Spring Southern Star Party

posted: 1792 days ago, on Tuesday, 2012 Oct 30 at 13:54
tags: astronomy, Southern Star Party, events, Richard Ford.

Report by Richard Ford

Before this event was planned I came forward with a suggestion to Edward and Lynnette Foster and Auke Slotegraaf, the facilitators of the Southern Star Party, that I was prepared to deliver a presentation and at the same time I was also in favour of presenting a deep-sky tour of the night sky.

After doing much preparation to get my presentation done, Auke, Edward and Lynnette helped me a lot and Ed taught me how to use Powerpoint. With a little bit of practice and perseverance I was well under way.

On Friday, the 14th of September, when I arrived at the campsite, Night Sky in Bonnievale both Edward and Lynnette were already there and the big SSP social tent was already up and running.

On the agenda there was a program lined up with guest speakers who came to share their particular passion and perspectives on astronomy. While all of us were socializing and exchanging ideas with each other in a calm and friendly atmosphere, Ed lit the fires at 4:30pm and from 5:00pm we cooked our meat, boerewors and chicken on the campfire.

After sunset, just before darkness set in, I decided to get changed into my warm winter clothes. At 7:00pm Edward Foster welcomed all of us to the SSP in a warm and friendly manner and after that; we started with the SSP programme.

While Auke was presenting a binocular guided tour he briefly pointed out deep-sky objects like M8 (Lagoon Nebula), M17 (Swan Nebula), M24 (Sagittarius Star Cloud), M22, M28, M54, M4, M80, M7 and M6 (Butterfly Cluster) to the general public on Friday evening. All of these bright deep-sky objects were well overhead in our night sky, situated in Sagittarius and Scorpius.

One of the deep-sky objects that I decided to concentrate on was the globular cluster NGC 6316, a very faint globular cluster in the magnitude range of 8.8. This cluster is situated in the constellation of Ophiuchus. I noticed that this cluster looked like a very faint snowball in my scope and that there was no resolution of stars in NGC 6316. It seemed to me that this cluster was an unimpressive sight to observe in my dobby on account that I could not discern any detail in this globular cluster.

I had all my deep-sky objects well planned in advance. On my program for Friday evening I had planned to observe more Bennett Deep-Sky objects. This evening I was left to my own devices to observe in lone vigil without the disturbance from other guests.

As I was about to explore more objects in Ophiuchus I gently manoevered my dobby in position to locate NGC 6356 another globular cluster that was comparatively faint in my scope. By observing this cluster I have found that NGC 6356 was well observed as a medium snowball of light where by this clusters stars were unresolved and that this compact core gradually faded into an irregular periphery.

By cruising from one deep-sky object to another I cam e across one open cluster (NGC 6318) and one globular cluster (NGC 6388) in Scorpius. As I was patiently maneuvering my dobby to locate NGC 6318, I almost struggled for 20 minutes to find this open cluster in my scope. Eventually at last I somehow managed to locate NGC 6318 with enough perseverance. This open cluster was a rich and concentrated cluster that contained a group of a dozen faint stars. The general public was totally amazed to see how faint the stars in this cluster appeared through my dobby.

After gaining much success finding this open cluster, another Bennett Deep-Sky object that I had in mind was to locate NGC 6388, a relatively bright cluster that was situated north of the sting of Scorpion. When I first observed this cluster I have found that the stars were well resolved and that the stars in NGC 6388 were spherically concentrated towards each other in a round halo of light being seen in my scope.

As the wind calmed down at night I decided to locate two more globular clusters in the constellation of Ara, namely NGC 6352 and NGC 6362. By maneuvering my dobby in position to locate NGC 6352 I have noticed that this clusters stars were partially resolved and that the stars in NGC 6352 were slightly concentrated towards each other and the fact of the matter was that this globular cluster looked like a round mottled halo of bright light.

After observing this spectacular cluster, another globular cluster that caught my attention was NGC 6362. These globular clusters were well resolved and that the stars in this cluster were centrally concentrated towards each other.

I then decided to venture into the heart of the Milky Way in Sagittarius. There I observed globular clusters like NGC 6440, NGC 6522, NGC 6528, NGC 6544, NGC 6553 and NGC 6569. Some of these globular clusters looked very faint and the fact is that they were well observed as diffuse snowballs in my dobby while other globular clusters like NGC 6522 and NGC 6528’s stars were partially resolved in my scope at the SSP.

Martin Lyon’s, who had his big scope kept everyone rolling at the SSP. All the bystanders took up the opportunity to observe deep-sky objects like M57 (Ring Nebula), M27 (Dumbbell Nebula), M8 (Lagoon Nebula), NGC 2070 (Tarantula Nebula) and M42 (Orion Nebula). These bright objects were seen in all its awe and glory that one can come back again and again to observe these deep-sky objects in the night sky. This large telescope drew a large crowd of visitors at the SSP where everybody who came to observe objects like M42 (Orion Nebula) and the Tarantula Nebula gave all of us a new perspective way in which these objects appeared in the southern night sky.

Astrophotographers like Brett Du Preez and Leslie Rose spent the entire evening taking photographic images of the Deep-Sky objects like M8 (Lagoon Nebula), M17 (Swan Nebula), M20 (Trifid Nebula), NGC 253 (Silver Dollar Galaxy) and M42 (Orion Nebula).

While everybody was observing and photographing the heavens, I decided to observe NGC 6445 (Box Nebula), a planetary nebula that was situated close to the globular cluster NGC 6440. I had no problem finding this nebula. This planetary nebula being seen in my dobby through my OIII filter being threaded onto my 9mm eyepiece was reminiscent of the Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula although much fainter than M27. I have also noticed that this nebula’s shape was elongated and well defined which had an oval shape of faint light with a greenish hue being seen in my scope.

When I was observing this nebula I called all the stargazers to come and observe this planetary nebula with me. All the bystanders enjoyed a breathtaking view of NGC 6445 and they made a remark that this nebula was a very faint and diffuse planetary nebula that was on the brink of visibility.

So Martin decided to take up the challenge to also locate this nebula in his scope. Before I was about to go ahead to finding the next object Martin called me quickly to his scope that he had found NGC 6445 (Box Nebula).

As I took a quick glimpse of this planetary nebula through his big telescope I could easily discern the fine detail in this nebula and that NGC 6445 almost had the resemblance of a weight lifters dumbbell in space although this nebula was in the magnitude range of 11.2. After midnight the temperatures was plummeting and there was a lot of condensation in the air and dew was starting to form on the mirrors of our telescopes.

On Saturday morning as I was still observing the night sky I decided to observe the last deep-sky objects that was on my list. The two globular clusters NGC 6496 and NGC 6541 were one of the prominent globular clusters that were situated in the constellation of Corona Australis. While I was observing NGC 6496 I had somehow noticed that this cluster looked exactly like a mottled halo of faint light and that the stars in this cluster were partially resolved.

By continuing my exploration for globular clusters in the Milky Way, the last object I decided to observe was NGC 6541. When I took my last glimpse of this globular cluster I noticed that this cluster’s stars looked like a bright snowball where all the stars in this cluster were well resolved.

As seeing conditions progressed from bad to worse I decided to pack up for the evening where I brought my dobby inside the cottage and decided to call it a night.

Early the next morning I got up to take photographs of the sunrise over the Langeberg Mountains overlooking the lake and the landscape at Bonnievale. For breakfast Paul and I cooked our eggs on the fire and at the same time I had a hot cup of “Nescafe” coffee together with a bowl of “Wheatbix”.

At 10:00am Lynnette Foster presented a solar viewing demonstration of how the sun appeared through her 10” dobby with a solar filter. We could clearly see that the sun had sunspots on its surface which indicated storm activity on our star, the sun.

The programme got running on schedule at 12:00pm when Chris De Coning, the Director of the ASSA Historical Section presented his talk on the “Early Astronomers At The Cape”. In his presentation he briefly mentioned astronomers like Father Guy Tachard who worked at the Cape Of Good Hope in 1865 at the time when Simon Van Der Stel was the governor of the Cape Of Good Hope. He also spoke about astronomers like Peter Kolbe who loved to drink, smoke and gossip. He was responsible for smuggling a petition against Willem Adriaan van der Stel to have him relinquished as governor of the Cape Of Good Hope.

He also mentioned astronomers like Nicholas Louis De Lacaille who was a French Land Surveyor who charted the Southern Hemisphere and Thomas Maclear who was in fact the first astronomer at the Cape Of Good Hope Observatory where he made accurate measurements of the night sky.

After Chris’s presentation all of us cooked our meat on the fires and drank our beers and “Stellar Organics” wine with everyone in a friendly and jovial atmosphere.

After lunch all of us got together and we were divided into five teams for the “Astro Pub Quiz”. In the beginning all the questions were very straight forward to answer. As we went through to all the rounds the questions became increasingly difficult. In the end Evan Knox-Davies ended up as the winner of the “Astro Pub Quiz” competition. He was coined the “Celestial Wise Man” in the southern star party because this was the second time he was the winner of the “Astro Pub Quiz”. Paul Kruger, on the other hand, came second where he was narrowly defeated by one point!

After this competition I was the next speaker on the agenda where I was going to deliver my presentation on the subject “A Fine Selection of Deep-Sky Objects We Can See in Our September Skies”. To cut a long story short, in my presentation I briefly gave a discussion on the deep-sky objects that was visible this time of the year like M57 (Ring Nebula), NGC 7293 (Helix Nebula) and NGC 253 (Silver Coin Galaxy).

In Carol Botha’s presentation called “Fitting Light Years of Space into One Tiny Circle” she discussed the different techniques of how she sketches deep-sky objects. She also presented a light box that was designed by herself. In the final conclusion to her presentation she had the audience asking her more questions about how she sketches objects.

Very late in the afternoon before we all got together for the group photo, Brett Du Preez, presented the basic techniques of astrophotography where he pointed out the different cameras like the SLR’s and CCD‘s you can use to take images of the night sky. He also discussed the different settings you can use on a digital SLR like processing your image on JPEG and Raw. He briefly mentioned the different processing programs like “Deep-Sky Stacker” and “Registax” where you can process the images you have taken with a SLR or CCD camera.

At the end of every event Edward Foster had the pleasure of handing all the speakers a bottle of Wine in gratitude to say thank you.

As the day was slowly drawing to a close I wanted to have the opportunity to be included in the group photo. Twice in a row I had missed the opportunity of taking part in the group photo. This time I was definitely included in the Spring SSP Group Photo of 2012.

After Edward’s talk on the subject “Ethnoastronomy”, Auke decided to show the general public the ropes of doing astronomy with a digital SLR camera mounted onto a tripod.

As Auke was at hand presenting a binocular guided tour of the deep-sky to the public once again I returned to my dobby to record more Bennett Deep-Sky Objects before I started my deep-sky tour of the night sky where I was going to present the basic deep-sky objects we can see in our telescopes on Saturday night.

As I started observing my first object for the evening I decided to locate NGC 6253. When I observed this cluster open cluster I have that this cluster consisted of 30 stars which were well detached and that the majority of the stars in this cluster open cluster consisted of 13th -14th magnitude stars being clearly seen in my dobby. All the stargazers like Paul and Kechil were totally amazed to see this open cluster in fine detail in Ara.

After all the bystanders had observed this open cluster with me I decided to move over to the next object on my list where I came across NGC 6584 another globular cluster that was situated in the constellation of Telescopium. When I first observed this cluster I had somehow noticed that this globular cluster looked exactly like a bright snowball where the stars in this cluster were well resolved into bright individual stars and that the central core of NGC 6584 was centrally concentrated towards each other.

There was not a breath of wind in sight. Seeing conditions were particularly favourable and the bystanders cherished each moment of observing every globular cluster with me at this event.

I decided to observe NGC 6624, NGC 6638 and NGC 6642; these three bright globular clusters were situated in the constellation of Sagittarius. When I was observing NGC 6624, I had noticed that this cluster looked like a round mottled snowball where the bright stars in this cluster were partially resolved. By observing this cluster I had also noticed that the central core of this globular cluster was compact.

On the other hand when I was observing NGC 6642 I had noticed that this globular cluster was well observed as a round halo of faint light where I have found no resolution of stars in this cluster and that NGC 6642’s central core was strongly concentrated as a tight globular cluster.

One of the last highlights of Sagittarius is when I observed NGC 6652, a relatively faint globular cluster that had a poorly concentrated core where I have noticed that this clusters stars was not resolvable in my dobby. To me it seemed like this cluster was unimpressive to observe in my scope on account that I could not discern any resolution of stars at all in this cluster.

Finally I rounded off my last deep-sky observations when I observed NGC 7410, a spiral galaxy that was located in the constellation of Grus.

By carefully maneuvering my dobby in position to locate this galaxy, with a little bit of patience and perseverance I had made progress when I had noticed in my eyepiece that NGC 7410 looked like a bright spiral galaxy with its diffuse arms which was seen almost edge on in my scope.

The bystanders like Carol and Iain paid their respects to me in due course when they came to observe this galaxy with me in my dobby. Chris and Kechil were drawn to my scope when they had first observed NGC 7410 on Saturday evening where they could easily discern spiral-like structure in this galaxy.

After getting all my observations done under way I decided to entertain the public with the majestic views of the cosmos like M57 (Ring Nebula), M27 (Dumbbell Nebula), NGC 7293 (Helix Nebula), M8 (Lagoon Nebula) and NGC 7009 (Saturn Nebula) through my dobby. All of these bright objects were seen in all its awe and glory through my scope. It was absolutely awesome to observe these celestial objects in my scope. The Dumbbell Nebula’s hourglass shape looked like a weight lifters dumbbell in space and that the Ring Nebula’s doughnut hole looked exactly like a smoke ring in my dobby.

Other prominent deep-sky objects like the Helix Nebula’s diffuse rings which were much fainter than the Ring Nebula in Lyra. The diffuse rings of the Helix Nebula had the resemblance of an embroiled like structure being seen clearly in my 20mm ultra wide angle eyepiece with an OIII filter being threaded onto my eyepiece at close range brought out the fine detail of this nebula in my dobby.

All the stargazers that was present at my scope could not believe how large NGC 7293 (Helix Nebula) looked through my scope on Saturday evening while the Saturn Nebula’s ring-like projections were just on the brink of visibility being seen in my scope.

When Edward and Lynnette came to observe the Dumbbell Nebula through my dobby they made a request that they wanted to see what the Swan Nebula looked like through my scope. The Swan Nebula in Sagittarius had the resemblance of a swan swimming in a celestial lake of stars in the Milky Way. This nebula’s swan-like body was totally obvious to all the stargazers at the SSP.

Auke that evening made a request to me that he wanted to observe M20 (Trifid Nebula) in my dobby so he decided that he wanted to take a closer look at this nebula through my 9mm eyepiece. With my 9mm eyepiece being threaded onto my scope all of us could easily discern the three stars which made up the Trifid Nebula where this nebulas clouds of gas and dust were divided into three bright lanes which almost looked like a cauliflower in my scope.

In the distant background as Carol was entertaining everyone behind her dobby she showed the general public the basic deep-sky objects like the Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula, Swan Nebula, M22, M4, M80, NGC 253 (Silver Dollar Galaxy) and M6 (Butterfly Cluster) through her 8-inch dobby.

As I was going to present more deep-sky objects to the general public like M22, M15, M2 and NGC 253 the temperatures after midnight dropped gradually as there was a lot of condensation in the atmosphere which caused the dew to set on our mirrors of our scopes. Seeing conditions went from bad to worse. So on the last minute I decided to pack up and to bring my dobby into the cottage again.

Before I hit the sack Martin quickly showed me the all time favourites of the night sky like the Silver Coin Galaxy, the Tarantula Nebula, Orion Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy in his big telescope. So I made use of use of every opportunity to observe these bright objects through his scope. All of these bright deep-sky objects looked absolutely awesome in a very large telescope.

After midnight Leslie took photographic images of M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) and M33 (Triangulum Galaxy) through his Sony SLR camera mounted onto his 8-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope.

All the bystanders that were taking photographic images of the Milky Way with their SLR cameras mounted onto a tripod took images of the night sky till the early hours of Sunday morning before they all drove back home.

On Sunday morning I got up at 8:30am and after having breakfast I packed all my belongings and observing equipment into the back of my Bakkie. After enjoying a fantastic weekend under the stars I drove back home to Brackenfell.

via: Richard Ford

nothing more to see. please move along.