Report 09: Deep Sky Observing Weekend. (October 16-18, 2020)

This event replaced the planned SSP’20 Spring Southern Star Party which was to have taken place at Leeuwenboschfontein between October 13—19, 2020.

A huge word of thanks to everyone who took the time to come out to Leeuwenboschfontein over the October New Moon Period. It was great to see so many of the familiar faces again and to talk to you all – well most of you anyway. The weather was good. I am tempted to say it was excellent, but I don’t want to give Murphy and the weather gods an excuse for letting it rain on our parade at the next event we organize.

Wednesday night was one of the best observing nights I have experienced at LBF. Thursday night was almost as good but not quite up to Wednesday’s standard. Friday was similar to Thursday, but intermittent high-level clouds complicated observing at times. Saturday was pretty much the same as Friday, but with at least one period of fairly extensive clouding and Sunday night was a mixed bag of cloudy and clear conditions that really put the patience of the two observers left at LBF to the test. We did, however, have a lovely crescent moon early in the evening.

That glow on the horizon is the encroaching light pollution from Worcester and there is probably a contribution from Cape Town as well. The photograph was taken around midnight so one can rule out the setting sun as the culprit. (Nikon D5100, VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G, 18mm, ISO 4000, 20s – f/3.5)
At some point in most evenings, there were clouds very low on the horizon somewhere in our vicinity. This photograph is looking East just before midnight. Clearly visible are Sirius at the bottom right between the fronds of the palm tree, Rigel, as well as Orion’s Belt and Sword, are just to the right of center and, to their left is Aldebaran and the Hyades, while the Pleiades are just inside the left-hand edge of the image, (Nikon D5100, VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G, 18mm, ISO 4000, 20s – f/3.5)
These star trails are very good examples of what your star trails should definitely not look like! I have no idea what caused the strange curves in the trails and speculations thus far have included a gust of wind, gravitational waves, passing poltergeists, or Snorre, our cat (he has been implicated before). (Nikon D5100, 50mm f/1.8G, 50mm, ISO 800, 15s – f/3.5 @ 90s intervals)
The crescent moon was just visible in the afterglow of the setting sun on Sunday evening at about 19:00. (Nikon D5100, VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G, 20mm, ISO 800, 1/15s – f/8)
The bright sunlit crescent of the moon, with the rest bathed in the softer Earthshine. (Nikon D5100, VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G, 200mm, ISO 800, 1s – f/5.6)

The very kind offer from the LBF Observatory Group that the astrophotographers could set up in the observatory enclosure during the weekend was scuttled by the well-meaning intention of the LBF owners to stimulate the growth of the grass that had been planted up there.  They spread a generous layer of manure over the entire area and then watered it. That was probably good for the grass, but it was also a very efficient and rather smelly astrophotographer deterrent!

Most people were up until the early hours of the morning every night observing, so the daytime was generally sparsely populated and very peaceful until almost lunchtime.
The Vito parked in the shade and our 10″ and 12″ telescopes under their covers on the stoep, were on their first outing since the SSP in February.
Braais were generally afternoon events to make sure all the smoke and heat had dissipated by the time it got dark.
Despite the fact that there weren’t nearly as many telescopes on the lawn as at an SSP, there was still a lot of activity even just after midnight, as the moving red lights in this shot show. The Pleiades are just visible in the top left-hand corner, the screen just visible in the center is Leslie’s setup.
There was a lot of talking during the daytime, once the observers had woken up. In this group with Rose, Alan, Pamela, Clemence, Edward, Louis, and Barry there was a lot of laughing too. The fact that everyone is so well spaced out is because we all shifted outward and farther apart as the shade moved back and, of course, because we were complying with the COVID regulations. Barry’s nippy new mode of transport is parked in the foreground. Louis and Lynnette both tested it for roadworthiness.

This weekend’s event just happened to coincide with Kechil’s birthday and we were privileged to be invited to share the occasion with her. Thanks for including us on this special occasion, Kechil. Thanks too for the very nice glass of bubbly.

It became clear over the course of the weekend that even keen amateur astronomers do not realize how important it is to prevent light-spill into the observing area.  The negative effects of fires caused by the smoke and thermal turbulence also seem to be issues that are not fully appreciated by everyone in amateur astronomy circles. This time around we did not issue any formal rules, mainly because in the past people have expressed the opinion that these rules reflect a negative attitude by the organizers. However, it only takes one maverick to spoil the conditions for many or most of the other observing or photographing people. Perhaps the same set of rules labeled as “Guidelines for a positive astronomical experience.” would not be interpreted as a negative organizational attitude?

I am sure there must be one or two people who remember “… cherry pink and apple blossom white …”? Well, here you have an apple blossom.
Anybody who took the time to walk around a little bit at LBF over the weekend would probably agree with me that the gardens are well cared for and at present offer a riot of colours and textures to the viewers.
This Pin-tailed Whydah must be the original model for the “Angry Bird”? The pugnacious little fellow was doing his best to chase all other birds away from the food and in the process losing out on the choice bits to the others.
There are a lot of birds of all shapes sizes and colours at LBF and they vary with the seasons. This small selection was just the crowd that came after the bread crumbs we scattered. Most of them fall in the ornithological groupings of LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs) or LGJ’s (Little Grey Jobs). In the center is the Pin-tailed Whydah eating instead of chasing the other birds. From the top left clockwise, we have two Cape Buntings (Rooivlerkstreepkoppies), a Cape Sparrow (Kaapse Mossie), a Fiscal Flycatcher (Fiskaalvlieëvanger), two Southern Grey-headed Sparrows (Gryskopmossie), and another Cape Bunting. The Cape Bunting is such a cute and cheeky little bird that I ended up with about 20 photographs of it in different poses.

In general, we think it was a successful event and the feedback we have had seems to corroborate this. People seemed to have enjoyed the relaxed and unprogrammed atmosphere. Those who wanted to observe, observed and those who wanted to just relax and enjoy LBF and the pleasant company did just that. For those of you who took the time to walk out into the veldt or just browse around LBF’s well-kept gardens, there was a variety of flowers and birds to enjoy. It would have been nice to have had more attendees and telescopes, but COVID-19 did scare quite a few people away.

Last but not least, thank-you Hermien and Pieter for the warm welcome and the friendly hosting at LBF. You two add something special to LBF and we hope to see you there for years to come when we have our Deepsky get-togethers and SSP’s. Hermien’s jaffles were, as usual, absolutely delicious.

StarPeople intends to organize more events like this in 2021 but, rest assured, that you will be informed well in advance when we do that.