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Spring SSP: The Richard Ford Report  @psychohistorian.org

Spring SSP: The Richard Ford Report

posted: 2997 days ago, on Monday, 2011 Nov 07 at 18:03
tags: astronomy, star party, Southern Star Party, Richard Ford.

Spring Southern Star Party (21st -23rd October 2011)

by Richard Ford

One of the highlights that I want to share with you about the First Southern Star Party which was held on the 4th -6th March 2011 was heralded as a great success for all of the amateur astronomers and astro-enthusiasts who are interested in exploring the southern skies of South Africa. This great event brought back magic moments to remember.

Astronomy organizations that part in this event were mainly branches from ASSA. They included our Cape Centre and the Garden Route Centre. Other private astronomy outreach groups like OOG (Orion Observation Group) were also included.

The first Southern Star Party was well planned in advance by the organizing committee which comprised Auke Slottegraaf, Edward Foster, Lynette Foster, Gavin Lock, Suki Lock and Willie Koorts from the S.A.A.O. put plenty of effort to arrange a big event like this. They decided that this event must take place at a camping site called “Night Sky” just outside of Bonnievale.

To cut a long story short, a few months down the line this committee decided to hold a second Southern Star Party in October. The came up with the dates for the 21st -23rd October 2011. This second event which was going to be held was well organized in advance for everybody. They drew up a plan who is going to be our speakers and presenters that’s going to do demonstration at this party.

Despite the disappointments and setbacks that I experienced throughout this year it was time for me to relax and enjoy my weekend with my astro-friends under the night sky behind my telescope for a change. We decided again to go to the same campsite where we previously held our first star party at Bonnievale.

Early on in this month I did my shopping at “Checkers Supermarket” at Wiillowbridge Mall near Tygervalley in Bellville where I bought food for the braai like two packets of boerewors, one packet of eggs, and whole-wheat cereal “Nutrific” for breakfast in the morning. I took a bottle of “Rooibos Tea” and a small tin of “Nescafe Ricoffy” for breakfast and lunch in the afternoon. I also took a bottle of sugar and two liters of Long Life Milk.

Other foods which I brought along were “Simba Mexican Chilli chips and Fruit Chutney chips along with a slab of chocolate called “Aero” to eat along the way. I also took a 2 liter bottle of “Coca-Cola” with me to quench my first at the Star Party. I had enough food to last me till Sunday.

By keeping up to date with the weather, I took my chances to drive up to the campsite. For Friday night the weather conditions that were to be expected is that we were going to expect partly cloudy conditions while on Saturday night the weather looked more promising for all of us.

Upon my arrival at the campsite. Edward and Lynette Foster showed me exactly where I was going to stay for the weekend. The big house that used to be the Social House where Gavin and Suki Lock stayed the last time when they went to the first star party was the big house I was going to share with Kos Coronaios and Christopher Middleton. These two members were from the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club and the Johannesburg Centre. At this party however I was looking forward to doing a deep-sky demonstration to the public.

In overall only 30 people have turned up at this event. After unpacking all my observing equipment and luggage out from the back of my bakkie I decided to set up my astro-boma for the weekend. Many thanks go to Roger who helped me to put up my astro-boma. Afterwards I decided to align my equatorial platform mount to the south celestial pole not knowing that I was going to be 17 degrees out of alignment.

As the hours were gently passing by Martin Lyons brought his monster “Meade 16-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope in a trailer along with a 10-inch Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope, while Johan Swanepoel from the Garden Route Centre brought his gigantic 20-inch Obsession dobby along.

All the bystanders like Leslie Rose and Chris Saunders from the Hermanus Centre all brought their scopes along.

Visitors like Herman Swart, Paul Kruger, Wilhelm Carstens, Wim Filmalter, Ludwig Churr and Sandy Struckmeyer from Robertson came to experience and enjoy the stargazing events of the star party with us this weekend.

The majority of the visitors who came along to this event were mainly from Stellenbosch, Robertson, Hermanus, Somerset West and Cape Town. Kos Coronaios and Christopher Middleton came all the way from the Transvaal to do the presentations at the star party. To note Christopher Middleton is the Director of the Variable Star Section at ASSA. He is from the Johannesburg Centre.

Both Johann Swanepoel and Wim Filmalter from the Garden Route Centre came along for the weekend. John Richards our Chairperson of the Cape Centre along with Maureen, Kechil Kirkham, Jonny and Eddy Nijeboer and I also from the Cape Centre joined in at the activities of this big exciting event.

We had received donations sponsored by Kos Coronaios from the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club and prizes donated by Andrie van der Linde from Eridanus Optics who donated us a 5-inch Newtonian Reflector Telescope on an equatorial mount and a Galileoscope.

One of the activities that was lined for Friday was how to do solar viewing, how to build a star wheel and the discussion of astrophotography basics.

On the programmed that was lined up for the speakers and demonstrators we had Edward Foster, Auke Slottegraaf, Wim Filmalter, Kos Coronaios, Martin Lyons, Christopher Middleton, Evan Knox- Davies and I.

It is so unfortunate that Edward could not do any solar viewing on account that the sky was somewhat overcast.

One of the highlights I enjoyed about the first day of the “Southern Star Party” is when I was watching and taking photographs of Martin loading his 16-inch monster “Meade” scope out from the back of his trailer. To follow in pursuit Johann set up his 20-inch scope for stargazing this weekend.

In as much haste as possible I decided to set up my 12-inch scope for viewing.

Late in the afternoon Edward gave a talk to the general public on “Fossils, Light and Time. In his talk he briefly elaborated how the earth was formed and he spoke about the Cradle of Humankind in Africa, Olduwai Gorge in Kenya where the skeletal remains of species like Australopithecus Afarensis and Homo Ergaster which date back from 4.1 to 2 million years ago when they last roamed the Kenyan African Plains.

He also gave a brief discussion when the dinosaurs became extinct on Earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

To the open public he showed us some fossils in the Great Karoo he has found in his expeditions to this area. He briefly pointed out how the Karoo landscape was formed millions of years ago and the mountain ranges like Table Mountain, the Drakensberg and the Hottentot’s Holland Mountains over this period.

He discussed the various early bushman species that roamed the South African landscape 8 million years ago. He briefly pointed out that the geologist Alfred Wagener wrote in his book “The Origin of Continents and Oceans” where he briefly pointed out that the world’s continents existed as one single landmass he coined the Pangaea where flora and fauna had been able to mingle, before splitting apart and floating off to the present position as it is today.

He elaborated over the years how the early species like Homo Sapiens skeletal features changed to what we look like today. Finally to point out he briefly discussed how modern man first roamed Africa like the bushman who roamed in our caves like the Blombos and Sterkfontein Caves.

We had a sale table where “Southern Star Party Coffee Mugs”, hot and mild fruit chutney as well as astronomical books for reading about the night sky were on sale.

Late in the afternoon all of us cooked our meat and boerewors on the fire where we enjoyed the company of socializing with each other where we drank beer like “Castle Larger”, white wine like “Two Oceans” and “Nederburg” red wine. In a jovial and relaxing atmosphere Martin with a good sense of humor entertained we with his jokes which made all of us laugh during this occasion.

After my meal I decided to take a hot shower so that I am relaxed and prepared for the evening that lied ahead of me. At 6:00pm the weather was not promising for stargazing as a result that it was too cloudy.

In the Social tent, all of us took part in the first part of the Astro Quiz competion where we divided up into two groups known as the “Beginner Group” and the “Expert Group”.

Not knowing this I took part in the competition in the “Expert Group” along with Chris, Paul, Ludwig, Martin, Evan-Davies and Kos.

Together both of the groups competed against each other. Auke asked the easy questions to the “Beginner Group” while we had to answer the more difficult questions. The team that scored the most points would automatically qualify for a prize. Towards the end of the first part of the Astro Quiz competition the “Beginner Group” were declared the winners of this competition where they had won themselves a bottle of “Two Oceans” wine.

After taking part in this competition the weather however was still partly cloudy. To keep all of us entertained Christopher gave us a brief discussion on binary stars and variable stars. In his talk he discussed the difference between Cepheid and Mira variable stars. He also elaborated on the proper motion of stars and he explained to all of us how a red giant captures a small white dwarf star with a low mass through gravitational force which results in the sudden brightness of a star.

Like the earth that passes in front of the sun where the sun casts its light on the earth, the earth at the same time casts its shadow on the moon which results in the eclipse of the moon called the lunar eclipse. Stars with a common proper motion can also follow this procedure like the lunar eclipse and the solar eclipse. Only this time the stars eclipse binary stars which cast its shadow on other stars.

After the talk that Christopher gave on variable stars, the Deep-Sky Director, Auke Slottegraaf handed observation logs to all of us where most of the visitors took part in the Deep-Sky Observers Challenge competition.

If one of us observed a total of ten targets we would qualify for a” Beginners Certificate” and if we observed a total of 25 or more targets we would automatically be awarded an” Intermediate Certificate”.

However a few days in advance, Auke had sent everyone a list of deep-sky targets of what we can observe in the competition.

To note all of the observations were based on quality.

As there was a slight in the air. I decided to take the dust cover of my scope where I made up my mind to observe M77, a barred spiral galaxy in the constellation of Cetus. To tell you briefly about the significance of this galaxy was the fact that this galaxy has a bright radio active nucleus where radio waves were detected by radio telescopes on Earth.

However Friday night was somewhat disappointing for me as a result that seeing condition weren’t too good and that my equatorial platform mount was 17°out of alignment. It was only the next that I managed to align it accurately.

Despite poor seeing conditions however I just managed to observe the cloud belts of Jupiter along with its four moons and the galaxies like NGC 247, NGC 253 and the faint planetary nebula, NGC 246 in Cetus.

After 11:00pm everybody decided to pack their telescopes up because the weather was too disappointing to observe the night sky. They all went to sleep. Early in the morning Auke, Martin, Christopher, Kos, Edward and I had conversations and jokes with each other. We were making such a loud noise that everybody was laughing and having fun till 2:30am.

After enjoying our social conversations with each other in a tranquil atmosphere we all went to bed.

For the night I slept in the big house where I passed out and snored the whole night till daybreak.

Early in the morning I was so fast asleep that Martin came to blast Kos, Christopher and I right out of bed so that we can rise and shine. This is the morning blues of the Star Party. For breakfast I had made myself a bowl of cereal called “Nutrific” which I had warmed up in the microwave oven with milk. I also enjoyed a hot cup of coffee with rusks.

The following day the weather looked more promising than yesterday although there was a high cloud cover coming in from Cape Town. It was very windy throughout the day, that the north-westerly wind which brought the cold front from Cape Town that missed us. The wind was so strong that it was blowing a gale force which blew my astro-boma right down to the ground.

One of the most frustrating aspects which I wanted to share with you about the Southern Star Party is when I struggled to take my astro-boma down and fold it up again so that I can pack it way into the big house where I fought and battled with the wind to fold my boma up, that Wilhelm in time offered to help me which was kind of a great relief for me after going through so much trouble putting it away.

One of the activities that were lined up for Saturday is when Evan Knox-Davies gave the public a discussion on the introduction on radio astronomy and the significance of radio telescopes in South Africa. He spoke about the future of radio astronomy in South Africa. He elaborated on the construction of the Square Kilometer Radio Telescope (SKA) Meerkat in Carnarvon which will be completed before the year 2020.

In his discussion he pointed out that next year the Square Kilometer Array Telescope in South Africa will compete with the other radio telescopes in Australia and Canada, where the International Science Community will decide which country will host the bid for radio astronomy.

These workshops were so informative that the public did not hesitate to ask questions relating to fossils in the Karoo and the development of the Square Kilometer Array Telescope, “Meerkat”.

Late in the afternoon as the wind gradually became stronger we decided to braai all the meat and boerewors on the fire. While I was busy cooking the boerewors on the fire, I enjoyed exchanging astronomical ideas with people like Herman and Leslie.

We also shared glasses of “Two Oceans” white wine with everybody at the fire socializing with each other.

After eating our meal in the afternoon. Wim Filmalter briefly gave a demonstration of his homebuilt 8-inch compact dobby which he had designed for himself. This little scope is very light that it can fit in a rucksack and it is easy to transport to any dark sky site. His scope had a collapsible open truss aluminum which you can take apart.

In Wim’s talk about telescopes he discussed the techniques of keeping the optics clean and how to look after these precision instruments.

One of the interesting demonstrations of the day along with Edward Foster’s second discussion on Fossils, Light and Time was Martin Lyon’s thought provoking video astronomy demonstration of the moon, the planets and some deep-sky objects imaged by a digital webcam linked up to a computer, laptop or overhead projector. He briefly pointed out the significance and uses of video webcams that can be used in astronomy outreach programs.

He pointed out to us about the different resolutions you can get in these webcams. To the public he showed us some images of the craters of the moon that was taken through these devices. He also showed images of the planets like Jupiter’s cloud bands along with its four moons. He also recorded some deep-sky mosaics such as the Orion Nebula, the Tarantula Nebula, Eta Carina Nebula and some bright galaxies like the Sombrero Galaxy in Virgo.

Most of these images were taken of these night time objects using high resolution webcams. With these devices you can attach it to any telescope and capture images for about 10-20 seconds if your scope has an equatorial mount with a built in stepper motor.

One of the highlights of Edward’s second talk on Fossils, Light and Time was that he briefly elaborated how the early universe was formed and how the solar system was formed. He pointed out the significance of dinosaurs such as the “Dinocephelians” which had skulls so thick that it was in the range of 30cm where there skulls were used for head butting other animals in the Karoo. It is so hard to believe that these monsters once roamed the Karoo highlands.

In one of his discussions he spoke about the anthropologist Raymond Dart an Australian working at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa when he identified fossils in a box of rocks as a new hominid species “Australopithecus Africanus”.

It was only three years later that he published an account of his discovery “Adventures with the Missing Link”.

The Taung Child, a Hominid species belonging to the “Australopithecus Africanus” group was first discovered by Raymond Dart in the limestone quarry edge of the Kalahari Desert.

One of the missed opportunities that I had was that I did not take part in the raffle competition to stand the chance of winning a 5-inch Newtonian reflector telescope together with a subscription of the “Astronomy” magazine.

As I was taking a hot shower before the second part of the Astro Quiz competition, it was such a pity that I missed out on the group photo.

Just before sunset once again we decided to hold the second part of the quiz competition. That night the “Beginner Group” decided to challenge us by asking the “Expert Group” complex astronomy questions where we all filled out our answers on paper. Once more John, Ludwig, Paul, Wim and I got most of the answers right on paper where we all won ourselves “Southern Star Party Mugs”. In the final round, Auke asked us questions where all of us filled out our answers in black and white.

Towards the end of the competition, John Richards, the chairperson of the Cape Centre was declared the winner of the “Astro Quiz competition. When Martin drew out the lucky number. Paul Kruger and Wim Filmalter were both our new winners.

After sunset, both Auke and Edward gave a binocular guided tour of the night sky and how to use the telescope to observe the evening sky.

In the distant background, Martin decided to host a live video astronomy demonstration where he entertained all of us when he showed the filamentary structure of NGC 2070(Tarantula Nebula), M17 (Swan Nebula), M8 (Lagoon Nebula), M20 (Trifid Nebula) and globular clusters like NGC 104(47 Tucanae).

On that evening I observed the spiral structure of NGC 253 (Silver Dollar Galaxy) in Sculptor through Martin’s 16-inch Schmidt Cassegrain scope. That really put the nail in the coffin for me that evening. Leslie on the other hand was trying to capture images of deep-sky mosaics through his “Sony” S.L.R. camera attached to his 8-inch Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope but the wind was such a nuisance to all of us.

During the day I had just managed to align my equatorial platform mount although it was only 2°out. Somehow this evening I managed to get it to track accurately.

When Martin first turned up for the star party he brought a spare 10-inch Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope so that Kos Coronaios can take images of the night sky.

With regards to the “Observers Challenge Competition. I decided not to take part in it because I was going to do a deep-sky demonstration to the public.

During the first part of the evening, I managed somehow to locate M77, a radio source galaxy through my scope in the constellation of Cetus. Together my 12-inch scope along with my equatorial platform mount was tracking accurately this evening that most of the objects stayed in the field of view for a long time. Seeing conditions were far better on Saturday night compared to Friday evening.

With my deep-sky demonstration to the public, I briefly pointed out the spiral structure in galaxies like NGC 253 and NGC 55 in the constellation of Sculptor. Upon observing these two spiral galaxies that was seen edge on all the open public like Wilhelm, Kos, Christopher and the members of the Cape Centre like John Richards and Maureen were absolutely star struck to observe these galaxies which was revealed in all their awe and glory.

John Richards and one of the members of the Hermanus Centre like Chris Saunders enjoyed a breathtaking view of NGC 7293(Helix Nebula) in the constellation of Aquarius where this large planetary nebula had large coiled-like rings was seen as a puffy smoke of gas and dust in my OIII filter being threaded onto my 20mm ultra wide angle eyepiece upon observing this planetary nebula through my dobby.

Bystanders like Kechil, Eddy, Jonny and Sandy Struckmeyer could not believe their eyes of how spectacular the Helix Nebula, the Saturn Nebula, Tarantula Nebula and the brilliant globular cluster NGC 104(47 Tucanae) looked through my 12-inch scope.

These bright deep sky treasures had so much detail to discern in my scope that evening that everybody had the pleasure of coming to observe these mosaics with me that evening.

The open public enjoyed observing the planetary nebula NGC 7009(Saturn Nebula) in Aquarius with its ring-like projections being obvious to Sandy and Eddy.

One of the most difficult deep sky targets that I decided to take up the challenge to observe was M74, a face on spiral galaxy in the constellation of Pisces was that this galaxy suffered from a low surface brightness on account that this was a large galaxy where the light was spread over a large area. It is one of the most difficult and challenging deep-sky treasures of the entire Messier catalogue.

Upon observing this faint galaxy, no spiral-like structure was discerned. All the observers with their telescopes were all delighted to observe this stellar beauty with me in my scope.

On the observing list that was drawn up three months ahead of this event. One of the galaxies that caught my attention was NGC 7590, NGC 7582 and NGC 7599, all three of these galaxies part of the Grus galaxy cluster that is situated between 65 million to 70 million light years away from us. These faint galaxies vary in the magnitude range from 10.2 to 11.5.

Cape Centre members like Eddy and Jonny somehow managed to observe these faint galaxies with me. To them they could make out some spiral structure that was almost seen edge on in these galaxies. They could not believe how powerful my telescope was that they could see these faint fuzzies which was on the brink of visibility.

On the 22nd October that Saturday night I secretly celebrated Galilean night in commeration of the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei who first put the first refracting telescope to use where he observed the four moons orbiting around Jupiter in 1609. When everybody observed Jupiter’s warm brown belts together with its white zones on the surface of Jupiter along with its four Galilean moons Io, Callisto, Ganymeda and Europa I brought everybody down to basics of what we can see in the night sky.

This brought excitement to everybody.

As hours were gently passing by with aid of my red L.E.D. headlamp I was going through one of my star charts so that I can locate some faint galaxies in the constellations of Fornax and Eridanus.

By cruising from one deep-sky object to another I manoevered my dobby in position to the galaxy NGC 1365. The Great Barred Spiral Galaxy in the constellation of Fornax was well observed as a barred spiral galaxy with bright arms together with dust lanes was absolutely obvious to Johann Swanepoel, Leslie and Martin. They equally thrilled to observe this galaxy’s bright arms with me through my scope.

Other galaxies which displayed elliptical structure like NGC 1316, the brightest galaxy along with NGC 1317 was clearly observed by all of us through my dobby as oblong fuzzies which was on the brink of visibility. Both these two galaxies are radio source objects which have undergone gamma-ray outburst where radio waves were detected in these galaxies.

All of us had an awesome experience to observe these galaxies like NGC 1316, NGC 1317, NGC 1380, NGC 1399, NGC 1404 and NGC 1326 all part of the Fornax galaxy cluster.

By keeping all the bystanders entertained for the evening I briefly explained to them that these galaxies are part of our local group of galaxies in the universe. I also mentioned that the light from these galaxies has taken 70 million light years to reach us.

Once again by making a detailed study with my starcharts under my red L.E.D. headlamp, I quickly manoevered my scope into position to locate NGC 1360, a fairly bright planetary nebula in the constellation of Fornax. Upon observing this elusive planetary nebula, this nebula’s elongated shape was well observed through my dobby. All the observers like Kos, Christopher and Kechil could easily discern the elongated shape of this object in my scope.

In the distant background while Auke and Martin was socializing with Martin, Christopher and Herman. Kos took photographic images of the Milky Way galaxy’s dust lanes and the Large Magellanic Cloud together with the Tarantula Nebula with his 30 S.L.R. Camera.

In the early morning somehow I had just managed to get a good glimpse of M1 (Crab Nebula) in the constellation of Taurus. The detail of this supernova remnant was apparently obvious to Kechil when she observed this nebula through my dobby.

Early on in the evening both Martin and Johann had already packed their scopes up fearing that the cold front could bring rain that night.

Right overhead of the mountains, M42 (Orion Nebula’s) clouds of gas and dust was seen in all its awe and glory where the trapezium which consists of four stars is where this nebulosity has originated from. The Orion Nebula is such an awesome deep-sky mosaic to observe in any telescope under a dark sky for anyone who possesses a large or small telescope.

As I was carefully going through my star charts. One of the deep-sky challenges that I decided to locate was the elliptical galaxy NGC 524 in the constellation of Pisces. Upon observing this elusive galaxy, NGC 524 was well observed as a faint smudge of light as I was observing this target through my dobby. It was actually truly unimpressive and very vague to observe on account it was faint.

Before 4:00am in the morning, I finally took my last glimpse of the spiral galaxy NGC 1097 in the constellation of Fornax. This bright galaxy’s spiral arms were somewhat noticeable in my dobby that night straight after moonrise over the dam facing us.

Towards the very end of the evening all of the observers who took part in this competition had handed all their observation logs into Auke so that they could stand the chance of winning an “Observer’s Certificate”.

At 4:30pm, after a long observing session that I had the whole night I finally hit the sack where I slept in the large house comfortably.

On Sunday morning after making breakfast before heading back to Brackenfell. I decided to pack all my luggage and observing equipment in the back of my Ford Bantam Bakkie.

Before 10:00am all of us helped one another to take the social tent down. For the “Observers Challenge” competition, Auke had the pleasure of handing out cerficates to Wim Filmalter, Andre de Villiers and Pierre de Villiers for their excellent quality of observations that they had done at the “Southern Star Party” in October.

Before heading back home, Lynette Foster thanked me for giving a deep-sky demonstration to the public. In gratitude for my hard work she gave me a bottle of “Nederburg” red wine and “Two Oceans” white wine with another “Southern Star Party” coffee mug.

After a fantastic weekend under the southern night sky, I drove back home.


Also see:

Photos of the Spring SSP

nothing more to see. please move along.

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