Deep Sky Workshop and OOG star party, August 16
On Saturday, August 16, I gave a deep sky observing workshop to members of OOG. The event was organized by Serena Ingamells and Carol Botha, and held at Paul Roos Gymnasium (PRG). The star party afterwards was delightful, with highlights including a beautiful lunar eclipse, a race to spot Neptune, and Richard Ford showing his GOTO abilities.
Chris Venter, a physics teacher at PRG with an interest in astronomy, allowed us to use his class room and other PRG facilities.
Before my presentation, it was a pleasure to hand over Merit Awards (issued by the ASSA) to Carol Botha and Richard Ford, for their deep sky observations during 2007/2008.
The two-hour long workshop was attended by 20 folk, including a few from the ASSA Cape Centre. I tried hard to present it in good Afrikaans, but some of the terminology eluded me. All in all it went well.
After a tea break, Carol gave a 45-minute description of her approach to deep sky observing and showed examples of her sketches.
At 18:00 we broke for supper. The sky was blue and cloud-free – earlier in the day, heavy cloud hung overhead like Damocles' sword. By 19:30 when we reconvened at PRG, the skies were as good as they get. At nearby Coetzenburg sports stadium the floodlights were on full alert, so telescopes were set up in the Quad, an open space almost the area of a rugby field enclosed by the school buildings.
Several new-comers joined us, including Adri Louw of Noyes (with a plethora of gadgets) and Franc & Jodi Paul. Serena, Carol and Willie also set up telescopes, and of course Richard set up his 12-inch (with cooling fan).
With the bright Full Moon overhead, early viewing consisted of mainly Jupiter (with its delicate Great Red Spot near the leading edge) and Omega Centauri.
Willie kept reminding us of the progress of the eclipse so nobody missed first contact. During the eclipse, Willie, Rudie and Richard monitored (and successfully imaged) a lunar occultation.
As the eclipse progressed, the skies became noticeably darker. Then Richard started to perform. His 12-inch Dobsonian, kitted with a collection of eyepieces and filters, zipped from this deep sky object to the next. The Swan, Lagoon, Trifid, high overhead, were lovely, even though we weren't dark adapted at all! Messier 4's characteristic bar of stars cutting across the face of the cluster was engaging as always. Richard is living proof that beginners certainly don't need a GOTO-equipped telescope.
The highlight for me was the globular cluster 47 Tuc (NGC 104), which Richard's scope showed as a tight swarm of pale yellow stars, the colour very noticeable especially when compared to distant field stars.
Just before 23:00, an unexpected SMS from Gerrit Penning in Bloemfontein (where Paul Roos had earlier lost quite badly to Grey in their annual rugby match(o)) said that they'd just spotted Neptune, quite near the Moon, with an 8-inch at 120x. The game was afoot. Bloemfontein may have beaten my old school at rugby today, but they were not going to outperform us in astronomy. Gerrit's group had used Stellarium to locate the planet, and since I had my laptop there, we did the same. Soon, Rudie found Neptune in Carol's 8-inch, and then Willie found it in his. And then Jodi and Franc found it in theirs. And then it was found in Serena's 4.5-inch. The SMS's sped up to Bloemfontein. Richard found it in the 12-inch. And when Willie found it in his 9x63 binoculars, and Rudie found it in Carol's 8x50 finder scope. Another SMS. Next: naked eye. Well, maybe from Sutherland.
We almost forgot about the eclipse during the 20-minute flurry of planet activity. It seemed almost as if the last time Neptune was hunted this intently was in 1846.
Almost at midnight our party of eight packed up. Overhead, the Moon was showing the last signs of eclipse.
Back to school for Carol, Willie and Rudie as they describe deep sky objects during the workshop. [click to start slide show]
nothing more to see. please move along.