Last weekend past I went out on a single night camping trip at the Bushtrail holiday camp past Magaliesburg for an evening of stargazing hosted by The Exploration Society of Southern Africa with the assistance of The Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.
Bushtrails was selected for its distance from Johannesburg (or any other town), the fact that they had camping facilities , an open rugby field to set up the telescopes for the evening, as well as the fact that nearby neighbours were kind enough to keep their outside lights off during the night.
The stargazing actually started at around 4pm when the first astronomer setup his solar telescope and pointed it at the sun (the most obvious star in the sky :-/ )
The sun was being relatively active on the day and it was great fun looking through this heavily filtered telescope to view the solar prominences and solar filaments (solar flares & sun spots) in real-time.
The other telescopes for the regular night sky stargazing were all set up by time the sun set and it was very interesting to note that most of the guys has very large home-made reflecting telescopes.
The early evening was spent focussing on the Spica, Saturn, Mars set – with Saturn being the main focus – the rings around Saturn being in clear view even when using the weakest of telescopes available that evening.
Late night sights
The rest of the night (from 19h00 to 04h00) had various smaller astronomical sights to view, the rise of the Andromeda galaxy, Uranus, various globular clusters, a faint comet and a couple of shooting stars – an educational and fun evening all around.
Camping in the cold!
The evening was a chilly one, and I discovered that having a good sleeping bag (rated correctly for the cold) is very important. Not having one for the evening (my current sleeping bag is old, worn and definitely not sub-zero rated) left me fully clothed, in a tent, in the sleeping bag, shivering without stop – one of my most uncomfortable camping nights ever! Lesson learnt – I’m getting a new sleeping bag next week.