Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Starry Splendour over Prince Albert

-Hans Daehne-

During the recent, very successful and most enjoyable Prince Albert Town and Olive Festival we tasted a sample of the approaching winter and the night sky already displays the well-known winter constellations of Libra, Scorpius and Sagittarius.

The day after the rain we enjoyed together with some visitors to Prince Albert the splendours of Prince Albert`s night sky which has become so familiar to us.

June is a very special month this year not only because it harbours the Winter Solstice on the 21st but because it is a" Blue Moon" month which means it contains two full moons which happens very seldom, hence the expression "once in a blue moon". The second Full Moon on the 30th of June is called the blue moon although it is not blue in colour.

From the 16th of June the sun will set later but the sunrise will also be later until on the 7th of July the earth reaches its furthest distance from the sun, after that day sunset will become later and sunrise earlier each by one minute per day.

New Moon ( only one) will be on the 15th.

Mercury will be in the evening sky again until the 11th of June but so close to the sun that to observe it one has to go up Gordon`s koppie.

Venus is still bright in the evening twilight for the entire month but also only from a high observation spot.

On the night of the 5th of June Jupiter will be at opposition (that means in its best observation position), visible for the whole night, at the smallest distance from Earth namely 644 mil. km (=4.3 AU), at maximal brightness (-2.6) and largest apparent diameter.

Jupiter is the very bright object close to the constellation of the Scorpion which is easy to find because it looks like the real thing. Not far from Jupiter is the huge red giant Antares with a diameter of more than 300x that of our sun.

The term "red giant" refers to the developmental stage of a star rather than the colour of it which is usually more orange or yellow than red. A red giant is an old star and our sun will reach its red giant stage in about five billion years when it will expand to the size of the orbit of Mars.

Saturn moves in an easterly direction towards Regulus the brightest star in Leo whhich can be identified by its inverted question mark also called "the sickle".

The three crosses in the south are beautifully displayed over the Swartberg and harbour among them many fascinating objects in binoculars and telescopes such as open clusters like the Jewel Box, globular clusters like Omega Centauri, nebulae like the Eta Carina nebula and double stars like Alpha Centauri, the brighter one of the pointers.

Keep the stars in your eyes !

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