Report 08: 18th SSP, (February 19-24, 2020)

SSP number 18 is now history and, based on the feedback we received, it was a successful event. In the run-up to the SSP there was the usual anguish as the SSP approached and our registrations seemed to be way below expectations. However, as the SSP grew closer and the registrations picked, up our concerns turned to the weather. We watched in dismay and muttered about Plan-B when rain showers appeared on the charts and then sighed with relief as they either disappeared or moved away from the crucial after sunset hours on Friday and Saturday.

Eventually Monday the 17th arrived and it was time to load up in preparation for our Tuesday morning departure to Leeuwenboschfontein. Leeuwenboschfontein had been paid, we had a reasonable number of registrations, there were fantastic speakers lined up for a full Saturday program and we had some innovations planned for Saturday afternoon.

The 18th SSP was going to take place, no matter what the weather did. You will find the full programme here if you are curious.

First things first and, to present the Southern Star Party, that means you pack. You pack lots and lots of stuff. What sort of stuff? Al sorts of stuff as per the photo.

The first trick is to get all of this – and there is a lot more still out of sight in the house. – into the vehicle and onto the trailer.

So after the packing and the journey to Leeuwenboschfontein you have to get all the stuff unloaded and into the Social Barn. It all looks a little deserted when you only have one or two early-bird telescopes out on that big green lawn.

Somehow this reminds me of the song I’m a Lonely Little Petunia (In an Onion Patch) by Kitty Kallen. Do telescopes sing?

Once one has all the stuff in the Social Barn you start unpacking and arranging it.

This is the large, dauntingly empty, space in the Social Barn that confronts one once everything has been unloaded.

The general idea is to distribute all the stuff you’ve brought along so as to convert the empty space in the previous picture to what you see in the following series of pictures.

You need to tell the people who the presenters of the Southern Star Party are and to get all the goody bags sorted and put out so that it is easy to find them when people arrive. This, by the way, represents the end result of a mountain of administration work by Lynnette over many weeks involving endless emails and many telephone calls. For the Model Table in the background one ropes in Alan – Mr. Nimble-fingers in-person – to assemble the models.
StarPeople’s two certificates and the Southern Star Party’s signature banner.
Auke’s stunning banner helps everyone orientate themselves as to exactly where they are in the greater scheme of things.
Alan’s indispensable help is essential to put up the projection screen and flank it with some informative pull-up banners
We brought along a collection of our A-frames that show off Auke’s graphic artistry talents and make all sorts of astronomy-related information available for the attendees.
On Friday the telescope area on the lawn had a nice collection of telescopes that would still grow a bit more.
By Saturday morning we were all set to start the proceedings with Mattia and Lucia and they will be followed by Patrick.

The Talks

The two talks were very good. Lucia, Mattia, and Patrick very clearly knew what they were talking about and all three of them are excellent presenters to boot.
A little thank you for the speakers after the talks.

For all the regulars who, for whatever reason, couldn’t make it this time, please take note that you were missed, so try and arrange your life properly and attend the next SSP. For all of those who have never been to a Southern Star Party event, we would love to have you there, so don’t disappoint us again and miss out on the next SSP too.

So, here we all are. If you weren’t there, please make sure you are at the next SSP.

The Lucky Draw

Rob Bark won the prize at the lucky draw which means he now has a voucher for R1200-00 to spend on accommodation at Leeuwenboschfontein before the end of October. Enjoy, Rob!


On Thursday evening Rudolf spotted a string of Starlink satellites that the rest of us initially missed. They came up in a line from the southwest appearing above the Beefwood trees in front of the small chalets and fading into the Earth’s shadow above Dalzicht, well before they reached Orion. I think there were 15 all told, but by the next day reports as low as 6 and as high as 30 were circulating. You probably guessed that none of us actually counted how many were in the string and nor did anyone note the exact time the first or the last one appeared. That probably says something about us as observers but we do have the excuse that we were too busy being excited, jumping up and down, pointing and exclaiming, “Wow”, “Look at that”, “Incredible”, “Bloody Musk” and more along those lines.

Fossils, Light, and Time

Fossils, Light, and Time link the concepts of Astronomy distances in Light Years and Geological Deep Time. This is an idea that Auke and I had way back in 2008 that actually works very well.


StarPeople have always had the idea that the lawn in front of De Kraal was the ideal place for the astrophotography people but nobody has really been interested in giving it a go. It is close enough to not let then feel excluded but far enough away that their light-spill has minimal effect on the visual observers. This year Leslie Rose attended the SSP after a long break and he set up on the lawn at our request. His conclusion is that De Kraal is perfect for astrophotography and is even thinking of making De Kraal an astrophotography house.

Chat Tables

This year we implemented Lynnette’s idea of chat tables and it worked quite well. The general idea was to have the speakers available on Saturday afternoon to chat and answer questions in an informal setting and, to have people available to answer questions about cellphone apps for astronomy, cleaning optics, photographing astronomical objects and what to do about those pesky bright red lights. Paul Grapendaal, with his brother Maurice as wingman, handled the photography, but our person for the cellphone apps pulled out at the last minute and our optics cleaner developed a domestic crisis. In general, there was a nice relaxed vibe at the tables and we will certainly do this again.

Personalities of Note

Chris and his telescope.

T-Shirt Painting

Christine giving guidance to a young shirt-painting enthusiast
Jamie, showing how it’s done

The Braai

So that’s it for the 18th SSP! Please bring your friends, families, and neighbours along to the next one to make it even bigger and better.