Milkyway above Bateleur Nature Reserve.

Milkyway above Bateleur Nature Reserve.

South Africa looks like an excellent place for doing astrophotography and observing the night skies. It is relatively more accessible for European amateur astronomers than Chile or Australia. Moreover it is located within the same time zone as Central and Eastern Europe.

Usually it should take no more than 16-18 hours (overnight flights) to get from Warsaw (Poland) to Johannesburg by airplane and a couple of hours more, by car, to finally reach Bateleur Nature Reserve which is located in Limpopo/Waterberg area. With the departure from Warsaw at 6pm, we are usually getting to the farm next day at ca. 3pm being ready to start night observations or taking astronomy pictures by 6pm. Wouter Schreuders, who is running the farm, has been arranging for transportation from the airport to the farm so there was no need for us to drive on the left side of the road which is not natural thing for right side drivers like we are in Poland.

Indeed, it took as a few of years to arrange for facilities and equipment which are necessary for doing astrophotography or stargazing with the telescope. So far, with a great help from Wouter, we managed to install 6 rock solid piers at Stone Cottage building which we have been successfully using for equatorial and Alt-Az mounts on which we put our telescopes (with CCD cameras for astrophotography purposes). They could be removed and reinstalled again to protect wide animals.

Last August we even brought 12 inch Newtonian telescope to Bateleur for deep sky object observations which indeed proved to be a good performer under South African dark skies, especially that we put it on the equatorial platform (a guitar) constructed by a Polish engineer Leszek Jedrzejewski (website: http://lx-net.pl/eqn/eqn.html). We could observe planets like Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uran and Neptune with high magnifications up to 500 times.

12” Newton at Bateleur on equatorial platform

12” Newton at Bateleur on equatorial platform

equatorial platform itself “the guitar”

Equatorial platform itself “the guitar” especially designed for latitude 28 deg. of southern hemisphere.

tye Guitar ^^

 

We do also use binoculars for wide angle visual observations which are not difficult to gather from Poland (by hand luggage). For astrophotography purposes we have been using 3.5 to 6 inch (diameter) telescopes and Canon 6D cameras with 50-135mm lens to take wide field images.
Some of our astrophotography equipment:

Takahashi Epsilon 130D

Takahashi Epsilon 130D (130 mm diameter)

Canon 6D (mod) with 135 mm lens on Astrotrac

Canon 6D (mod) with 135 mm lens on Astrotrac and Takahashi Sky90 (in the background)

 

Why it is worth to travel to South Africa for stargazing and astrophotography? The answer is quite simple. Firstly, the quality of dark skies, not really polluted by the artificial light sources, is a relatively scare phenomena in Europe these days and relatively high altitude (1500-1600 meters above the sea level). Secondly, the southern skies give access to objects which cannot be observed from Europe, like Carina constellation (with Eta Carina Nebula being one of the most spectacular objects on the night sky), the Southern Cross and Coal Sack or breath-taking Magellanic Clouds. Other constellations like Scorpion, Sagittarius, Centaurus, Musca, Corona Australis or Ara are also very attractive and make huge impression especially when they are crossing nearby zenith or are very high on the sky above the horizon.

The most favourable time in the year for visiting Bateleur Nature Reserve are June and August, of course with ca. 10-day new Moon periods to avoid interference by the bright Moon. It is a winter time at South Africa but with temperatures at 2-15 deg. C during night and a comfortable above 20 deg. C during the day time. Especially June is very suitable for European amateurs as at this time of the year there are almost none dark nights at 50 deg. south latitudes.

Astrophotography

Below you can see some of our astrophotography efforts taken at Bateleur with Canon 6D (astronomy modified) camera:

 

 

Below you can see some of our astrophotography efforts taken at Bateleur with Takahashi Epsilon 130D and QHY22 CCD camera:

 

Daytime activities

There are also some daytime activities at the farm. You can enjoy observing game, hiking or riding a bike around the farm with wild animals being easy to notice as usually they are just feeding around. If you are lucky you can meet a passing by giraffe when drinking coffee on the terrace in the morning or have a visit by a rare ratel in the evening:

 

Safety issues

People form Europe are usually afraid of safety when considering to pay a visit to South Africa. It might be an issue in some large cities like Johannesburg but we have not experienced and problems with personal security and we have been visiting the country for 4 years so far. The farm is safe taking its quite distant location from large cities and main roads.