New Year's in Sutherland
A few months ago, I made contact with Zbig Zembaty, a Polish professor of civil engineering with a keen interest in deep sky observing. Zbig was attending a conference in Cape Town and wanted to get a closer look at the southern skies. I suggested he accompany me to Sutherland, because the end-of-year New Moon nicely coincided with the SAAO's New Year Star Party.
We travelled together and arrived in Sutherland on December 28. The next seven days were filled with daytime astronomy discussions and late-night observing sessions.
On December 29 I finally met Constant Volschenk of the Johannesburg Planetarium, who was casually strolling down the main road of Sutherland with astrophotographer Kobie van Zyl. Later, Zbig and I went on a day-time tour of the Observatory, where a very enthusiastic and eloquent NASSP student guided us around SALT.
On December 30, while enjoying breakfast at Jurg's coffee shop "Halley sê Kom-eet", I struck up a conversation with two bikers, Jack and John, and invited them for a star-gazing session up at Ed Foster's house. We were joined by Evan Knox-Davies, a friend of mine from Stellenbosch, and enjoyed several hours under beautiful dark skies.
The morning of the 31st dawned with clouds overhead. That afternoon, I met up with Chris Stewart, Lerika Cross and Francois Nortje, ASSA Johannesburg stalwarts, who were in town for the SAAO Star Party. Fruitful discussions with Chris left me with much to think on.
By mid-afternoon, Francois and Jodi Paul had arrived in town, and around 16:00 the entourage set off for the SAAO koppie. We set up outside the 40-inch dome and watched the people and clouds gather. The sunset, of course, was spectacular. Thanks to the excellent planning by the SAAO team, the evening was most enjoyable.
As visitors passed by the 40-inch, Ed and I corralled them for a mini-starshow. I pointed out constellations (through patchy cloud) and answered questions, and then passed them on to Ed, who was manning "Lorenzo", the 10-inch Dobsonian.
Shortly before midnight, the scattered groups of people gathered at the 74-inch dome for the formalities, lead by Prof Phil Charles and Kevin Govender. The obligatory count-down (including the leap-second) was held, and a few bars of Auld Lang Syne were sung.
Because of the imperfect weather, we decided to leave the party shortly afterwards, and regrouped at Ed's house for a relaxing after-party.
The following evening, we set off for the farm Middelfontein just outside the town, for a long observing session. The cloud-free skies, from this dark site, was enjoyed until the early hours of the morning. Even with my poor naked-eye sight I could see V=6.5 near the zenith.
The evening of January 02 we set up at the old quarry (my usual observing spot) so that it could be compared to conditions at Middelfontein. Ed was using Lorenzo and I was on Maphefo, while Zbig was taking more pictures. His 10-mm wide-angle lens was capturing some memorable shots.
The remainder of our time we observed from Ed's house, on the edge of the town. Although it is not totally dark – there are two street lights and a distant spot-light – the use of a simple light-shielding frame will take care of it.
I'm looking forward to a return-visit at the end of January.
nothing more to see. please move along.