Southern Star Party - report by Richard Ford

posted: 2405 days ago, on Monday, 2011 Mar 21 at 17:06
tags: astronomy, star party, Southern Star Party, events, photo diary, Richard Ford, Bonnievale.

Southern Star Party at Bonnievale (4th- 6th March 2011)

by Richard Ford

After having much disappointment with my stargazing activities in Sutherland as a result of inclement weather and my total disaster coming home with my Ford Bantam Bakkie breaking down on the way back as a result that my alternator had packed up. For four days I was stranded in the Karoo before I drove back home on Saturday. It was during my absence that the Southern Star Party was well planned in advance when Auke, Suki and Willie got together to discuss this event.

By driving back home from Sutherland to Brackenfell. I was so upset that I was left in financial arrears as to whether I am going to attend the Southern Star Party or not. I was actually not in the right frame to observe the night sky.

Luckily if it was not for the motor insurance that I had on my bakkie. I would have been able to attend this big event. In time everything worked out for me when my insurance payed me out.

Two weeks in advance I made a booking to attend the Southern Star Party. On the application form there was a wooden bungalow with a double bed and a kitchen. These bungalows were available for visitors on a first come serve basis. I was so fortunate that I managed to check myself into a bungalow. Lynette however reserved this place for me.

One week before the event at Bonnievale. I bought all the necessary items to bring along for the weekend.

By keeping up to date with the weather site. The weather forecast however indicated clear viewing conditions for the Star Party during this weekend.

On Friday morning on the 4th March, I drove with my Ford Bantam Bakkie from Brackenfell to the campsite "Night Sky" at Bonnievale. I had a map with directions on how to get to the site. After driving past Robertson. I took the R317 turn off to Bonnievale at the traffic circle. As I was driving on this road I carried straight on until I reached the Stormvlei turn off where I turned right. By carrying on this road I accidently took the Grootrivier/McGregor turn off where I almost got lost.

One of the farmers in this area kindly helped me to get back on the road where I came from. He gave me the correct information as to where the Boesmansrivier/McGregor turn is located. By proceeding on the R317 road I drove past the wine farm Langverwacht where I came across this turn where I turned right.

Finally at last I reached my destination after much attempt finding the place in broad daylight when I arrived at the campsite "Night Sky".

At this campsite I stayed at a wooden bungalow with a double bed. In this bungalow there was a kitchen with a two plate stove. Lynette and Edward one of the organizers of this event handed me a registration form to fill in. One night in advance Edward, Lynette, Gavin, Suki and their son Dylan spent the night over at this campsite.

What I took along at the Southern Star Party was my 12-inch dobby along, my new astro-boma (a portable observatory which is used to shield of the stay light and wind coming to my telescope so that my viewing will not be distracted).

For the event I also brought along my equatorial platform mount, bedding which included a sleeping bag and two pillows and my own food to cook.

For two days the weather was extremely hot. On the Riviersonderend Mountains there was a fire as a result of the heat we had. In the evenings just after sunset we cooked our meat on the fire before the stargazing events started.

On Friday as the hours gently started passing by more visitors arrived from Robertson, Cape Town, Somerset West, George and Riversdale.

In overall 45 people attended the event which included members of the Cape Centre and some members of the Orion Observation Group. Members of the Cape Centre which joined our ranks for this event included Chris De Coning, Paul and Mary Fanner, Maggie with her son Adam Sutherland. The following day John Richards, Richard and Heather Sessions and Laisve came along.

We also had members of the Garden Route Centre as well which included Lucas Ferreira, Wim and Johann Swanepoel who brought his monster 20-inch dobby along which was transported on a car trailer. We also had Kos Coronaios from the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club with his family who came along.

One of the visitors who came to pay there respects at the Star Party were Hans van der Merwe, Jaco Wiese and his wife, Leslie Rose who observed with me at Perdeberg, Evan Knox-Davies and Roger Wyatt and his wife from Cape Town. Two Stellenbosch university graduates like Wilhelm Carstens and Ernst Jordaan, who I do astronomy outreach at Stellenbosch with came along to observe the night sky with us.

Gavin and Suki one of the organizers of the Southern Star Party stayed at the social house. The campsite "Night Sky" was situated close to a large dam in front of us overlooking the Riviersonderend Mountains.

During the entire course of the day some of the children engaged in activities like fishing and kayaking.

Willie Koorts from the S.A.A.O. came along with his family from Wellington to do the official opening of the Southern Star Party.

During the entire course of the star party we had talks and demonstrations conducted by Edward Foster, Auke Slottegraaf, Willie Koorts, Dr Dieter Willasch, Kos Coronaios, Lucas Ferreira and Johann Swanepoel.

Edward Foster gave the open public a talk on how to get started in astronomy and what they need to know about the night sky. He also gave us a talk on fossils, light and time. In this talk he explained how the universe was formed and where we originated from.

One of Auke’s activities he conducted was when he held a deep-sky workshop for anyone wishing to get actively involved in deep-sky observing. He gave a demonstration on how to make a southern star wheel and how to use it. He also discussed the potent effects of light pollution and he mentioned a new activity called "Globe at Night" a new project for anyone wishing to get involved to combat light pollution in South Africa.

Astrophotography workshops were conducted by Kos Coronaios, Lucas Ferreira and Dr Dieter Willasch for anyone that was enthusiastic about this great night time activity.

During the evening Auke Slottegraaf and Willie Koorts gave a binocular guided tour of the night sky to the open public.

On Saturday, Edward Foster also a talk to the open public on choosing and using binoculars for astronomy and observing the night sky.

Johann Swanepoel from the Garden Route Centre showed us briefly how to design and build a large dobsonian telescope. He also explained how popular these telescopes are becoming among amateurs and professional astronomers world-wide. Johan Uys from the Department Of Health came through on Saturday afternoon to give us a talk on the safety of green laser pointers and how dangerous they can to be towards the other people to use. He briefly elaborated what the new law requires in the use of these pointers in South Africa.

Late in the afternoon on Friday when more were arriving for the event at Bonnievale. Edward mounted his binoculars on a tripod where he attached a piece of cardboard in front of eyepiece of the binoculars to project the image of the sun. When the image of the sun was projected on the cardboard. We detected sunspots on the surface of the sun, which indicated that the sun is undergoing solar activity.

Straight after sunset all of us cooked all our meat on the fire where we socialized and drank a few bottles of beer together. After eating our dinner we decided to set up our telescopes.

In the meantime, I decided to take a cold shower. After taking a shower, I decided to assemble my astro-boma. I had everything in control and order for the evening. Inside my astro-boma, I roughly polar aligned my equatorial platform mount. I also managed to set the latitude up for the mount, because the latitude at Bonnievale is different to Cape Town.

Before darkness fell upon us, I slid the three feet of the rocker box of my telescope into the three sockets of the equatorial mount.

Then finally I put the scope into the rocker box.

On Friday evening as Auke was giving a binocular guided tour of the night sky. Auke briefly pointed to the general public as to where the basic deep-sky objects are situated in the night sky.

As I started to observe the night sky with my 12-inch dobby. I maneuvered my scope onto the Orion Nebula in Orion. As my mount was busy tracking for 45 minutes on it. Wilhelm and Ernst came along to my astro-boma to observe the delicate wisps of gas in the Orion Nebula, NGC 2070(Tarantula Nebula’s) spider-like structure and the Eta Carina’s gaseous bok globules and the Keyhole Nebula.

Objects like NGC 5139(Omega Centauri), NGC 104(47 Tucannae), these two brilliant globular clusters situated in the constellations of Centaurus and Tucana were revealed in all there beauty and splendor.

Open Clusters like NGC 4755(Herschel’s Jewel Box) and NGC 3532 sparkled like bright diamonds under a black velvet sky.

The difference between the globular cluster 47 Tucannae was that it had a small centrally concentrated nucleus of bright stars while Omega Centauri had a large nucleus where hundreds to thousands of stars were clearly resolved.

As I was continuing to observe the night sky with two university graduates, the visitors from Robertson and Cape Town brought their children along to observe the cosmos through my scope.

When I was busy observing, I decided to show them the basic deep-sky objects like M42 (Orion Nebula), NGC 2070(Tarantula Nebula), NGC 3372(Eta Carina Nebula), NGC 3532, NGC 104 and NGC 5139. As the public was observing these brilliant objects, there children were delighted of what they can see in the night sky.

By showing these brilliant night time mosaics, I explained to them of what they are seeing. I also explained of what a nebula is and how it is formed and what a globular cluster and an open cluster is.

Together with the public I also showed them on the obscure objects like NGC 5128(Centaurus A). I briefly explained to the people observing with me, "when we observe galaxies we are looking out towards the zone of avoidance where many galaxies are found". I gave a general discussion about the dark dust lane that was bisecting NGC 5128 that it is a radio source galaxy.

One of their children was so enthusiastic about astronomy that they wanted to have a look at the rings of Saturn. By maneuvering my scope into position. I located Saturn.

After the open public has enjoyed observing Saturn with me that night, the rings and the storm belts on this gas giant were plainly visible to us. They also managed to locate the five moons of this planet. The children that were there thanked for me for showing the rings of Saturn to them.

Other southern deep-sky mosaics like M65, M66, NGC 3628 and the Sombrero Galaxy’s Mexican hat was obvious to Cape Centre members like Chris De Coning who was there to observe with me. Galaxies like M65 and M66’s spiral structure was clearly resolved in my dobby.

In the constellation of Carina, I had just managed to track down NGC 3293, a compact cluster of bright stars together with the emission nebula, NGC 3324.

For a short while by taking a short break from observing we gathered together in the social house where we drank a hot cup of tea where I socialized with Auke, Edward, Lynette, Gavin, Suki and Kos.

As the sky became slightly cloudy, I got a good glimpse of the Tarantula Nebula in Johann’s 20-inch dobby, which first saw the light of day for me at the Star Party.

Shortly afterwards in a brief period when I returned to my scope, Lynette observed M41 and NGC 2362, both brilliant open clusters in Canis Major. These two open clusters looked absolutely so good to observe in a large telescope that evening that one can return again and again to observe them. That Lynette, Wilhelm and Ernst enjoyed observing the night sky with me.

As the sky was clearing slightly, I decided to locate the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies which is situated 60 million light years away from us. By observing M58, M59, M84, M86, M87, M90, M60 and M89, these galaxies elliptical structure looked almost like rugby balls in my scope.

In the same field of view with M58, NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, these two galaxies known as the "Siamese Twins" were two unusual galaxies attached to each other. They were quite vague to observe in a small telescope for other observers.

In the constellation of Coma Berenices I took my chances to locate the spiral galaxy, M64 (Black Eye Galaxy). This galaxy’s dark dust lane was observed by bystanders like Auke, Mary, Wilhelm and Ernst.

On a much quieter note, Mary observed the brilliant globular cluster M4, in Scorpius. This globular cluster had a bright bar of stars bisecting in the nucleus of this cluster. It was however clearly resolved.

Another prominent globular cluster to observe was NGC 6397 in Ara. This cluster was clearly resolved as a fairly large agglomeration of bright stars. Mary really enjoyed observing these bright deep-sky treasures with me.

Very early in the morning with the Milky Way high overhead, Auke took the final glimpse of NGC 3372(Eta Carina Nebula) in Carina with me. He tested high power on this nebula by inserting my 20mm ultra wide angle eyepiece into my 2× Barlow lens where we managed to discern fine detail in the bok globule, and the homunculus in this nebula.

The bok globules that you see in the Eta Carina Nebula was first discovered by the astronomer Bart Bok who came to the conclusion that these globules are outer shells of gas and dust where new stars are forming in the Milky Way.

The bystanders were totally star-struck to observe the Eta Carina Nebula with me.

Finally afterwards before dawn we called it a night. We all decided to take a nap after observing.

On Saturday morning when I got up I made myself a hot cup of coffee and a small bowl of "Wheat Bix" for breakfast to start the day.

Before the activities started in the course of the day, I bought the bare essentials like a 2 liter "Coke" and 6 bottles of "Castle Larger" for Auke. During the day and evening we drank beer.

One of the activities that were lined up for Saturday included a deep-sky workshop conducted by Auke. A sale table for items to be displayed came hand in hand where people could purchase any astronomical item of interest.

There were also competitions where prizes could be won, which included a lucky draw if your name was read out.

Later during the day we had an "Astro Pub Quiz" where we all divided up into teams. The one team that won the most points qualified for prizes to be won. During this competition Chris De Coning, Hans van der Merwe, Wim, Evan Knox-Davies and I were in the team called the "Winning Team".

At the end of the day we scored the most points while Willie Koorts team scored the second most points. After all we won a Southern Star Party Mug, S.A.L.T. book, a Hubble Space DVD and a Galileoscope. In this competion I was also a prize winner where I won myself a Galileoscope.

Other members who also won prizes were Margaret Sutherland and Roger Wyatt.

Late in the afternoon John, Laisve, Richard and Heather Sessions joined our ranks. These members who were busy during the week came to pay their respects at the Southern Star Party.

Shortly before sunset all of us cooked our meat on the fire. With all crowd being together at the Star Party we all enjoyed a bottle of "Castle Larger" where we socialized and exchanged ideas with each other.

As result of the fires we had on the Riviersonderend Mountains and that the weather on Saturday became partly cloudy during the day it somehow left us in doubt as to whether we were going to observe the stars that evening or not.

After sunset, I decided to take a cold shower, so that I could continue with my stargazing activities for the evening. One of the programs that was lined up for the evening was when Dr. Dieter Willasch gave a talk to the open public of what astrophotography can teach us about the deep-sky. He showed some images that were taken by a C.C.D. camera attached to his telescope like the Eta Carina Nebula and the Tarantula Nebula.

Saturday evening was not after all by observing the night sky. It was going to be an astrophotography evening wishing to pursue that activity. Astrophotographers like Kos, Johann, Richard and Lucas took photographic images of the night sky.

With a crisp clear night ahead of us, one of the first targets that were lined up on the deep-sky menu was NGC 362, a brilliant globular cluster not far from 47 Tucannae, in the Small Magellanic cloud. The bright stars in this cluster were clearly resolved into a large multitude of bright stars. Jaco Wiese, together with the open public came to observe the night sky with me.

Objects like NGC 346, a bright nebula in the Small Magellanic Cloud was observed by the open public from Robertson. This nebula’s cloud of gas and dust were clearly noticeable in my scope.

Another prominent open cluster like NGC 376, a small cluster which was also situated in the Small Magellanic Cloud was on the brink of visibility.

After making a detailed study of my star charts under a red L.E.D. headlamp, I managed to locate NGC 5483 and NGC 5530 in Centaurus. These very faint galaxies were observed as mere faint smudges of light. No detail was observed in them.

By keeping myself busy behind the telescope that evening, Auke invited Kos, Johann, Wim and Lucas who to observe the deep-sky objects with me. Auke made a request that I should show Kos, the galaxy, NGC 4945 in Centaurus.

The bystanders were equally amazed to observe this galaxy with me. As the Cape Centre members and the public at the Star Party observed every object in the sky, they cherished each moment by taking a good look at one of the deep-sky gems like NGC 5128 and NGC 104.

A night before when I observed Saturn’s rings with. Members of the Cape Centre like Laisve and John and Kos from the Soutpansberg Astronomy club really enjoyed observing the breathtaking rings of Saturn. On Saturday evening the viewing conditions were crisp and clear.

Kos on the other hand thanked me in advance for showing him the rings of Saturn and the spiral galaxy NGC 4945.

On a more silent note, I took my chances when I maneuvered my dobby in position towards the reflection nebula, NGC 5367 in Centaurus. This faint nebula was gently illuminated by a bright star when I took my chances to observe it.

Once again after studying my star charts under a red L.E.D. headlamp, I managed to catch a glimpse of the bright spiral galaxy, M61 in Virgo. Bystanders of the Cape Centre like Richard, Chris and Laisve noticed this galaxy’s subtle spiral-like structure.

With the Milky Way rising high overhead, I decided to locate the elusive galaxy in the constellation of Volans which was going to be a deep-sky challenge for me. After reaping the rewards, I located NGC 2442. This galaxy’s spiral-like structure was vaguely faint to observe in a large telescope. No spiral structure was observed in this galaxy.

One of the deep-sky mosaics that were situated in the constellation of Hydra was M68, a large globular cluster that was resolved into a large agglomeration of bright stars. This globular cluster had a fairly large nucleus with a granular appearance of bright stars.

One of the deep-sky treasures of the southern sky that I decided to concentrate on was the bright galaxy, M83 (Southern Pinwheel Galaxy) in Hydra. By observing this beautiful spiral galaxy with its bright spiral arms. This galaxy had a very bright nucleus.

I invited Auke to observe this galaxy with me that evening. Apparently Auke noticed some subtle spiral structure in this galaxy.

Richard and John from the Cape Centre were equally thrilled to observe every mosaic of the southern sky with me.

In the early hours of the morning before sunrise, I decided to locate the large open cluster NGC 3532 in Carina. By observing this cluster it looked like a star cloud. It actually gave you the feeling as if you were drowning in a lake of stars. It blew my mind out completely.

One of the final highlights of the Southern Star Party was when the Cape Centre members like Laisve, Richard, Heather, John, Gavin, Mary and Paul Fanner enjoyed observing the bok globules and the homunculus of the bright nebula, the Eta Carina Nebula. They also enjoyed the majestic view of NGC 5139(Omega Centauri) in Centaurus. This large globular cluster really made everyone’s evening at the Star Party.

After a memorable weekend of observing the night sky and activities that took place at this event. I decided to pack up everything and called it a fantastic weekend under the southern stars.

nothing more to see. please move along.