Stargazing at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront: Saturday 14th May 2016.

Lynnette and I left Brackenfell at about 10:00 under completely overcast skies. It thinned in patches at times, but in general the prospects for viewing the Sun or the Moon, which was due to rise at about 14:00, seemed pretty close to zero.

TOP LEFT: On the N1 heading to the V&A Waterfront for a day’s astronomy outreach. CENTRE LEFT: Look, there’s a patch of blue sky! BOTTOM LEFT: More blue sky and Signal Hill too, we just might be in luck. TOP RIGHT: What does one need for a day’s astronomy outreach in the V&A Waterfront? A lot of stuff! BOTTOM RIGHT: But wait, there’s more up front as well!
TOP LEFT: On the N1 heading to the V&A Waterfront for a day’s astronomy outreach. CENTRE LEFT: Look, there’s a patch of blue sky! BOTTOM LEFT: More blue sky and Signal Hill too, we just might be in luck. TOP RIGHT: What does one need for a day’s astronomy outreach in the V&A Waterfront? A lot of stuff! BOTTOM RIGHT: But wait, there’s more up front as well!

At the Waterfront all the access arrangements made by George Moolman (Manager: Events V&A Waterfront) worked very smoothly. Once we had parked the Vito we inspected the site we had chosen on the Pierhead and decided on a tentative layout for the telescopes, poster A-frames and other paraphernalia associated with outreach events. Auke and Wendy arrived after a while, followed by Dirk. As soon as we had agreed on a final layout we unloaded and took the vehicles back to our allocated parking bays.

By shortly after 13:00 we were ready for action, but our targets were hidden by the clouds so what were we going to show the visitors? People, attracted by the telescopes and posters, approached us to find out what it was all about and we had to explain that we could not show them the Sun or the Moon, as advertised, because of the unrelenting cloud cover. Auke and Dirk got their telescopes [“Walter”, a 5-inch refractor and a 5-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain] lined up on the lower cable station and used the image to talk about how telescopes worked but, despite muttered incantations and explicit and generally unprintable expressions of displeasure, the clouds kept the Sun and the Moon well hidden.

TOP LEFT: Grey water and horizon to horizon grey clouds. CENTRE LEFT: We had come to show visitors the Sun (with some sunspots) and the Moon but ended up aiming the telescopes at all sorts of other things. Lorenzo (10-inch Dobsonian) is just visible at the extreme left and Maphefu (8-inch Dobsonian) in the centre. BOTTOM LEFT: At the slightest hint that the Sun was going to peep through the cloud blanket Wendy, Lynnette and I would scurry to try and get it in our sights. Maphefu is on the left Lorenzo just left of the centre, Walther (5-inch refractor) on the tripod just right of centre and Dirk’s 5-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, also on a tripod on the far right. TOP RIGHT: Wendy watching the clouds as they alternately show and hide the Moon from view. Dirk’s telescope with the moon visible on the small screen and Maphefu on the far right. BOTTOM RIGHT: Walther next to a small group of visitors gathered around Auke, with Maphefu in the foreground and a bit of almost-blue sky in the background.
TOP LEFT: Grey water and horizon to horizon grey clouds. CENTRE LEFT: We had come to show visitors the Sun (with some sunspots) and the Moon but ended up aiming the telescopes at all sorts of other things. Lorenzo (10-inch Dobsonian) is just visible at the extreme left and Maphefu (8-inch Dobsonian) in the centre. BOTTOM LEFT: At the slightest hint that the Sun was going to peep through the cloud blanket Wendy, Lynnette and I would scurry to try and get it in our sights. Maphefu is on the left Lorenzo just left of the centre, Walter (5-inch refractor) on the tripod just right of centre and Dirk’s 5-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, also on a tripod on the far right. TOP RIGHT: Wendy watching the clouds as they alternately show and hide the Moon from view. Dirk’s telescope with the moon visible on the small screen and Maphefu on the far right. BOTTOM RIGHT: Walter next to a small group of visitors gathered around Auke, with Maphefu in the foreground and a bit of almost-blue sky in the background

As the afternoon wore on the clouds began to thin and we were allowed fleeting glimpses of the Sun. Every time this happened there was a flurry of activity as Lynnette, Wendy and I attempted to get “Maphefu” (8-inch Dobsonian) and “Lorenzo” (10-inch Dobsonian) aligned on the Sun only to have the clouds maliciously close in just as we almost had it in our sights. Then, finally, at about 16:30, the clouds parted and we could actually see both the Sun and the Moon. Maphefu and Lorenzo were equipped with solar filters, so Wendy and I could show visitors the Sun and some very nice sun spots, while Auke and Dirk concentrated on the Moon. When the Sun set behind the Ferris-Wheel I switched Lorenzo to the Moon and, as soon as it became dark enough to see Jupiter, I switched targets again.

TOP LEFT: Lynnette and I with Lorenzo, with cover on, is pointing straight up at the grey cloud cover. TOP RIGHT: Were Dirk and I swopping fishing or astronomy stories? BOTTOM LEFT: The Moon became visible and Dirk’s telescope (image on the small screen) and Wendy (with Maphefu) were quick to show it to visitors. BOTTOM CENTRE: Auke reading the cards and looking for some weather inspiration. BOTTOM RIGHT: All gone again so the lid goes back on Lorenzo and Auke uses his cards to amuse a young visitor while Walter stands idle on his tripod.
TOP LEFT: Lynnette and I with Lorenzo, with cover on, is pointing straight up at the grey cloud cover. TOP RIGHT: Were Dirk and I swapping fishing or astronomy stories? BOTTOM LEFT: The Moon became visible and Dirk’s telescope (image on the small screen) and Wendy (with Maphefu) were quick to show it to visitors. BOTTOM CENTRE: Auke reading the cards and looking for some weather inspiration. BOTTOM RIGHT: All gone again so the lid goes back on Lorenzo and Auke uses his cards to amuse a young visitor while Walter stands idle on his tripod.

For most of the rest of the evening I kept Lorenzo on Jupiter while Wendy, Auke and Dirk focused on the Moon. By 20:00 dew was becoming a problem and it became evident that we would have to consider packing up. Mars was very bright and eventually Saturn and Antares also became visible as they climbed high enough to escape the effects of the light pollution glare over the harbour. Crux and the Pointers were visible all evening as were Sirius and Canopus. By about 21:00 the dew definitely had the upper hand so we had to pack away and load all the wet telescopes and other stuff into the vehicles and head for home.

TOP LEFT: Dirk and I looking quite pleased about the fact that the clouds were considering clearing. TOP RIGHT: The sky had cleared by nightfall and we could show visitors Jupiter, the Moon, Mars, Saturn, Antares, Crux and the Ferris-Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: The brightly lit Swing Bridge. BOTTOM RIGHT: Packing everything, back into the Vito and complaining about the very heavy dew.
TOP LEFT: Dirk and I looking quite pleased about the fact that the clouds were considering clearing. TOP RIGHT: The sky had cleared by nightfall and we could show visitors Jupiter, the Moon, Mars, Saturn, Antares, Crux and the Ferris-Wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: The brightly lit Swing Bridge. BOTTOM RIGHT: Packing everything, back into the Vito and complaining about the very heavy dew.

Obtaining an accurate count of the number of visitors was, as is usual, quite tricky because one has to be careful not to count the same people at each of the four telescopes. Lynnette and I both had counters and we counted just over 400 visitors, but our count is usually a bit low and the actual figure could be closer to five hundred. We also asked visitors to sign our visitors list and collected 282 names, which is definitely less than the number of visitors we had. It is surprisingly tricky to get people to sign the lists. Some people just flatly refuse and the telescope operators find it difficult to work a telescope, explain things to people and collect names and signatures at the same time.

All in all the afternoon and evening were quite successful despite the clouds. Many of the visitors also showed considerable interest in our poster display and quite a few promised to return in June when we will be set up again on the Pierhead, hopefully without clouds. Our dates for astronomy on the Pierhead at the V&A Waterfront, weather permitting, are;

Saturday, June 11th. / Saturday, July 9th. / Saturday, August 20th. / Saturday, September 10th. / Saturday, October 8th. / Saturday, November 5th. / Saturday, December 10th.

The next day all the wet things we had loaded into the Vito at the Waterfront had to be dried before we could pack them away. Banners had to be unrolled, chairs and tables taken out of their bags, A-frames unfolded and eyepieces and finder scopes inspected for signs of moisture. Even our folders with the laminated A3-posters had to be taken out of the sleeves and individually dried.

TOP LEFT: Tables & chairs, taken out of their covers to dry. CENTRE LEFT: Banners unrolled to dry out. BOTTOM LEFT: A-frame poster boards unfolded to dry before packing away. TOP RIGHT: This lot under the car port is dry and ready to be packed away, till next time. BOTTOM RIGHT: All the A3-laminated material had to be removed from the sleeves and individually dried before packing away.
TOP LEFT: Tables & chairs, taken out of their covers to dry. CENTRE LEFT: Banners unrolled to dry out. BOTTOM LEFT: A-frame poster boards unfolded to dry before packing away. TOP RIGHT: This lot under the car port is dry and ready to be packed away, till next time. BOTTOM RIGHT: All the A3-laminated material had to be removed from the sleeves and individually dried before packing away.

Durbanville Public Library – Talk on Women in Astronomy: Monday 29th February 2016.

On Monday afternoon Lynnette and I set off for the Durbanville Public Library where I had been invited by Ari van Dongen to give a talk titled “Women in Astronomy”. Ari, Tony Jones, Lynnette and I were there nice and early so that we had enough time to set op projectors and make sure the laptops were all talking to the respective projectors.

Myself on the left and Ari van Dongen on the right (back to the camera) making sure all the connections are connected and all the signals are going to the right places.
Myself on the left and Ari van Dongen on the right (back to the camera) making sure all the connections are connected and all the signals are going to the right places.

Tony was first up and ran through a comprehensive “What’s up” for those who were interested in finding currently visible celestial objects.

I followed Tony and thought my talk went off fairly well. I did get the impression that one or two of the male members of the audience might have been a tad uncomfortable though.

The title slide of my talk.
The title slide of my talk.
Question time after my talk chaired by Ari. I do not know what on earth I was trying to explain with that expansive gesture.
Question time after my talk chaired by Ari. I do not know what on earth I was trying to explain with that expansive gesture.

After my talk, Lynnette and I had to leave as we had matters to related to our National Science Week grant proposal to finalize. This meant that we, unfortunately, missed Ari’s video.

The next meeting is on the 25th of April and Ari has invited me to give my talk on the geology of the Western Cape titled “Once upon a time when the Western Cape was much younger. The tale of why everything isn’t just flat or all the same all over the place.”

MNASSA February 2016

The February 2016 edition of MNASSA (Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa) is available on line.  Below is the title page and list of contents.  You may, however, also go here to download the October edition of MNASSA” go here, to download the full edition.

The contents page and cover of the February edition of MNASSA.
The contents page and cover of the February edition of MNASSA.

Feedback on the Autumn Southern Star Party (April 25th to April 28th 2014)

Alan and Rosemary Cassells

Alan and the long overdue observing certificate
Alan and the long overdue observing certificate

Rose and I both had had a rather stressful time at our respective places of internment – I mean employment, leading up to the 23rd deviate from the rigors of the usual routine. We arrived at Night Sky at around 14H00 in the rain. Mother Nature was apparently as excited and gave us a couple of hours to set up our caravan and tent etc. We were installed by 16H00………

I had yet to try out our new 12” Dobsonian in a dark sky situation, as was Rosemary keen to try her hand at our 8” Dobbie. Friday night proved to be challenging in that the dew proved to be – at the very least, rather wet which resulted in some lessons learned in dealing with this product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity. We did, however, do some meaningful astronomy with Rosemary proving to be quite adept at using the Dobbie.

I have to say I was seriously chuffed at receiving my certificate and then the 12” telescope owners uniform in the form the form of the “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” T-shirt. Thank you so much………..

It was great having Kos visit us, a man with a unique sense of humour (my wife’s name is Rosemary Kos….), his talk on amateur astronomy in South Africa was inspirational –

Kerry’s talk on the Planetary models of the HU Aquarii system on Sunday left me astounded at what she had achieved for her honours degree. I can’t wait to hear what she will do for her master’s – keep going, Kerry!

Sunday night was spectacular from an observing point of view during which time Rosemary found ten DSO’s that we had selected, on her own and had the nerve to find the sombrero galaxy before I did with the 8” noggal!

Lesley loaned me his 33mmx72deg lens which sort of turned the page to another chapter on astronomic observations which of course means I now have to spend more money…..

It was great to be able to show our new potentials what is visible in the “out there”.

There were great talks this time – Auke always has something spectacular with which to educate us – this time photometry and the DSLR camera and not to mention other resident geniuses like Brett and the collimation of one’s Newtonian.

Edward and Lynnette never fail to produce a superb star party despite a few challenges this time with the weather and a bit of juggling here and there. Thank you, both for all your hard work and another really successful Southern Star Party! – Long may it Live!

Laser Safety

When green lasers first made their appearance amateur astronomers who regularly gave presentations where they had to point out objects in the sky, breathed a collective sigh of relief.  No more trying in vain to get viewers to see what it is you are referring to.  Most of us remember the dialogues that went something like this.

“Which star?”
“That one there.”
“The one on the left or the one below?”
“On the left, below? But there’s only one bright star there.”
“No there isn’t, there are three.”
“Okay! Lets start over.  Do you see the top of that tree.”
“Yes.”
“Good! Now go straight up from there for two hand breadths. Do you see that very bright star?”
“Yes.”
That’s the one I was referring to.”
“That one!  No I was looking at those three over there.”
 At which point the viewer turns almost 90 degrees and points at some totally unrelated patch of sky.

Then came the green laser and all, well almost all, confusion was banished from star shows.  But now it seems that all sorts of people suddenly have green lasers. Suddenly it has become fashionable to shine these lasers at aircraft coming in to land or into the eyes of motorists on the freeway.  Then there are those who use them to disorientate police and other law enforcement personnel when they are trying to round up lawbreakers.  The result is that amateur astronomers are going to come second because already authorities in some parts of the world have started banning the use of green lasers. This has already happened in a number of areas. (In New South Wales, you can be fined for possessing a laser pointer, and you can go to jail for up to 14 years for a laser assault.) There are also strong calls in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. to restrict or ban lasers.

The Bloemfontein Center of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa has posted an interesting video about laser abuse and the Pretoria Center has a comprehensive document covering laser safety on their site as well.