STAR PARTY

First National Star Party in South Africa held at Kambro Farm Stall, Britstown

Click here to view Hannes and Pieter Pieterse's Star Party Album

Uittreksel uit die MNASSA (die tydskrif van die Suid-Afrikaanse Sterrekundige Vereniging)

What started out as a casual idea by Pre­toria Centre members, Johan Smit and Danie Barnardo to invite some friends along to share a wonderful experience under the dark Karoo skies, ended up as South Africa’s first National Star Party. It was attended by 38 people representing a slice of the stargazing community of South Africa. The gathering was held dur­ing the long weekend 25 to 27 April 2009 at the Kambro guest farm, 20 km north of Britstown. The town is centrally located, 250 km south of Kimberley on the N12, on route between Cape Town and Johan­nesburg. Danie regularly sleeps over at Kambro and on returning to Pretoria is always haunted by the memory of the pristine skies of Britstown. The idea of a bigger event grew after he and Johan subsequently decided to spend a weekend there doing telescope viewing and enjoy­ing Karoo lamb.

With the Monday being a public holiday, for those who could make it there by Fri­day evening, meant three nights of pos­sible viewing. Serena Ingamells from Somerset West, representing OOG (the Orion Observation Group) was early and witnessed the first arrivals: “On Friday afternoon cars packed to the gunnels and bakkies with trailers started making their appearance and soon an impressive selec­tion of telescopes popped up like mush­rooms among the prickly pears. Many people had travelled through heavy thun­derstorms and the conversation during the evening meal invariably turned to the weather prospects and our ability to do some serious viewing”. Danie Barnardo was one of those who hit a thunderstorm on the way which left him quite down­hearted. But conditions soon changed: “Just after sunset the skies cleared miracu­lously, revealing a perfect sky” Danie ex­claimed. “The Milky way carved a wide swath across the sky, in all its splendour. The Magellanic clouds in the south, the Southern Cross with the Coalsack clearly distinguishable and the magnificent star­fields of the Crux region; even Omega Centauri and 47 Tucanae were all easily visible without the intervention of a pair of binoculars. That evening the viewing was probably the best of the whole week­end and those who arrived a day early were really fortunate. I think the rain of the previous day scrubbed all dust from the atmosphere.”

Serena reiterated Danie’s experience: “The sweeping Karoo plain, fringed with rolling hills provided open horizons and spectacu­lar vistas. The Milky Way was draped over the sky like threads of silk, studded with diamonds. Even experienced stargazers who had seen it all before were heard to exclaim in wonder.

With the common denominator being astronomy, stargazers started mixing more freely and new acquaintances and friendships were made. It turned out that some people concentrated so seriously on ensuring that they packed telescopes and every conceivable piece of equipment imaginable, but forgot some basics – like food! But thanks to the well stocked Kambro shop their problems were soon solved. Danie also enjoyed the facili­ties: “Kambro is a very nice venue. The accommodation is superb and the meal that we enjoyed on the Friday evening at Wilma’s restaurant (‘Die Voëlnes’) was superb. Everybody wanted to get hold of her bean soup recipe. The site is nice and level, well suited to setting up telescopes. The only slight problem was the lights of the approaching cars and trucks on the N12”. Serena equally enjoyed the venue: “Kambro was a perfect location for the star party and the gathering of like minded souls. The accommodation was very comfortable and the food at the restaurant just wonderful. Owners Ger­hard & Wilma Strauss were most helpful and generous. True to Karoo hospitality, we received freshly baked bread on our doorstep every night.”

One can only hope that this may become an annual event. Instead of just sliding by the seat of one’s pants, with a bit more structure, perhaps more opportunities for folks to mingle and meet and a possible plan B for in case of really fowl weather, this gathering has the potential to become South Africa’s Stellafane. Johan Smit al­ready promised: “We are thinking about making this a regular event. Next time the arrangements will be more elegant and the marketing better.

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