The turnout was good, probably just the right size to comfortably fit the venue. The weather co-operated and people seemed to enjoy themselves - both around the braai and at the telescopes. I have received some positive feedback from those new to astronomy, who I hope will be inspired to progress. Paul is even contemplating joining the ATM class to build a scope himself, a good idea considering he has better sky than most of us. The wine went down well and, together with the fire, helped ward off the chill. While it was still light, telescopes both commercial and home-built were set up, together with some of the tents. People milled around, exploring the site, getting acquainted with one another, and enjoyed Paul's tour of his alternative energy systems.
Early evening, even before darkness fell, the Moon and Jupiter put on a good show. The Moon is always an excellent way to start the evening, as there are recognisable albeit alien features with lots of detail that even the beginners can appreciate. It was interesting to see one of Jupiter's moons emerge from the disk of the planet, graphic evidence of the continual dynamism of the universe, and well worth the periodic revisitations throughout the evening. The cloud belts were plainly evident. Later on we progressed to "deep sky" objects. Old favorites such as the magnificent globular clusters Omega Centaurus and 47 Tuc sparkled brightly, as did beautiful open clusters such as Herschel's Jewel Box in Crux and several others sprinked in the band of the Milky Way. Some of these had associated emission, absorbtion and reflection nebulae, which were good starting points for discussions on star formation. As a counterpoint to the views of objects confined to our own galaxy, the Milky Way, a few neighbouring galaxies were located. Of course, these were little "faint fuzzies" on the fringes of visibility, not the spectacular full-colour visions we have come to expect from the likes of the Hubble Space Telescope. Nevertheless, the dust lane crossing the spherical core of Centaurus A was plainly evident, the overall appearance justifying its nickname "the cosmic hamburger". Scanning the Milky Way with binoculars for a wide-field view was a nice counterpont to the close-ups rendered by the scopes. Contemplating the fact that the photons battled their way across the immensity of space for literally millions of years purely so we could enjoy the view makes for a very personal if somewhat humbling experience. For many, this was the first experience of telescopic viewing, which I trust was fulfilling. One person was complaining that she had never once in her life seen a "shooting star", so the universe obliged her desire to see one by giving us a magnificent meteor, complete with a smoke trail that persisted for some seconds.
When I left around midnight, the wind had picked up a bit and the temperature had dropped to 1,5C. People were clustering around the fire joking and generally having a good time socially. There was talk of watching the meteor shower in the early hours of the morning, but so far I have had no confirmation that anybody was still standing or managed to crawl out of a sleeping back to do so. Nor did I hear whether the nearby party that was audibly in full swing kept anyone awake. I was told that it became colder, though!
A big thank you to to Simon Donally for arranging the logistics, and to Paul Marais and Vanessa for kindly making their place available to us. This was not the first ASSA/ESSA event, and considering how well it went, I doubt it will be the last. I look forward to the next time.