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Southern skies intriguing for Northern visitor

Southern skies intriguing for Northern visitor

The Southern Cross glows adjacent to the Coalsack Nebula – a wonderful sight for a northern visitor.  photo Gary Seronik

ColumnHead-StargazingLiving in the far North as we do, it is easy to forget that there is another view of the universe: the Southern sky, just as intriguing, and, from an astronomical point of view, just as important. On a recent cruise trip south of the Equator, I found myself with the opportunity to strike a number of heavenly sights off my personal ‘bucket list.’

Even aboard a traveling light show, it is possible to see several of the most well-known objects in the southern celestial hemisphere in a small patch of sky not much bigger than a hand-span at arm’s length.

Finding a relatively dark corner of the upper deck, I was able to easily find – in a dust-strewn section of the Milky Way – the most famous southern constellation: Crux, the Southern Cross. The four main stars – featured on the flag of New Zealand – are between magnitude 0.8 and 2.8, while Epsilon – included on Australia’s flag – is 3.6. The distance from Gamma, at the top of the cross, to Alpha at the bottom makes a convenient yardstick for finding the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Six ‘yards’ below Alpha places you squarely between the two, which are companion galaxies to the Milky Way. Less bright than our home galaxy itself, they are still easily discerned in a dark sky, and well worth the search. Delta and Beta Crucis, meanwhile, point to another bright pair nearby: Beta and Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri, a tri-star system, is the closest ‘star’ to our sun. Adjacent to Crux is the dark Coalsack Nebula.

All are visible without aid, which makes them the easiest kind of astronomical objects to pack for. They can also be seen as far north as Cancun at certain times of the year.

Back in our own patch of sky, we will be able to see all five naked eye planets this season. Early-birds with an eagle eye will have the opportunity to hunt for Mercury, low in the ESE, and blazing Venus rising just before the sun. Mars rises after 10 p.m., followed by Saturn after 11 p.m. They also can be seen in the predawn sky. Jupiter remains the brightest object in the night sky setting around 3

Friday, March 21, meet at 8:30 at Pier 17, Davis Bay, for the Astro Café.

Submitted by Stephen Phillip Oakes,
Royal Astronomy Society of Canada – Sunshine Coast

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