actually there was also a pan of sausage and bacon to go with this lot.
TOP LEFT: Alan and Rose at breakfast. TOP MIDDLE: Kiona looking very laid back. TOP RIGHT: John taking it very, very easy. MIDDLE: The general braai area on Saturday at lunch time. BOTTOM LEFT: Wonder what Lynne is concentrating on? BOTTOM MIDDLE: Martin, all set up to clean some unsuspecting volunteer’s telescope mirror. BOTTOM RIGHT: This is one man’s breakfast – no names no pack-drill. Actually there was also a pan of sausage and bacon to go with this lot.

Pierre de Villiers presented a very interesting coverage of the Solar System Model designed and constructed by the Hermanus Centre. This project aims to increase the astronomy awareness of the general public and serve as a permanent outreach installation. The model now forms part of the well known scenic cliff pathway in Hermanus. After Pierre’s talk we had the usual lunchtime braai. Lynnette organized the braai drums as well as the laying and lighting of the fires with the very able assistance of Marius Reitz and Barry Dumas as well as other able bodied assistants.

After lunch we handed out the prizes for the Lucky Draws. This year, instead of depending on the traditional drawing of numbers out of a hat, we did something different. The first person to register, the first person to pay, the first couple to register and the first family to register all received prizes. Auke also decided it was Evan’s birthday and that he should also receive a prize. The fact that it was his birthday was as much a surprise for Evan as it was for the rest of us.

Then it was Auke’s turn to talk about the Centre for Astronomical Heritage. He was followed by Martin Lyons who presented a talk on how to look after your telescope optics. Martin could quite easily take his presentation on tour. With the appropriate musical background and some fancy dance steps it would be an instant comedy hit. However, please do not let the fact that it was funny detract from the value of its very sound practical advice on how to care for telescope optics. It was interesting to compare the differences in cleaning regimes between Martin and Barry.

TOP LEFT: Herman Steyn, Head of Satellite Research at Stellenbosch University, was our main speaker. TOP MIDDLE: Herman gets his speaker’s gift. TOP RIGHT: Pierre de Villiers the MMWC at the Hermanus Centre and current president of ASSA. MIDDLE: Chris Forder the very worthy winner of this year’s Pub Quiz, wearing his Pub Quiz Floating Rosette, receives his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM LEFT: Pierre receives his speaker’s gift. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Rose and Alan toasting a very convivial braai. BOTTOM RIGHT: Martin receives his speaker’s prize.
TOP LEFT: Herman Steyn, Head of Satellite Research at Stellenbosch University, was our main speaker. TOP MIDDLE: Herman gets his speaker’s gift. TOP RIGHT: Pierre de Villiers the MMWC at the Hermanus Centre and current president of ASSA. MIDDLE: Chris Forder the very worthy winner of this year’s Pub Quiz, wearing his Pub Quiz Floating Rosette, receives his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM LEFT: Pierre receives his speaker’s gift. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Rose and Alan toasting a very convivial braai. BOTTOM RIGHT: Martin receives his speaker’s prize.

In Wanda’s absence we watched a recording of her presentation “Listen to the Stars”, recorded at the TEDx Westerford in Cape Town in April 2014. If you go here you can listen to the talk too. If, after you have watched this, you are impressed go here where you can listen to the talk she gave in February 2016.

After Martin’s talk we took the group photo. It is a great pity that not everyone pitched up for the group photograph as one likes to have everyone that attended on the photograph. Thanks to Auke’s efforts we also have a You Tube video of the behind the scenes efforts to get everyone setup for the photo. Go here to view the video.

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FRONT – SEATED: Auke Slotegraaf, Lynne Court, Kiona van der Merwe, Juanita van Rensburg, Chris Vermeulen, Paul Kruger, Edward & Snorre Foster, Lynnette Foster, Rose Cassells, Alan Cassells, Caycee Cupido, Abigail Cupido, Caitlin Cupido. MIDDLE – STANDING: Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Pierre de Villiers, Bennie Kotze, Lea Labuschagne, Chris Forder, Lena Smith, Miemie Dumas, Johan Brink, Laura Norris, Pamela Cooper, Wendy Vermeulen, Rachel Norton, Peter Norton.  BACK – STANDING: Peter Harvey, Jannie Nijeboer, Eddy Nijeboer, Robert Ketteringham, Ruth Kuys, Arné Esterhuizen, Evan Knox-Davies, Leslie Rose, John Richards, James Smith, Annatjie Kunz, Marius Reitz, Barry Dumas, Corné van Dyk, Louis Fourie, Gavin Cupido, Rogan Roth, Chris de Coning. INSET: Roelof van der Merwe.

ABSENT: André de Villiers, Martin Lyons, Rene Auras, Tyron Auras, Nicholas Kröner, Thomas Kröner, Nellie Brink, Dominique Brink.

The group photo was followed by the infamous Pub Quiz. Lynnette and I divided the attendees into six teams. This is quite a tricky operation. For starters, we know from past experience that separating parents from children or splitting couples are both big no-no’s. Then there is the really difficult task of trying to balance astronomy knowledge in the teams as well. Although the teams might have looked unbalanced numerically they were quite even as far as the knowledge levels were concerned. This is borne out by the fact that the final scores were quite close; team one (16), team two (20), team three (28), team four (22), team five (26) and team six (17). Each team had to choose a leader and Evan, in team two, was by far the most efficient team leader of the evening. After six rounds team three, consisting of Lynne, Juanita, Kiona, James, Lena, Leslie, Martin and Laura, was a clear winner. They had, in fact, maintained their lead since the end of round four.

After the team section we asked each team to nominate one representative to take part in the individual section. A further four rounds of questions followed and then we had a clear and very worthy individual winner in the person of Chris Forder. Congratulations Chris.

Strange how some people, even in a fun exercise like this, cannot resist resorting to looking up answers electronically or in a book. Some even erased answers and corrected them after the correct answer had been given thereby gaining an unfair advantage.

After the Pub Quiz there were still clouds around, but we decided to give it a go and Auke got the Constellation Exploration group (ConEx) together while I set up a telescope for the beginners. As luck would have it, just as we started, the clouds covered Venus, Saturn and eventually Mars too. We managed to discuss a few constellations and some objects of interests, but eventually people drifted off, as the clouds alternately advanced and retreated. For the most tenacious beginners there was eventually a fairly clear view of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) before we all went to bed.

TOP: This is a 30 second exposure at ISO 400 in the general direction of Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale with lots of reflected light on the extensive cloud cover. This is something which has increased steadily over the past six years and seems to have accelerated over the last two years. MIDDLE: Taken with the same camera settings, when there was a lot less cloud and the camera pointing slightly more north than in the previous photo. Note here the few clouds present all show the typical white colouring associated with light pollution. BOTTOM: This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 400 taken to the east-southeast. Swellendam to the left and Riviersonderend to the right are both out of the photo. Note the clarity of the Coal Sack and also that the small clouds on the horizon are all black or dark grey, typical of a low light pollution situation.
TOP: This is a 30 second exposure at ISO 400 in the general direction of Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale with lots of reflected light on the extensive cloud cover. This is something which has increased steadily over the past six years and seems to have accelerated over the last two years. MIDDLE: Taken with the same camera settings, when there was a lot less cloud and the camera pointing slightly more north than in the previous photo. Note here the few clouds present all show the typical white colouring associated with light pollution. BOTTOM: This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 400 taken to the east-southeast. Swellendam to the left and Riviersonderend to the right are both out of the photo. Note the clarity of the Coal Sack and also that the small clouds on the horizon are all black or dark grey, typical of a low light pollution situation.

Nobody had done the observing challenge, so there were no certificates to hand out on Sunday morning. Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to say goodbye to the early leavers and share a cup of coffee with them. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd and, as usual, we had a nice braai before setting op the telescopes to do some observing. Yes, you guessed correctly the weather cleared as soon as the SSP was over! On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre, myself, Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday morning we departed leaving the entire camp to Alan and Rose. Tersius and his team took down the tent on Tuesday afternoon and loaded up the tables and chairs, bringing down the final curtain on the 2016 Spring Southern Star Party.

TOP: Camera set at 30 seconds and ISO 400 with the Carina area and the LMC visible. BOTTOM: Camera set at 15 seconds and ISO 1600. Hercules is in the left part of the photograph and M31 in the bottom centre. Note how light the lower portion of the photograph is over the Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale area, which was identified as a high light pollution area in previous photographs.
TOP: Camera set at 30 seconds and ISO 400 with the Carina area and the LMC visible. BOTTOM: Camera set at 15 seconds and ISO 1600. Hercules is in the left part of the photograph and M31 in the bottom centre. Note how light the lower portion of the photograph is over the Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale area, which was identified as a high light pollution area in previous photographs.
TOP LEFT: Light pollution from Robertson. MIDDLE LEFT: Looking in a southerly direction. BOTTOM LEFT: John MIDDLE: The Pleiades, the Hyades and Aldebaran. TOP RIGHT: Johan MIDDLE RIGHT: Martin, BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris Vermeulen.
TOP LEFT: Light pollution from Robertson. MIDDLE LEFT: Looking in a southerly direction. BOTTOM LEFT: John MIDDLE: The Pleiades, the Hyades and Aldebaran. TOP RIGHT: Johan MIDDLE RIGHT: Martin, BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris Vermeulen.
TOP: Back view of the Vito. MIDDLE: Side view of the Vito. BOTTOM: The trailer also loaded to capacity.
TOP: Back view of the Vito. MIDDLE: Side view of the Vito. BOTTOM: The trailer also loaded to capacity.
TOP: Snorre on his leash waiting for us to finish packing. If one lets him go at this stage he goes walkabout, attending to all sorts of urgent things, like birds, lizards, insects and anything that moves in the grass. BOTTOM: That expression clearly indicates that this whole loading exercise is taking far, far too long to his liking.
TOP: Snorre on his leash waiting for us to finish packing. If one lets him go at this stage he goes walkabout, attending to all sorts of urgent things, like birds, lizards, insects and anything that moves in the grass. BOTTOM: That expression clearly indicates that this whole loading exercise is taking far, far too long to his liking.

Page17_Immobile Snorre

Back home Snorre went into the relax-mode, but like in completely out for the count relaxed.
Back home Snorre went into the relax-mode, but like in completely out for the count relaxed.

A special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Martin Coetzee
Bennie Kotze
Chris de Coning
Kechil Kirkham

The autumn 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 05 to 07 February 2016.

The autumn Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) followed so hard on the heels of the Southern Star Party in November (read all about it here) that we felt there was hardly any break. We were booked out two weeks before the event, which was a record, and it was a huge success judging from the verbal comments and the written feedback we received. We are obviously elated at the success but also a tad tired, so the long gap till the next Star Party at the end of October is most welcome. However, that gap is already filling up with all sorts of other things so we won’t be exactly idle. We are in fact going flat-out at present to get our grant application for the National Science Week ready to send off to SAASTA by the end of February.

This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program fir the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There was lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember all recipients of the passport – it has to accompany you to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, to bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There is lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember, all recipients of the passport have to bring it to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. Bottom: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. BOTTOM: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

On Tuesday the 02nd of February at 07:00, without any sleep the previous night, Lynnette, Snorre and I left and arrived at Night Sky to find the lawn mowing in full swing. Shortly after they finished, Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent. As soon as that was done I got the projection screen set up and then it started raining lightly. The three of us went to bed early and the next morning we started organizing the tent. Alan and Rose arrived in the course of the morning and after they had set up camp they pitched in to help setting up as well. During the course of Wednesday Auke also arrived. Volker and Aka Kuehne from Pforzheim in Germany were also at Night Sky as they are every summer from early January to mid-March. This was their second SSP and as on the previous occasion they were always ready to lend a hand with just about everything.

This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.
This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.

Lynnette and I drove to Bonnievale to meet Rudolf who had found a fossil deposit and after viewing and photographing the Zoophytes trace-fossils in the Witteberg sediments, we drove back to Night Sky after some essential shopping. Before going to Night Sky we stopped off at Oppiekoppie Guesthouse (go here to see more about Oppiekoppie) to label the rooms, so everybody would know where to go when they arrived the next day. We then drove back to Night Sky for supper, putting up all the banners at the entrance on the way, to make sure nobody got lost. Shortly after supper we turned in. On Thursday Jonathan Balladon, Louis Fourie, Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer and Barry & Miemie Dumas arrived, followed by Pierre de Villiers, Karin de Bruin and Susan Joubert from the Hermanus Centre.

TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Wittenberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Witteberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. Middle: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. MIDDLE: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.

Alan once again set up his model table in the tent where he displayed the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle, the yet to be completed model of SALT and some very nifty models of the Mars habitat with the surface vehicle and fuel generation unit. During the course of the SSP, and especially on Sunday morning this attracted a lot of attention and many favourable comments.  I personally can’t wait for the completion of the SALT model.

This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.
This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.

Just as we were preparing for the evening braai on Thursday, I was laid low by a kidney stone. Juri de Wet went to a great deal of trouble to track down Dr Esterhuisen in Bonnievale who agreed to meet us at his consulting rooms. Auke drove Lynnette and I there in his car in a record time and I was given a shot of morphine to reduce the pain. The doctor liaised with an urologist; Dr Deon Marais in Worcester and off the three of us went again to the Worcester Medi Clinic. I was put on a drip and had to stay in hospital for a scan before having an operation to remove the kidney stone, the next day. Lynnette and Auke had to leave me contemplating my kidney stone, while they drove back to attend to the running of the SSP. On the Friday Alan and Rose were roped in to help organize things and keep the administration running smoothly while Lynnette came back to Worcester in Auke’s car. She stayed with me until late in the afternoon before driving back to help at Night Sky, where everyone had by now arrived. I was eventually operated on at around 18:00 on Friday and at 06:00 on Saturday, Lynnette was there again in Auke’s car, to pick me up and back to Bonnievale we went.

TOP LEFT: I herby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for the budget overruns.
TOP LEFT: I hereby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for their budget overruns.

Shortly after 08:30, on Saturday morning, I had a session with the beginner group and was rather amazed to find Pierre de Villiers, current ASSA president there. I am quite certain he is well out of the beginner category, but perhaps he just wanted to make sure I did not spout too much drivel.

Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Magda Streicher’s talk “Deep-Sky Delights” which took us on a genteel journey through the process of observing deep-sky objects and sketching them. Her talk was lavishly illustrated with personal anecdotes and examples of her own sketches. We are all looking forward to the book you intend publishing with all those sketches, Magda!

Next up was Bani van der Merwe who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so Pierre de Villiers, present ASSA president, came out to bat and he more than welcomed the extra time at the wicket. Pierre’s topic “How to foster an interest in, and enjoyment of, astronomy” was actually a workshop rather than an ordinary talk. He illustrated the various initiatives of the Hermanus Centre intended to achieve these objectives and engaged with the audience to get their ideas on the matter.

While Pierre was talking Marius, Kim, Lynnette and I packed and lit the fires for the lunch-time braai. During the course of the lunch-break it was decided that it was just too hot to go back into the tent for the remainder of the talks at 15:00, so everything was postponed until 17:00. We hoped that it would have cooled by then. The lucky draw also shifted and the Pub Quiz looked as if might have to take a back seat till October.

Ray Brederode’s presentation “The discoveries of Rosette and Philae” was very well received and generated quite a number of questions from the audience. He was followed by Charl Cater, who presented a short, but very interesting talk entitled “Green Pea Galaxies”. Auke Slotegraaf rounded of the programme with a presentation titled “To Forever Remain a Child: Astronomy and cultural heritage in South Africa.” The talk covered a number of important issues pertaining to astronomical heritage in South Africa and hopefully some members of the audience will heed Auke’s call to become involved in efforts to preserve that heritage.

On Friday night Dwayne apparently only had eyes for the stars in the love of his life’s eyes. How do I know? Because he took Claire out under the stars and proposed to her. Congratulations, this is the first engagement for the Southern Star Party and we hope that by the next SSP he will have taken the logical step and be able to bring his starry eyed wife along. We took the opportunity after the last talk to congratulate them and hope they enjoyed the bottle of wine and slab of chocolate we presented them with.

A series of images depicting the telescope are which was a focal point by day but especially at night.
A series of images depicting the telescope area which was a focal point by day, but especially at night.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.

By this time the light was just right for the group photo and after that Pierre de Villiers drew the three winners of our raffle. The first prize, a Skywatcher  Newtonian telescope was won by Chris Vermeulen (D=130, F=650, 25mm & 10mm eyepieces, Red Dot Finder, tripod and manual equatorial mount). The second and third prizes were two bottles of good red wine which went to Barry Dumas and Martin Coetzee respectively.

it was clear that time had overtaken us so we cancelled everything else and got ready for the evenings observing and related activities. It was a good evening for observing even though there were signs of clouds encroaching by about 23:00 and it actually rained around 03:00 or shortly thereafter. Martin Lyons and several other stalwarts were quick to rescue the telescopes that had been left in the telescope area by owners that had ignored the impending change in the weather.

TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours. Camera - Nikon D5100. Lens - AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G ISO 800 & f/1.8 Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals) & combined with StarStax 0.71
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours.
Camera – Nikon D5100.
Lens – AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
ISO 800 & f/1.8
Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals)
& combined with StarStax 0.71
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph also taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party by Leslie Rose.
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph, taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party, by Leslie Rose.

On Sunday Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to lay out the material for presenting astronomy to the visually impaired so that people coming to the tent to say goodbye could look at it. Part of the display was Dr Wanda Diaze-Merced’s 20 mHz Jove radio telescope. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd. On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre and I and Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday Tersius and his team took down the tent and loaded up the tables and chairs and on Wednesday the rest of us packed up and left. This brought down the final curtain on the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

Alan tending his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
Alan tending to his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.

Last but not least, a special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Waltons.

The 10th Southern Star Party, held at Night Sky Caravan Park near Bonnievale in the Western Cape, South Africa from the 06th to the 08th of November, 2015.

The 10th Southern Star Party

As is usual, the most important topic during the run-up to the Spring Southern Star Party was the weather. The clouds played silly buggers with us in the run-up to the SSP. First they shifted away from the weekend and then they shifted back again and then partially moved away again, but eventually it looked as if we would probably have one good night on the Friday and at least half a good night on the Saturday. (View more information about the Southern Star Party here) The Southern Star Party is held at Night Sky Caravan Farm (go here to see their Facebook page) (or go here to see their add on Budget Getaways).

Lynnette, Snorre and I left on Tuesday after Lynnette had her hair colour changed to a bright red, which suits her temperament perfectly. First stop was Pitkos Padstal and Francina for a quick chat, wine purchases, olive tasting and some catching up on the local “skindernuus” or local gossip. Then on to Night Sky where either Anneliese or Tertius form Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to visit a webpage with more details about them) were due to come and pitch the big tent at around 14:00. I started unloading as soon as we arrived and Lynnette organized the mountain of stuff as I unloaded, but Bonnievale Verhurings had developed a problem and could only pitch the tent later in the afternoon. Anyway, by Wednesday evening, Alan and Rose had arrived, the banners were in place and the telescope area had been cordoned off.

Top: The final approach to the turnoff with the white roses and the red Cannas contrasting beautifully with the purple Jacarandas. Bottom Left: The section after Robertson is a very scenic drive. Bottom Middle: The Jacaranda tress are almost in full bloom. Bottom Right: The narrow bridge across the Breede River.
Top: The final approach to the turnoff with the white roses and the red Cannas contrasting beautifully with the purple Jacarandas. Bottom Left: The section after Robertson is a very scenic drive. Bottom Middle: The Jacaranda tress are almost in full bloom. Bottom Right: The narrow bridge across the Breede River.
Top: The tent on Wednesday evening. 2nd From The Top: The inside of the tent and all we need are the people. 3rd From The Top: The outside of the tent all done up. Bottom: The telescope area adjacent to the tent starting to fill up.
Top: The tent on Wednesday evening. 2nd From The Top: The inside of the tent and all we need are the people. 3rd From The Top: The outside of the tent all done up. Bottom: The telescope area adjacent to the tent starting to fill up.

On Thursday Deon and Ronelle Beugemann arrived and sometime later in the evening Sebastian Guile and Aurelie Lemiere also pitched up. Jopie and Pieternel Coetzee sent a message cancelling their participation because they thought the weather forecast was unfavourable, which proved to be a big mistake for them. Early on Friday morning Alan and I put up the projection screen and completed the final touches to the tent, ready for the rest of the crowd to arrive so we could start the programme. Roelina Losper was also a late cancellation due to illness in her family, but we hope to see her next time.

Top: Lynnette’s fantastic cell phone shot of a magical sunset moment at the dam. Middle: A beautiful, tranquil moment on the dam captured by Chris. Bottom: Chris’s daylight shot of the telescope area showing, as to be expected, no astronomers.
Top: Lynnette’s fantastic cell phone shot of a magical sunset moment at the dam. Middle: A beautiful, tranquil moment on the dam captured by Chris. Bottom: Chris’s daylight shot of the telescope area showing, as to be expected, no astronomers.

Spring Southern Star Party Programme – 06 to 08 November 2015

Friday
18:00 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
19:00 Meet-and-Greet
19:30 Beginner’s Programme starts, Fight Light Pollution! Starts, Constellation Explorers set up
20:00 All lights out!
20:00 Deep-Sky Challenge starts
20:15 Constellation Exploration starts

Saturday
08:30 Beginner’s Programme, continued
10:30 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
11:00 Africa in Space – Kechil Kirkham
11:45 Building (a pinch of) SALT – Alan Cassells
12:30 Detecting the Sun in Microwaves [demo] – Evan Knox-Davies
13:00 Braai
14:30 Modelling MeerKAT – Bani van der Merwe
15:00 A New Glimpse of the Old Cape Observatory – Auke Slotegraaf
15:45 Feedback: Constellation Exploration & Deep-Sky Challenge
16:00 World Famous SSP Pub Quiz
18:00 Group photo
19:30 Beginner’s Programme, continued
20:00 All lights out! Deep-Sky Challenge, continued, Constellation Exploration (repeat)

Sunday
09:00 Tea & coffee in the Social Tent
10:00 Presentation of certificates
Farewell until next time! (2016 Autumn SSP, February 05 – 07)

Tea and coffee available 24/7. Bring your own midnight snacks!

By 18:45 almost all of the 33 prospective SSP attendees were accounted for and we had on site the following:

Deon & Ronelle Beugemann, Alan & Rose Cassells, Martin Coetzee, Evan Knox-Davies, Barry & Miemie Dumas (both new), Iain Finlay, Louis Fourie (new) Sebastian Guile & Aurelie Lemiere, Kechil Kirkham, Annatjie Kunz (new), Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer, Marius & Kim Reitz (new), John Richards, James Smith, Alida Taljard (new), Chris Vermeulen, Gerhard Vermeulen, Wendy Vermeulen (none of the Vermeulen triplets are related) and Willem van Zyl, plus Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and myself.

Dwayne Engelbrecht & Clair Ingram (new) as well as Leslie Rose were still on the road while Bani van der Merwe (new) would only arrive on Saturday.

Back & standing from left to right: Auke, Alan, Rose, Barry, Miemie, Annatjie, Alida, John, Kim, Marius, Evan, Edward, Lynnette, Bani, Leslie, Eddy, Louis, Iain, Willem, Clair, Gerhard, Dwayn, Aurelie, Sebastian. Front & seated, kneeling or reclining from left to right: Paul, Chris, James, Martin, Kechil, Jannie, Wendy, Ronelle, Deon.
Back & standing from left to right: Auke, Alan, Rose, Barry, Miemie, Annatjie, Alida, John, Kim, Marius, Evan, Edward, Lynnette, Bani, Leslie, Eddy, Louis, Iain, Willem, Clair, Gerhard, Dwayne, Aurelie, Sebastian. Front & seated, kneeling or reclining from left to right: Paul, Chris, James, Martin, Kechil, Jannie, Wendy, Ronelle, Deon. Snorre was temporarily AWOL.

The evening was clear, except for a few small clouds very low down to the southeast so, after welcoming everyone, we got started. The serious observers and astrophotographers did their own thing, as usual, and the constellation hunters gathered round Auke while the total newcomers and I sat down next to Lorenzo, the 10” Dobby.

Top: Night shot across the dam by Chris Vermeulen showing the light pollution from Bonnievale reflected on the low clouds. This has increased considerably in the recent past. Left: Another shot by Chris showing the light pollution, quite a few stars and the red trails of people moving around with red lights in the foreground. Centre: This photograph by Chris shows just how much glare is created by the red lights of the astronomers. Right: In this shot Chris has captured lots of stars including the large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: Here Chris captured the eastern sky with Orion’s belt and sword dead centre.
Top: Night shot across the dam by Chris Vermeulen showing the light pollution from Bonnievale reflected on the low clouds. This has increased considerably in the recent past. Left: Another shot by Chris showing the light pollution, quite a few stars and the red trails of people moving around with red lights in the foreground. Centre: This photograph by Chris shows just how much glare is created by the red lights of the astronomers. Right: In this shot Chris has captured lots of stars including the large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: Here Chris captured the eastern sky with Orion’s belt and sword dead centre.

My system for the beginners (Alida Taljaard and Annatjie Kunz) was to show them how to use the Discover! Charts (go here to download them for free) and ConCards (they are available for free here). Once they understand how to use them, they will be able to find their way around the sky in the future. I emphasized that Rome was not built in one day and neither does one become a clued up amateur astronomer in the course of one evening or one weekend. I used Lorenzo to show them interesting objects and pointed out the various symbols representing these objects on the charts. I explained the movements of the stars in the sky and pointed out the South Celestial Pole. Unfortunately Crux was just below the horizon so I had to employ an alternative to finding south for the group. We systematically worked our way from Pavo, and Triangulum Australe, Ara, Sagittarius and Scutum round to Pegasus and later included Taurus. By 23:30 the dew had become a problem for Lorenzo, so we decided to pack up and go to bed.

On Saturday morning the beginners and I got together in the tent and I ran through some of the key aspects of using star maps again. We were later joined by Martin Coetzee and Eddy Nijeboer. We also covered the use of the Southern Star Wheel (this can be downloaded for free here). We discussed the importance of the Loss of the Night project (please go here to read more about this) as well as sources of guidelines for amateur astronomers, such as ASSA’s Stargazing 101 notes (These notes can be viewed and downloaded here). The ASSA Big 5 in the African Sky initiative was also discussed (Please go here to read more about this project). The group was shown that invaluable amateur astronomy aid, the Star Guide Africa South.

Top: From left to right are, Eddy (standing), Martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself. Bottom: martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself.
Top: From left to right are, Eddy (standing), Martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself. Bottom: martin, Alida, Annatjie and myself.

During the discussions I emphasized that astronomy was a hobby that they should practice solely for their own enjoyment. Each person should determine their own rate of progress and also the level of expertise they personally wished to attain. There was absolutely no external pressure to perform to any predefined level or meet any externally imposed criteria.

The inevitable question about which telescope they should buy came up and my answer was none, at least not until they had achieved some proficiency with the naked eye and binoculars. When they did eventually buy a telescope, they should only do so after consultation with some knowledgeable people and not just buy one off the shelf from the local outdoor goods store.

At 11:00 Kechil presented her informative talk on Africa in Space dressed in her space suite for dramatic effect. Kechil gave an interesting overview which highlighted the role of South Africa and, in particular, the South African Space Agency.

Left: The visitor from outer space approaches. Top Right: This slide neatly sums up what Ketchil's talk was about. Bottom Right: Kechil answering questions.
Left: The visitor from outer space approaches. Top Right: This slide neatly sums up what Ketchil’s talk was about. Bottom Right: Kechil answering questions.

At 11:45 Alan demonstrated his magnificent model of SALT in a talk titled Building (a pinch of) SALT, giving details of the problems he had experienced during the building process and highlighting the importance of his visit to SALT in perfecting the model.

Top Left: The shuttle, Saturn V (1/187 scale) and SALT (1/144 scale). Bottom Left: Closer view of SALT. Top & Bottom Right: Alan demonstrating the intricate steps of the latest craze “The SALT”.
Top Left: The shuttle, Saturn V (1/187 scale) and SALT (1/144 scale). Bottom Left: Closer view of SALT. Top & Bottom Right: Alan demonstrating the intricate steps of the latest craze “The SALT”.
Chris is all ears (and eyes).
Chris is all ears (and eyes).

Just before the lunch time braai, at 12:30, Evan explained his ingenious radio telescope, which he had built using a discarded television dish aerial, in his talk Detecting the Sun in Microwaves and demonstrated it afterwards.

Top: Evan explaining the technicalities of his device. Bottom: Everyone gathered round the telescope for the demonstration.
Top: Evan explaining the technicalities of his device. Bottom: Everyone gathered round the telescope for the demonstration.

I had laid and made the fires, with the able assistance of Marius and supervision by Kim and Miemie, so by 13:00 the coals were just right and everyone could get going and prepare lunch. The braai was, as always, a very relaxed opportunity to socialize and everyone made good use of it. Bani arrived during lunch so we were all set for the afternoon’s entertainment.

Top Left: Allan in his role as Braai Master. Top Middle: Marius, Evan and James sweating it out. Centre Left: Martin getting instructions by phone. Right: Sebastian and Aurelie looking very happy. Bottom Left: Barry and Miemie having a blast.
Top Left: Allan in his role as Braai Master. Top Middle: Marius, Evan and James sweating it out. Centre Left: Martin getting instructions by phone. Right: Sebastian and Aurelie looking very happy. Bottom Left: Barry and Miemie having a blast.
Top Left: The braai extravaganza in full swing. Top Right: Leslie and James in the foreground with Annatjie in the background. Right, second from the top: James and Paul with Alan, martin and Rose in the background. Bottom Left: Annatjie getting that meat done just right. Bottom Centre: Kim, Marius and Leslie (back to the camera). Bottom Right: Miemie and Barry hard at work.
Top Left: The braai extravaganza in full swing. Top Right: Leslie and James in the foreground with Annatjie in the background. Right, second from the top: James and Paul with Alan, Martin and Rose in the background. Bottom Left: Annatjie getting that meat done just right. Bottom Centre: Kim, Marius and Leslie (back to the camera). Bottom Right: Miemie and Barry hard at work.
Left Top: James taking a peek at the sun while Ronelle waits her turn. Left Top: James Sun has brought John to his knees while Auke, Paul, Martin and Deon look on. Right: Marius taking a good look at the sun.
Left Top: James taking a peek at the sun while Ronelle waits her turn. Left Bottom: The Sun has brought John to his knees while Auke, Paul, Martin and Deon look on. Right: Marius taking a good look at the sun.

At 14:30 Bani entertained us with the trials and tribulations of building models of the radio telescope dishes in his talk Modelling MeerKAT. Over and above the technical differences he has also had to cope with a burglary which relocated his tools and a subsequent holdup at gunpoint.

Left: Bani explaining finer details. Right: Everyone gathered round to see the tiny parts.
Left: Bani explaining finer details. Right: Everyone gathered round to see the tiny parts.

Auke’s talk at 15:00, A New Glimpse of the Old Cape Observatory, took us back to the roots of scientific astronomy in Southern Africa and in fact in Africa. The talk left one very concerned about the preservation of this heritage.

Top: Auke with Louis and Chris on his left. Middle: Evan looking sceptical about the levitation technique Auke is explaining. Bottom: The Royal Observatory sketched in its very early days.
Top: Auke with Louis and Chris on his left. Middle: Evan looking skeptical about the levitation technique Auke is explaining. Bottom: The Royal Observatory sketched in its very early days.
Top Left: Rose knits while Alan and Paul ponder a problem. Right: Martin in a mischievous mood. Bottom Left: Does the bottle in his hand possibly explain why Martin doesn’t know the front of the telescope from the back?
Top Left: Rose knits while Alan and Paul ponder a problem. Right: Martin in a mischievous mood. Bottom Left: Does the bottle in his hand possibly explain why Martin doesn’t know the front of the telescope from the back?

We were running a bit late, so we skipped the feedback session and went straight on the World Famous SSP Pub Quiz. Lynnette and I had selected the teams and we hoped we had come up with reasonably balanced ones. The final teams were:

Team A – Barry & Miemie, Evan, Marius & Kim and Leslie.
Team B – Deon & Ronelle, Aurelie and Sebastian, Kechil, Eddy & Jannie
Team C – Paul, John, James, Alida, Chris and Wendy
Team D – Alan & Rose, Martin, Iain, Willem, Annatjie, Louis and Bani

Lynnette rewriting the team lists because of the non-arrivals.
Lynnette rewriting the team lists because of the non-arrivals.

The teams ended up numerically unequal because of late withdrawals mostly by novices, but we decided not to move people around because it would have meant splitting up couples, which is a very unpopular move. The first round was a team event in which we would have five rounds of five questions each. Each member of a team that dropped out received a chocolate as a consolation prize. The winning team was Team D and they each received a 250 ml bottle of Nuy Red Muscadel and a chocolate.

After the group rounds, each team selected two members to represent them in the individual competition. The final group consisted of Alan, Evan, Bani, Chris, Deon, James, Leslie and Sebastian. The individual rounds took longer than expected because we had to have repeat rounds when two people tied on the lowest score to determine who had to fall out. These delays meant we had to interrupt the competition so that we could take the group photo while the light was good. After this unscheduled break we resumed and eventually James Smith was the winner with Leslie Rose in second place and Evan Knox-Davies, winner on two previous occasions, in third place. James received the coveted SSP floating Rosette, donated by SCOPEX, as well as a bottle of red wine and a bottle of Nuy Red Muscadel.

Left: Edward the grand Inquisitor and the worthy winner of the 2015 SSP Floating Rosette. James Smith. Right: The competitors in the individual competition trying to puzzle out an obscurity.
Left: Edward the grand Inquisitor and the worthy winner of the 2015 SSP Floating Rosette. James Smith. Right: The competitors in the individual competition trying to puzzle out an obscurity.

After the Pub Quiz we had delicious cup cakes which Gesina had baked for our “10th birthday” and, as is often the case with things like this, everybody was going to photograph them but eventually nobody did! They were, however, delicious.

We made several mistakes with this Pub Quiz and if we present it in this format again, these will be rectified. The first mistake was to have eliminated teams in the group stage. We should have allowed all the teams to stay in the competition for all five or six rounds and then determined a winner based on the highest total score. The second mistake was again the elimination process in the individual section. Next time we will do six rounds and determine the winner based on the combined highest score. If there are two people with the same score, an elimination round or rounds will decide the winner.

Dwayne and his crew had made a mutton “potjie” which they were kind enough to share with Auke, Lynnette and I before the evening’s proceedings started. After supper we started the evening’s proceedings under clear skies, except for a few wisps of cloud to the north and northwest. I put the beginner through their paces with the star charts and the constellations as well as individual stars and deep sky objects to see if they had grasped the basics from the previous night and the morning session. In the process we covered the sky from Pavo all the way to Taurus again. After that we moved on to Orion, Canis Major, Lepus, Monceros, Puppis and Carina. I think the beginners have a reasonable grasp of how to use the star charts to find constellations and orientate themselves for finding specific objects; provided they do not wait too long and forget everything. I am confident that they have the basics to get their astronomy going if they practice. By midnight we had patchy high clouds moving in from the northwest and the dew was quite heavy so we decided to call it a night. Lynnette and I went to bed, but there were discussions elsewhere that went on until much, much later.

M31. I was surprised by the eventual result as this deep sky object was very close to the horizon and there was a haze on the northern horizon as well as a humidity of 80%.
M31. I was surprised by the eventual result as this deep sky object was very close to the horizon and there was a haze on the northern horizon as well as a humidity of 80%.

Most people left early on Sunday, because nobody had participated in the Deep Sky Challenge, so there were no certificates to be handed out. On Sunday evening it was fairly cloudy, so everyone that was left (Auke, Lynnette and I, Alan & Rose, Barry & Miemie, Chris, Iain & Willem, John and Louis) got together for a braai.

Monday was departure time for Auke, Barry & Miemie, Chris, John and Louis. Monday night was partially cloudy all night so no astronomy for us. On Tuesday Tertius and his crew came to take the tent down and on Tuesday night it was partially cloudy so again no astronomy. On Wednesday Alan & Rose, Lynnette, Snorre and I packed up and headed for home leaving Iain & Willem to enjoy the peace and quiet at Night Sky. On the way home we stopped off at Pitkos to buy wine, green fig and other fruit preserves, and some baby beetroot for Lynnette to pickle.

Top: The overloaded Ark, sorry Vito. .
The overloaded Ark, sorry Vito. .
The trailer, loaded to capacity and possibly a bit over the mark
The trailer, loaded to capacity and possibly a bit over the mark
This sign at Pitkos caught my eye while buying wine.
This sign at Pitkos caught my eye while buying wine.
This sign dashed any hopes I had about negotiating a discount.
This sign dashed any hopes I had about negotiating a discount.

That wraps up the Spring Southern Star party and now we start organizing the summer event from the 5th to the 7th of February, 2016.

Some comments we received from people who attended the event.

“We are back from a fantastic weekend of stargazing at Nightsky Caravan park where the Spring Southern Star party was held. Thank you to Edward, Lynette and Auke for all the hard work to make this a wonderful learning experience! We re-kindled friendships, made lots of new ones and are already looking forward to February 2016! A big thank you to all the guest speakers for once again broadening our general knowledge. We managed to spot the following constellations and deep sky objects: • Orion Constellation and Nebula • Triangulum Constellation and galaxy • Aries Constellation • Andromeda galaxy • Pegasus Constellation • Sagittarius • Corona Australis • Tucana Constellation and TUC 47 globular cluster • Musca Constellation • The Chamaeleon • Messier M7 NGC 6475 • Messier M6 NGC 6405 Butterfly cluster • Scorpius Constellation • Triangulum Australe • Pleiades in Taurus • Large Magellanic cloud • Small Magellanic cloud • Tarantula Nebula • Messier 55 NGC 6809 in Sagittarius • Messier 77 NGC 1608 in Cetus • Eridanus constellation • Teapot asterism in Sagittarius • Circinus Constellation • Planetary alignment of Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Moon. • Satellite iridium flare”

“Sjoe die tyd vlieg verby. Dis amper al weer ‘n week gelede wat ons mekaar ontmoet het. Ek wil net weereens baie, baie dankie sê vir die geleentheid wat ek
gehad het om die naweek se SSP by te woon. Ek het geweldig baie geleer. Vir my was dit ‘n belewenis en ek sal baie graag nog meer wil leer. Dankie vir ‘n stunning event en al jul moeite en reëlings was baie goed.” (Heavens but time flies. It is almost a week since we met each other.  I would like to, once more, say thenk you very, very much for the opportunity that I had over the weekend to attend the SSP. I learnt an enormous amount. I found it an exceptional experience and would very much like to learn more. Thank you for the stunning event and all your efforts; the organization was very good.)

“Ons moet eintlik vir julle dankie sê. Alles het vlot verloop danksy julle tyd en opoffering.” (We should actually thank you. Everything went very smoothly thanks to to the time and effort you put in.)

The organization for the event was excellent. The hospitality ensured that no body felt left out. Thanks to the organizers for a successful meeting.
The organization for the event was excellent. The hospitality ensured that nobody felt left out. Thanks to the organizers for a successful meeting.

Star Parties to attend if you are going to North America soon

Sky & Telescope Magazine has an article on star gazing in the USA.  As part of the article they published a list of “selected” Star Parties taking place in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer. Down here in the Western Cape we have rain, clouds and then more rain and clouds.  ASSA’s Bloemfontein Centre recently held the first Free State Star Party and they had fine but cold weather while Kos and the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club in Limpopo Province seem to be having a run of fine weather too.  The next Southern Star Party is scheduled for November at our usual venue, Night Sky Caravan Farm on the farm Oudekraal, west of Bonnievale

Selected North American Star Parties in 2014
Event Location Dates
Table Mountain Star Party Oroville, WA July 22-26
Mason Dixon Star Party Wellsville, PA July 23-27
Stellafane Convention Springfield, VT July 24-27
Mount Kobau Star Party Osoyoos, BC (Canada) July 26-Aug. 3
Oregon Star Party  Prineville, OR  Aug. 19-24
Starfest  Ayton, ON (Canada)  Aug. 21-24
Almost Heaven Star Party  Circleville, WV  Aug. 22-26
Nova East Star Party  Haunts County NS (Canada)  Aug. 22-24
Idaho Star Party  Mountain Home, ID  Sept. 19-21
Alberta Star Party  Drumheller, AB (Canada)  Sept. 19-21
Okie-Tex Star Party  Kenton, OK  Sept. 20-28
Astroblast  Franklin, PA  Sept. 23-28
SJAC Fall Star Party  Woodbine, NJ  Sept. 25-28
Astronomy Day (autumn)  Everywhere!  Oct. 4
Bays Mountain StarFest  Kingsport, TN  Oct. 17-19
 Chiefland Star Party  Chiefland, FL  Nov. 17-23

A Winter Exploration

Brackenfell to Kopbeenskloof

We left Brackenfell on Sunday morning of the 25th of May, under threatening clouds and elected to take the longer route over Du Toitskloof Pass instead of using the Huguenot Tunnel. Lynnette was driving. I was checking out the scenery and Snorre was spread out on my lap. We negotiated the N1 and the multiple traffic lights at Worcester successfully and stopped for coffee at the Veldskoen Padstal north of De Doorns. We were very glad to find that the service there was as friendly and efficient as we remembered it from past visits. Back on the N1 we drove past the R318 turnoff so that I could take photos of the new 50 Mw solar installation nearing completion east of the N1 a few kilometres past the abandoned 1948 tunnel attempt. I only hope the designers have done their homework, otherwise northbound motorists are going to see a very sharp reflection in the late afternoon at certain times of the year.

View down the valley from a vantage point in the Hex Pass
View down the valley from a vantage point in the Hex Pass
The solar farm north of De Doorns which is currently nearing completion
The solar farm north of De Doorns which is currently nearing completion
A closer look at some of the panels in the section closer to the N1.
A closer look at some of the panels in the section closer to the N1.

After taking the photos, we turned back to the R318 and continued on that until we reached the turnoff for the Nougaskloof road. The gravel road was not as good as we’ve seen it in the past, but neither was it bad, considering the fairly heavy rain in that area in the recent past. At Kopbeenskloof, our first surprise was the flock of Emus grazing in a field. The owner, Wouter Stemmet met us at the house and then accompanied us to the guest house, a kilometre or so further on. We quickly settled in at the refurbished farmhouse which has all the necessary amenities and nice clean linen. The house can sleep up to 10 people and has three bathrooms but I think eight would be a more comfortable number. There is a small sunroom with a Queen Anne stove that would make nice focal point in chilly weather and the large indoor braai area with its huge fireplace has a great deal of potential.

The signboard announcing the turnoff to Kopbeenskloof
The signboard announcing the turnoff to Kopbeenskloof
A representative from Down-Under gave us a disapproving stare.
A representative from Down-Under gave us a disapproving stare.
Snorre cleaning up after the long trip
Snorre cleaning up after the long trip
The infamous "long drop" fortunately no longer in use
The infamous “long drop” fortunately no longer in use
The trusty Vito parked in front of the guest house
The trusty Vito parked in front of the guest house with Lynnette relaxing on the stoep

After settling in, we set up the telescope and got ready for an evening’s viewing. The area around the house is clear, but the lines of pine trees on two sides of the house are a problem. From the front of the house one has a clear view all the way from the west to the southeast but, to work the sky from the southeast to the southwest one would have to set up in the road beyond the trees; a distance of about 25 metres from the house. What really surprised us was the amount of sky glow in the clouds to the southwest. This light pollution problem probably has its origins in Worcester but is no doubt helped by the lights of De Doorns and the new sodium lights along the Hex Pass. The more distant lights of Paarl and Cape Town also make a contribution. The seeing was quite good, but the general conditions did not favour observing. It was never entirely overcast, but there were always stray clouds moving across the sky which made observation for any length of time in any part of the sky impossible. Monday night was a repeat of Sunday night as far as the clouds were concerned.

The sunset was magnificent
The sunset was magnificent
The sunset just kept on getting better
The sunset just kept on getting better
..... and better
….. and better
The sky-glow to the southwest
The sky-glow to the southwest
I am not asleep, just resting my eyes for some serious observing later on
I am not asleep, just resting my eyes for some serious observing later on

On Monday evening Snorre disappeared into the surrounding veld and failed to reappear. I eventually set off with a headlamp in search of him and finally found him about 40 metres away from the house eating a mouse. My attempts to take him home before he had finished his meal were met with growls and flattened ears, so I just hung around until he sat back and very smugly started washing his face.

On Tuesday morning 27 May, we drove a few kilometres down the Nougaskloof road in the direction of Touws River to Leeuwenboschfontein. The place was under new management and we wanted to see what had been changed and discuss various possibilities with the new owner’s son, Johan Roux. The changes are all very positive and Johan is also open to discussions about concessions should we wish to use the place for stargazing in the future. We had the pleasure of bumping into Iain Finlay and Willem van Zyl while at Leeuwenboschfontein, where they had taken up residence in Willow Cottage for the week. After the discussions with Johan and coffee and snacks with Iain and Willem, we drove back to Kopbeenskloof to make lunch.

Early morning view down the Nougaskloof on the way to Leeuwenboschfontein
Early morning view down the Nougaskloof on the way to Leeuwenboschfontein
The Vito at the entrance to Leeuwenboschfontein
The Vito at the entrance to Leeuwenboschfontein
A view from above down on the Leeuwenboschfontein campsite and guesthouses
A view from above down on the Leeuwenboschfontein campsite and guesthouses
Venus and the the waning crescent moon hidden behind the clouds
Venus and the the waning crescent moon hidden behind the clouds
The moon looking decidedly jaundice as it slipped out from behind the clouds
The moon looking decidedly jaundice as it slipped out from behind the clouds
The bird in the picture is not perched on the distant mountain top
The bird in the picture, for those of you who may be wondering about it, is not perched on the distant mountain top

On Tuesday afternoon Wouter and Elsabé Stemmet showed us around the chalets and their other facilities. The indoor facilities are clearly intended for handling large groups and a visit to their website gives one a good idea of what they can do by way of arranging functions. The facilities would certainly be more than adequate for talks and presentations at a Star Party. The 20 chalets are very basic and can sleep up to 12 people per chalet on bunk beds. One does not have to put 12 people into each chalet, as they charge per person and do not prescribe a minimum number of occupants per chalet. There are sufficient toilets and showers and the communal indoor cooking facilities are quite adequate. In clear weather the outside braai area would be nice, but there is also an indoor facility should the weather turn nasty. Wouter and Elsabé regularly handle large groups of learners from youth organizations and do not seem daunted at the prospect of serving three meals a day to 200 odd hungry children.

The outside braai-area at Kopbeenskloof
The outside braai-area at Kopbeenskloof
A section of the inside braai- and entertainment-area at Kopbeenskloof
A section of the inside braai- and entertainment-area at Kopbeenskloof
Some of the chalets at Kopbeenskloof
Some of the chalets at Kopbeenskloof

That evening the clouds once again put paid to any ideas we might have had of doing any observing, but this time it was seriously overcast. Not wishing to load the Vito in the rain, Lynnette and I got as much as possible loaded before we settled down in front of a nice fire. The toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches grilled over the coals were excellent. It started raining later that night and on Wednesday morning 28 May we left in light rain; the gravel road to the R318 was already quite muddy in places. At the R318 we turned left and headed for Montagu.

Down through the Koo and the Keisie and then through Montagu to Kati’s Wine Farm

It really is a delightful drive down Rooihoogte into the Koo and then down Burgers Pass into the Keisie. The scenery is magnificent and varies continuously as one drops from more than 1200 metres at the top of Rooihoogte to just over 500 metres at the lower end of Burgers Pass in the Keisie. In Montagu we stopped off to buy some of the famous Montagu Muscadel and then took Snorre to Dr Marina le Roux, the vet, for his check-up and inoculations. After that we had coffee and lunch and a long chat with Christine, who is no longer at Bergwater after the recent ownership changes there. Then we were off to meet Katica Palic at Kati’s Wine Farm between Robertson and Bonnievale. To be more exact, the place is almost on the dot six kilometres down the R317 after one exits the big traffic circle on your way out of Robertson on the way to Bonnievale. After being shown to our room and making sure Snorre was out of reach of the local canine, Biscuit, we went looking for Kati. Biscuit, by the way, is encouraged to see cats off the premises in the interest of the safety of Kati’s Amazon Green Parrot who is free on the back stoep.

The entrance to Kati's place on the R317
The entrance to Kati’s place on the R317
From left to right, the Vito, Biscuit, Lynnette, Kati and the reception office
From left to right, the Vito, Biscuit, Lynnette, Kati and the reception office

Kati is Croatian but speaks fluent German and her English has a strong German flavour. Her son and daughter are in a local school and speak fluent Afrikaans and English and Kati speaks to them in German. Kati is a very energetic person and during the whirlwind tour of her premises, it soon became clear that she has lots of ideas for the place and the energy to make them work too. What surprised us most, was that she had identified a potential stargazing area. I say surprised, because when we checked it out later that evening and took a set of sky brightness readings, it turned out to have a lot of potential.

We had supper with the family and went to bed fairly early after taking the sky brightness readings. The next morning 29 May, after a delightful breakfast next to a blazing fire to keep the early morning chill at bay, we went off to Bonnievale to say hi to Inus and Elsophie van Staden who were day visitors at the previous Southern Star Party. Their son, also Inus, has resurrected an old telescope and is very keen that we should come back and show him the ropes. After coffee we went off to Parmalat’s cheese shop in Bonnievale and then headed back to Kati’s place where she had organized that I would give a talk on astronomy and, weather permitting, also do some stargazing with the 12-inch Dobby in her stargazing area. The show also inaugurated her very innovative sleeping dormitory in the old 18th century wine cellar. In attendance were the Tourism people from Robertson as well as the local press, her staff and other guests from as far afield as Montagu. The talk went well and the weather cleared sufficiently to give us time to do a quite a good astronomy show-and-tell-session.

The 18th century barn Kati has converted into a dormitory type sleeping area
The 18th century barn Kati has converted into a dormitory type sleeping area

The next morning 30 May we departed for the Night-Sky Caravan Farm. Lynnette pointed out earlier to me that I have been calling it a Caravan Park when it is actually a Caravan Farm. I shall mend my errant ways.

Night-Sky Caravan Farm

The Weather at Night-Sky was not good during our stay. By day we had such strong winds that it was quite unpleasant to be outside, but every evening the wind died down and by 19:00 it was almost completely wind free. The clouds were a different matter and I do not think we had more than two hours cloud free at stretch on any given night. In fact, two hours might be stretching it quite a bit.

You put what on my catnip!
Yech! You put what on my catnip?
We did actually get the telescope out and try to do some observing
We did actually get the telescope out and try to do some observing

 

Snorre in his capacity as observing supervisor
Snorre in his capacity as observing supervisor

On Saturday evening Wilhelm de Wet and his son Christian paid us a visit. Christian’s mother, Helena, phoned me after the previous Southern Star Party in March, expressing interest in Astronomy and asking that we get in touch when we were in the Bonnievale area again. We did that and the outcome was this visit. Christian is a very talkative and knowledgeable lad and we spent some time discussing what we could see and pointing out interesting features between the clouds before doing some telescope viewing of Saturn, the Jewel Box and various other well known objects, as allowed by the clouds.

We had beautiful sunrises over the dam
We had beautiful sunrises over the dam
The reward for getting up early
The reward for getting up early
Snorre, believed that if he waited long enough they would come back to him
Snorre, believed that if he waited long enough they would come back to him where he was crouched behind the reeds
No stars but, as I said, the sunrises were fantastic
No stars but, as I said, the sunrises were fantastic
We did manage to get a look at the new moon too
We did manage to get a look at the new moon too

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were pretty much repeats of the other days, but each evening the clouds were a little more persistent and the wind a bit stronger during the day. Snorre decided that sleeping on a chair in front of the fire covered with his blanket in the evenings was the only place he wanted to be. Finally, on Wednesday, down came the rain, lots of it, and even though it looked as if it was clearing late in the afternoon, the showers persisted, interspersed with short periods of being able to see a few stars. Lynnette and I once again loaded as much of our gear as possible on Wednesday afternoon during a break in the weather so as to make life easier the next morning.

The road to Stormsvlei in a different light
The road to Stormsvlei in a different light
The rain just kept on falling staedily
The rain just kept on falling steadily
What cats should do when it rains - wrap up and go to sleep in front of the fire
What cats should do when it rains – wrap up and go to sleep in front of the fire

On Thursday morning 5 June, there were still intermittent showers of rain as we had expected but we managed to finish the loading in good time. We said our goodbyes to Gesina and then left for Montagu where we stopped off for a bottle of Red Jeripigo, before proceeding along the R318 via the Keisie and the Koo to the N1.

How many safety and traffic infringements are being committed here?  There are two other people in that tangle of vine stumps by the way
How many safety and traffic infringements are being committed here? There are two other people in that tangle of vine stumps by the way

We were hoping there would be snow on the road between the Koo and the N1. Half way up Rooihoogte we pulled off because we thought Snorre needed a toilet stop. After walking round the Vito twice and inspecting the area in general he decided it was far too wet and way too cold, so we got back into the vehicle and set off again. At the top of Rooihoogte (1234 metres) the temperature had dropped to 2.5° Celsius but the only snow was far way on the high mountains to the west and south. There was even a light dusting of snow on the mountain behind Kopbeenskloof and also on the mountain to the west of Leeuwenboschfontein, but nothing closer. There were little bits in amongst the Renosterbos next to the road, but certainly nothing to get excited about. From the N1 we headed home down the N1, once again taking the scenic route over Du Toitskloof Pass instead of through the tunnel. Back home in Brackenfell we discovered that the hail that had fallen there earlier in the day and on the previous day, had knocked several holes in the roof of our car port and back stoep. The unloading was delayed several times by showers of rain, but eventually it was all done and Lynnette and I went off to the Old Oak Diner for a well-earned plate of fries and a vegetarian pizza. Back home we did some serious catching up on e-mails before bedtime.

The mountain west of Leeuwenboschfontein with a light covering of snow.
The mountain west of Leeuwenboschfontein with a light covering of snow.
Behind Kopbeenskloof the mountains also had a dusting of snow
Behind Kopbeenskloof the mountains also had a dusting of snow
Matroosberg hiding behind a veil of cloud had snow as well
Matroosberg hiding behind a veil of cloud had snow as well
The Brandwag mountains north of Worcester also had snow
The Brandwag mountains north of Worcester also had snow
Du Toitskloof was quite spectacualr even if there wasn't all that much snow on the mountains themselves
Du Toitskloof was quite spectacualr even if there wasn’t all that much snow on the mountains themselves

Autumn Southern Star Party from April 25th to April 28th 2014

Night Sky Caravan Park, Oudekraal, Bonnievale (-33.012486, 19.994881& 207m)

To start with, a special word of thanks to the sponsors, speakers, newcomers, day visitors and of course the regulars who helped to make the event possible. If you want to read some feedback from people who attended the Star Party please go here.

Sponsors:
Andrie van der Linde, Eridanus Optics,
http://www.eridanusoptics.com/store

Anneliese Carstens, Bonnievale Verhurings, Gelukshoop,
marankis@lando.co.za

Gesina de Wet, Oudekraal, Bonnievale,
nightsky@breede.co.za

SAASTA, South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement,
http://www.saasta.ac.za

Waltons – Stellenbosch,
http://www.waltons.co.za

Donors
Alan & Rose Cassells – the two lights for the interior of the marquee.

Speakers (in order of appearance)
Martin Lyons – “Live Video Astronomy Demo”
Kos Coroniaos – “Amateur Astronomy in South Africa”
Martin Lyons – “Basic Spectroscopic Astronomy”
Lia Labuschagne – “Brown Dwarfs”
Alan Cassels – “Comfortable observing – Moving the Beast”
Auke Slotegraaf – “Photometry with a DSLR Camera”
Kechil Kirkham – “The SKA – The story so far”
Kerry Patterson – “Planetary Models of Hu Aquarii”
Brett du Preez – “Collimating a Newtonian Reflector Telescope”

Newcomers
Dwayne Engelbrecht, Lia Labuschagne, Charmaine Pretorius, Anneke Steyn, Bernie, Michelle & Keagan Swanepoel, Gerhard Vermeulen and Wendy Vermeulen

Day visitors
Anneliese & Tertius Carstens, Willie Lombard & Elise, Inus & Elsophie van Staden

The “old hands”
Alan & Rose Cassells, Charl and Yolandi Cater, Kos Coronaios, Brett du Preez, Wim Filmalter, Iain Finlay, Kechil Kirkham, Martin Lyons, Kerry Paterson, John Richards, Leslie Rose, Auke Slotegraaf, Willem van Zyl, and of course Lynnette and myself.

The 2014 Autumn Southern Star Parties Group Photo
The 2014 Autumn Southern Star Parties Group Photo

Lynnette, Snorre the cat and I got off to a very early start in Brackenfell and arrived at Night Sky by about 09:30 on Thursday.  Alan and Rose were already settled in and shortly after 10:00 Anneliese Carstens of Bonnievale Verhuurings and her two assistants were on site to pitch the marquee tent.  The whole process took just over 70 minute.  As soon as that was done,  we started putting up the banners and posters and doing all the other essentials to get the inside organized.  Alan and Rose pitched in to help with this and without their very able assistance, the job would have taken a great deal longer.  Thanks guys, as usual your convivial company made an otherwise boring task seem quite fun. Lynnette got the Admin table sorted out, as well as the chairs in the main tent and the coffee bar at the back of the tent.

The banner displayed at the entrance to Night Sky Caravan Park dates back to a 2004 astronomy outreach programme
The banner we displayed at the entrance to Night Sky Caravan Park dates back to a 2004 astronomy outreach programme
The side of the marquee tent facing the main camp area
The side of the marquee tent facing the main camp area
The left side of the tent's interior with the Admin Table on the left.
The left side of the tent’s interior with the Admin Table on the left.
The right side of the tent's interior.  The Sale Table is hidden by the chairs on the right.  All banners, inside and outside the tent, were designed by Auke.
The right side of the tent’s interior. The Sale Table is hidden by the chairs on the right. All banners, inside and outside the tent, were designed by Auke.
The Coffee Table was open all day and all night
The Coffee Table was open all day and all night
The Sale Table later sported binoculars and eyepieces put up for sale by various attendees.
The Sale Table later sported binoculars and eyepieces put up for sale by various attendees.

 

Lynnette at the Admin Table
Lynnette at the Admin Table

Thursday evening didn’t offer much by way of stargazing as it was one of those evenings where the clouds opened up and, just as one thought it was telescope time, they closed in again. Somewhere between 02:00 and 03:00 I got up to have a peek and it was totally clear, but I was too lazy to take the telescopes outside.

During the course of Friday most of the others trickled in, but by sunset there were still people on the list who had not turned up so we decided to move the Pub Quiz forward to the Saturday.

The weather looked indecisive about being cloudy or not, so we socialized and had an uncharacteristically late braai while Martin Lyons started setting up for his live video astronomy demonstration. Unfortunately the electronic gremlins were out in force and even with the able assistance of Kos Coraniaos the system obstinately refused to perform to expectations. As the clouds had cleared up we all dispersed to the telescopes and spent the rest of the evening observing or introducing the newcomers to the wonders of the night sky.

John, Alan & Leslie around the braai fires
John, Alan & Leslie around the braai fires
Paul, Alan, part of the camp and the marquee looking almost due South
Paul, Alan, part of the camp and the marquee looking almost due south
Evening reflection looking south-east
Evening reflection looking south-east
Alan point out a UFO to Paul, or maybe an early star?
Alan pointing out a UFO to Paul, or maybe an early star?

On Saturday Kos kicked off the programme followed by Lia in Martin’s vacant slot. The planned braai turned into a bit of a fiasco, because it started raining quite heavily just as the fires got going nicely. Kos and Wim’s attempts to rescue one of the fires by putting the braai drum on Brett and Leslie’s stoep, had unexpected consequences. Despite the fact that they closed the doors and windows the smoke from the fire still got into the house and tainted everything with a distinct “wood smoke” odour.

I am going to get myself a camera with a CCD this wide
I am going to get myself a camera with a CCD this wide
Leslie, Brett & Wenday at Kos's talk
Leslie, Brett, Wendy, Charmain & Gerhard at Kos’s talk
Lia concentrating on Brown Dwarfs
Lia concentrating on Brown Dwarfs
Reflections on the dam of the rain that was to follow shortly afterwards
Reflections on the dam of the rain that was to follow shortly afterwards

Even though Martin’s talk had been cancelled as a result of his equipment failure, leaving an open slot for an extended lunch, the braai was so late that Alan had to wait for people to finish eating before he could start his talk.  After Alan’s talk, Auke presented Alan with his long-awaited observing certificate and a special t-shirt commemorating his acquisition of a 12-inch telescope.  After that ceremony we took the group photo and set ourselves up for the Pub Quiz after supper.

Alan maneuvering The Beast into position
Alan maneuvering The Beast into position
Alan's ingenious drawing table
Alan’s ingenious drawing table
Auke handing over Alan's observing certificate
Auke handing over Alan’s observing certificate
Alan and the long overdue observing certificate
Alan and the long overdue observing certificate
Alan receiving his 12-inch t-shirt
Alan receiving his 12-inch t-shirt
Leslie & Auke enjoying the sunshine after the rain while the braai fires got going again
Leslie & Auke enjoying the sunshine after the rain while the braai fires got going again
Gesina after delivering the SSP-cake
Gesina, after delivering the Southern Star Party cake
Auke and Gesina in a congenial mood
Auke and Gesina in a congenial mood

The Pub Quiz was contended between six teams. After the first three rounds, three teams were eliminated leaving three to contest the next four rounds before Lia and John’s team made it through to the finals. It was a tight race between these two teams until John’s team took the lead. By that time the weather had cleared completely leaving everyone itching to get to the telescopes, so this year’s Quiz, like the Spring SSP in 2013, was not taken to the individual level. Probably a good thing because John has already won the Quiz twice before on an individual basis!

A rainbow at night is a shepherd's delight or something to that effect
A rainbow at night is a shepherd’s delight or something to that effect
With the clouds looking as if they were clearing people hastily started setting up so that they could start observing after the Pub Quiz
With the clouds looking as if they were clearing people hastily started setting up so that they could start observing after the Pub Quiz
Richard, Charl and Yolandi have spotted something interesting in the evening sky
Richard, Charl and Yolandi have spotted something interesting in the evening sky
Wim is also looking but Yolandi seems to be be worrying about the photographer
Wim is also looking but Yolandi seems to be be worrying about the photographer
Al set up and ready to fire off the first salvo in the Autumn 2014 Pub Quiz
All set up and ready to fire off the first salvo in the Autumn 2014 Southern Star Pub Quiz
The final rounds and on my left gaining steadily, John's team
The final rounds and on my left gaining steadily, John’s team
The final rounds and on my right, putting up a brave fight to stay in the lead, Lia's team team
The final rounds and on my right, putting up a brave fight to stay in the lead, Lia’s team
The winners of the Autumn 2014 Southern Star Pub Quiz. Bernie Swanepoel, Muchelle Swanepoel, Iain Finlay, John Richards and Keagan Swanepole.  Keagan is wearing the coveted Southern Star Party Pub Quiz Floating Rosette
The winners of the Autumn 2014 Southern Star Pub Quiz. Bernie Swanepoel, Michelle Swanepoel, Iain Finlay, John Richards and Keagan Swanepoel. Keagan is wearing the coveted Southern Star Party Pub Quiz Floating Rosette

For the evening and late-night coffee we had a very nice cake baked by Gesina to commemorate the seventh Southern Star Party.  The cake was iced in blue and decorated with silver stars.  The cake also served to celebrate John Richard’s 70th birthday and we wish him well on his next 100 years.  A very nice gesture indeed, thanks Lynnette.

The Southern Star Parties Cake commemorating seven Star parties (and John's birthday)
The Southern Star Parties Cake commemorating seven Southern Star Parties (and John’s birthday this time too)

Sunday’s day-programme went off without a hitch. Auke had to leave just after his talk to get Kos back to Somerset West and then he unfortunately encountered a problem and was unable to return as planned. By evening the sky was clouded over, much to everyone’s disappointment, so we also cancelled the scheduled “Ethno-What’s up Tonight”. Anneliese and Tertius had come over specially for the stars, so it was a great disappointment for them.  However, just as we were sitting down having coffee with them, Leslie knocked on the door and announced that the clouds were clearing so we could set up a telescope and take them on a tour. Before midnight Lynnette and I gave up the unequal battle with the dew and went to bed.

Auke seated, left back talking about photometry with a DSLR camera
Auke seated, left back talking about photometry with a DSLR camera
Kechil talking about the SKA after having shown us how to dance the SKA!
Kechil talking about the SKA after having shown us how to dance the SKA!
Kerry explaining the intricacies of HU Aquarii
Kerry explaining the intricacies of HU Aquarii
Brett explaining exactly why most of us avoid collimating our telescopes
Brett explaining exactly why most of us avoid collimating our telescopes
The sunset was absolutely magnificent
The sunset was absolutely magnificent
Much later we could actually do some stargazing on an absolutely windless night as evidenced by the reflections in the dam
Much later we could actually do some stargazing on an absolutely windless night as evidenced by the reflections in the dam
Over on the far side of the dam a moving red light is reflected in the water
Over on the far side of the dam a moving red light is reflected in the water
The Magellanic Clouds, 47 Tuc, the Tarantula very faintly and a tiny corner of the Milky Way
The Magellanic Clouds, 47 Tuc, the Tarantula very faintly and a tiny corner of the Milky Way

On Monday morning everyone was packing up and saying goodbyes. In-between all the farewells, we took down the posters and banners in the tent, folded up tables, stacked chairs and loaded the trailer. By that evening it was only Lynnette, Snorre, myself and Iain and Willem left.

On Tuesday morning with the clouds building up, Anneliese and her crew arrived to take down the marquee.  Iain and Willem were also packing up and when Anneliese and her crew had finished one of her crew remarked, “Look at those two still struggling with that little tent and we’ve already finished with the big one.”  Iain and Willem did eventually finish and left shortly after midday.  Lynnette and Snorre and I stayed till Wednesday before we left for home via the Pitkos Farm Stall.  Regrettably they had no more roosterkoek by the time we got there so we just had coffee and bought a box of Nuy Muscadel for the next SSP in October 2014 before heading home!

This table gives the sky brightness readings obtained during the Autumn 2014 Southern Star Party.

Place Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park Night Sky Caravan Park
Locality & GPS -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m -33°00’44.95″, 19°59’41.57″, 207m
Date 24/03/2014 25/03/2014 26/03/2014 27/03/2014 28/03/2014 29/03/2014
Time (SAST) 22:30 23:30 22:00 22:00 22:00 22:00
Temp (°C) 18.00 17.00 16.00 16.00 16.00 17.00
SQM1 21.68 21.58 21.61 21.67 21.59 21.65
SQM2 21.65 21.57 21.62 21.67 21.60 21.64
SQM3 21.66 21.56 21.62 21.66 21.61 21.65
SQM4 21.64 21.59 21.63 21.66 21.60 21.64
SQM5 21.65 21.58 21.60 21.67 21.61 21.64
SQM6 21.63 21.56 21.61 21.68 21.60 21.64
SQM7 21.65 21.58 21.61 21.67 21.59 21.61
SQM8 21.66 21.56 21.62 21.67 21.59 21.64
SQM9 21.65 21.55 21.61 21.66 21.60 21.63
SQM10 21.66 21.58 21.61 21.66 21.60 21.65
Average (MSAS) 21.65 21.57 21.61 21.67 21.60 21.64
StdDev (MSAS) 0.012689 0.012207 0.008000 0.006403 0.007000 0.011358
Med.(MSAS) 21.65 21.58 21.61 21.67 21.60 21.64
NELM (V mags) 6.4610 6.4203 6.4418 6.4679 6.4343 6.4541

The Spring 2013 SSP in pictures

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Snorre proclaimed himself the “official” SSP-cat.
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The marquee tent that we hired instead of using the infamous SSP-tent that featured at previous events
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Paul’s vehicle at the turnoff to Night Sky Caravan Park

 

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Ready and waiting, a view inside the marquee from the admin table
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The inside of the marquee seen from the coffee table
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The all important coffee table
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Coffee break
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Everyone. F.l.t.r. Johan, Emmy, Fritz, Jana, Gys, Carolina, Toekie, Koos, Candice, Micheal, Christo, Iain, Laura, Willem, Jannie, Monique, Eddy, Lynnette, Leslie, Rose (only just visible), Edward, Brett, Alan, Auke and seated in front Paul.
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Part of the attentive audience attending Christo Rademan’s talk about his thesis work on robotics in the Engineering Faculty at the University of Stellenbosch.
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The Quiz Master for the SSP Pub Quiz, Auke Slotegraaf. He’s probably wondering if the questions weren’t too easy.
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Laura, Rose (behind Laura), Iain and Micheal (back to the camera, battling with the Pub Quiz questions.
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Emmy, Johan, Carolina and Koos (back to the camera) debating a Pub Quiz issue.
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Alan seems to think the situation is more serious than Leslie does
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Emmy seems to be taken aback by a question or was it an answer?
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Toekie and Gys showing the concentration that took their team to the top as winners of the 2013 SSP Pub Quiz.
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Micheal seems to think that even among friends one needs to look over one’s shoulder in a competition as fierce as the Pub Quiz
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Lynnette making sure every thing adds up
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Carolina in a pensive mood during the Pub Quiz
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The SSP Pub Quiz champions for 2013 f.l.t.r. Friz, Jana, Toekie and Gys. Well done against some stiff opposition. The halos are camera artifacts and not indications of a supernatural affiliation
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Christo presenting his interesting feedback on their IAU sponsored African Outreach expedition.
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Fritz, from ORMS North, in a serious mood about the errors people make when buying cameras and why they make the errors
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Brett du Preez as Rubini captivating the audience with his magical expertise
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Paul Kruger captured this tranquil early morning view of Night Sky Caravan Park
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Christo Muller’s black and white study of the view from their house on the jetty
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Christo Muller’s midnight view across the dam toward Bonnievale from their house on the jetty

If you would like to read a full report please go here and you can also visit the Southern Star Party website for more information.

Fritz van Zyl also put some pictures in the Dropbox which can be accessed here.

Report on the Spring Southern Star Party: October 04th to October 06th 2013

Report on the Spring Southern Star Party: October 04th to October 06th 2013.

The Spring Southern Star Party could be very briefly summed up by stating that on Friday everyone arrived, but the clouds got there before them.  Then on Sunday everyone left, while the clouds hung around until Monday.

Fortunately the Southern Star Party, as presented by ELF Astronomy and Star People, is a fully fledged star party and not just a star gazing excursion.  At the Southern Star Party we present a full supporting programme of talks and other activities as well as the star gazing activities.  Just in case the weather lets us down, we always have a supplementary programme in reserve – the ubiquitous Plan B.  So, for this overcast weekend, it was Plan B all the way.

Lynnette, Snorre and I went through on Wednesday.  Along the way we stopped off at the Pitkos farm stall to buy wine and have two of Francis’s delicious, hot roosterkoek with sliced biltong and melted cheese washed down with freshly brewed coffee.  At Night Sky Alan and Rose had already set up camp and Alan had done some observing the previous night.  On Thursday afternoon Anneliese Carstens, from Bonnievale Verhuring, arrived with the marquee tent. She was accompanied by one male and one female assistant and I was rather dubious because, not only did I think there were too few people to do the job, but I thought the stiff breeze would make the tent unmanageable.  I set up the camera to record the process, and potential “disaster” as a time lapse sequence, with shots at 1 minute intervals.  Four hours later they were done without any mishaps, although there had been tense moments and I went over to the camera to look at the photos.  To my dismay I discovered that I had pressed the shutter button instead of the start button to start the process, so my sequence consisted of exactly one photo showing a wide expanse of green grass, a pickup truck and trailer with three people in a huddle next to the vehicle.  I was very eloquent about my mistake, but most of that was unprintable.

On Friday the clouds came in accompanied by a chilly wind.  Alan and Rose pitched in with Lynnette and I to get the stuff in the tent organized – banners and posters put on display, the projection wall set up, coffee table laid out, sale table contents unpacked and the admin table organized.  Then Alan and Rose kindly lent a hand to get the gazebo set up for Auke and the tent pitched for Fritz so, when the first guests rolled in, everything was ready for the show to roll.  Without Alan and Rose’s willing hands, Lynnette and I would have been really hard pressed to get everything done in the available time.  Thanks guys!

On Friday evening we lit the fires and everybody had a quick braai before Leslie ran us through his collection of astro-photos explaining where and how he had taken them.  Then Auke took over, using the same photos to highlight a plethora of interesting astronomy information about the various objects. This was followed by Christo Rademan, who spoke about the work on robotics that he is carrying out for his M-thesis in the Engineering Faculty at the University of Stellenbosch.  No stars unfortunately but lots of thick low clouds and the odd drop of rain as well.

On Saturday morning it was still overcast, windy and chilly.  We started off with a very short official word of welcome followed by the Pub Quiz, compiled and run by quizmaster Auke Slotegraaf.  The winning team was a bit of a surprise as it contained no recognized astronomers, amateur or otherwise, but Fritz, Jana, Toekie and Gys were very worthy winners, especially if one takes into consideration that at least one of the other teams had treated the quiz as an open book affair.  Well done, and we hope you will all be back at the 2014 Autumn SSP to defend your title.

After the Pub Quiz and coffee, Christo Rademan talked us through their IAU-funded Africa-outreach in which their group went all the way form Stellenbosch to Uganda and back.  After this Fritz van Zyl from Orms North in Bellville spent time pointing out the most common errors that people make when they buy cameras and also why they probably make these errors.  After another coffee break Edward spoke about the Early History of Rockets and Space Flight, after which we all went outside for the group photo.  The photo-session was followed by Auke’s talk, Operation War on Light Pollution and, while that was in progress, Lynnette and I lit the fires for the braai.

Probably due to the chilly and overcast weather, the convivial atmosphere around the fires resulted in the braai lasting much longer than planned and we only got going again at around 20:00 with Edward’s talk on the Odyssey of Life, which highlighted the role stellar evolution had played in forming the key elements required for life, as we know it on Earth, to function.  This was followed by Rubini’s magic show presented by Brett du Preez, winner of the Dalin trophy at the Cape magic Circle in 2013.  Time constraints imposed by the late start of the evenings proceedings meant that we had to cancel the intended discussion forum on the formation of OWL.  This is the acronym for “Operation War on Light Pollution (South African Dark Sky Survey and Light Pollution Monitoring), an organization that is to be launched with the specific objective of combating light pollution.

On Sunday morning Alan and Rose again pitched in to help take down all the trimmings in the tent and leave it ready for Anneliese and her crew to cart away.  Everyone else was also packing up and the group slowly trickled off, eventually leaving only Alan, Rose, Lynnette, Snorre and myself in sole possession of the whole Night Sky Caravan Park.  After taking down the gazebo and Fritz’s tent, once again with the much appreciated assistance of Alan and Rose, Lynnette and I spent the rest of the day packing up and loading the trailer and the Vito so that we would be able to leave fairly early on Monday as I had a dentist’s appointment and Lynnette had an appointment in Somerset West.  Just before we left, Anneliese and her team rolled in to take down the marquee and this time I had the camera set up and started correctly to record the 40 minute exercise. The three of them made it all look so easy.

By the time Lynnette, Snorre and I left, Alan and Rose had also started breaking camp.  We made a brief stop at Pitkos for the obligatory roosterkoek and coffee and were still on time for my dentistry exercise as well as Lynnette’s appointment in Somerset West.  We even managed to fit in a flying visit to Auke as well as unload most of the stuff from the Vito and the trailer before going to bed.  The sorting and packing away, however, only took place on Tuesday.

We think this SSP was a success, despite the unfavourable weather.  Judging by the comments on the feedback forms the participants agree with us.  We sincerely hope that we will see all the new faces, that were there this time, at the Autumn SSP in 2014.  Snorre probably enjoyed the SSP more than anyone else.  The wide open spaces and the endless supply of birds, which he never gave up trying to ambush, left him exhausted by sundown every day.

We are indebted to our sponsors Waltons in Stellenbosch, Andrie at Eridanus Optics, Orms North in Bellville, Elf Astronomy and SAASTA, for their invaluable support.  Auke, Lynnette and I would very much like to find a sponsor who will be prepared to fund the presentation future SSP events.  We would like the SSP to become the premier Star Party in Southern Africa but need a strong financial backer to achieve this.

At the Spring SSP there were, once again, various prizes to be won.  Here is the list of prizes, donors and winners.

Prize:  A Galileo Scope
Donor: Christo Rademan and the African Outreach Safari
Winner: Emmy Olivier.

Prize: A voucher for an A2 canvas print.
Donor: Orms North, Bellville.
Winner: Jannie Nijeboer

Prize: A R100 cash prize.
Donor: Elf Astronomy.
Winner: Eddy Nijeboer

Prize: A special deck of unusual playing cards.
Donor: Auke Slotegraaf.
Winner: Micheal Kloos

Lynnette deserves a great big thank-you for all her hard work to get the SSP up and running.  She is, without doubt, the administrative face of the SSP. Lynnette has all the information at her fingertips and knows who goes where, pays how much and what for. She is the one who worries about all the little details that Auke and I tend to gloss over, but which can easily upset the whole apple cart, if not attended to.  Lynnette is the one who makes sure the SSP does not run at a loss and also makes sure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed before the Star Party starts, thank you Lynnette.

You can read more about the event at the Southern Star Party website www.southernstarparty.org

For a pictorial view of the Spring 2013 SSP please go here.

Fritz van Zyl also posted some pictures in Dropbox which you can view here.

Deep Sky Weekend at Night Sky Caravan Park, Oudekraal, Bonnievale: 08th to 11th of August 2013

Deep Sky Weekend at Night Sky Caravan Park, Oudekraal, Bonnievale:  08th to 11th of August 2013

Lynnette and I left home with Snorre, our cat, in the Vito on the 7th hoping to get in a day’s rest at NightSky after the hectic 9-day marathon of National Science Week that ended on the 4th of August. It was cold and rainy all the way and we were both holding thumbs that the weather people were right and that it would clear up by the Friday.  We stopped off at the Pitkos Padstal on the R60 where Francis had delicious freshly brewed coffee and hot roosterkoek with melted cheese and biltong.  Snorre gave his purring stamp of approval to the food and we bought several bottles of the Nuy Red Muscadel to ward of the cold we knew would be waiting at NightSky.

 

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NightSky Caravan Park is a scenic venue even if it is cloudy or if it rains and it has this stunningly photogenic willow tree.
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Fairly heavy snow on the higher peaks of the Riviersonderend Mountains
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Snow on the distant peaks of the Langeberg Mountains reflecting the afternoon sunlight

At NightSky everything was very thoroughly wet and we wondered if there was anywhere dry enough for Iain to pitch a tent.  I was still wearing the brace after my lumber fusion in May, so unloading was slower than usual, but as soon as it was done we got the fireplace going and before long the house had warmed up nicely. Then Alan and Rose arrived and eventually found a spot to park their caravan.  There were intermittent showers all afternoon and well into the night, but by morning only the clouds along the Riviersonderend and Langeberg mountains remained.  As they cleared away we could see that the higher peaks were all covered in snow, which explained the sharp nip in the air.

The important thing though was that we had almost clear skies and it looked as if they would clear completely by evening.  During the course of the day Auke, Wim, Malcolm & Elize, John, Brett, Leslie and Kechil and her group trickled in, as well as Ludwig Churr and Sandy Struckmeyer.  Wim as well as Malcolm & Elize unpacked and then headed off to McGregor to see if they could get any closer to the snow, but to no avail.  Anyway, by sunset everyone was back and set up to start observing.  Alan was determined to push up his tally of Deep Sky objects, Leslie and Brett had all their astrophotography paraphernalia set up and the rest of us each had our own little niche from which we could contemplate the near perfect dark skies above us.  In between we wondered around exchanging views and opinions with whoever you stumbled across in the dark.  The only people that were not difficult to find were Brett and Leslie, because their outfits were lit up like Christmas trees.

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Brett in the centre of the photo and Leslie on the right were easy to find in the dark. Alan’s telescope on the far left, and his caravan are reflecting the light form the other two
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Leslie headed East leaving a fiery trail

Saturday was a beautiful day and Wim went off in his pickup to explore farther afield.  Leslie and Brett went to Bonnievale to find hot water bottles which they intended using to ward of the cold during their nocturnal activities.  They both claimed that this worked well except for the slight scorching they experienced after filling them with boiling water as the bottles had no covers.  Saturday night was not quite as clear as Friday night and on both nights dew was a problem, especially in the areas closer to the dam.  Alan, I know, had two very successful nights of observing and has increased his tally of Deep Sky objects considerably.  I spent quite a lot of time getting used to my new Nikon D5100 and got some fairly good shots of the area around Crux and the Scorpio/Sagittarius section of the Milky Way while Lynnette spent time hunting globulars.  In general we all had two quite cold, definitely sleepless, but astronomically speaking quite productive nights.

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Auke explaining to Lynnette and pointing out things with a laser. All the action is reflected on the back of the Vito on the left of the photograph

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On Sunday everyone packed up, goodbyes were said and another successful DarkSky gathering came to an end.  As we were packing up I noticed that Snorre was limping and inspection of the left front leg turned up a puncture mark high on the leg.  I thought this was a bite from one of the feral cats that prowled the area and we decided to head for Bergwater and spend the night with Christine so that we could take him to Marina, the vet in Montagu, early on Monday morning.  From past experience I knew just how septic these bites could become and I did not want that to happen to Snorre.

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Snorre the MCWC (Main Cat What Counts)

At Bergwater Christine was her normal cheerful self and the three of us, plus a rather subdued Snorre, spent the evening around a large fire talking and enjoying Lynnette’s excellent curry and rice until the wood ran out.  On Monday morning Marina confirmed that Snorre was running a fever and prescribed antibiotics.  On the way back to Brackenfell we stopped off at Pitkos for more of the usual before tackling the last lap.  The stops at Pitkos on both legs of the journey were actually not just for the coffee and roosterkoek, although that would have been a sufficient reason, but also because my back could not yet handle long periods of sitting in the vehicle.  Suitably fortified we set off home and, instead of using the Huguenot Tunnel, we went over Du Toitskloof Pass, but the normally fantastic view from the summit was unfortunately spoiled by low clouds.  Once home there was all the usual unpacking before we could settle in and get a good night’s rest.