Saturday, September 29, 2007

Starry Splendour over Prince Albert

- Hans Daehne -

In October of this year like in every year it will be the ideal time to admire our Spring Constellation, the huge Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek mythology that gave poets the possibility for their flight of thoughts.

The Square of Pegasus, also known as the Spring Rectangle analogue to the Summer Triangle and Winter Triangle, can hardly be missed as it culminates over our Meridian. That means you have to look in a northerly direction parallel with Church Street and like the constellations of Orion or Scorpius Pegasus can be recognized right away because it is in an upright position for us in the southern hemisphere.

At the lower right corner of the square of Pegasus there is a string of four stars, the hind legs of Pegasus so to speak, but they belong to Andromeda already and it is under the middle of this line that you will find the Andromeda Nebula with the naked eye but a pair of binoculars will help. Also known as M31 this is the closest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy in other words our neighbour galaxy at a distance of two and a half million light years and its size is one and a half times that of our home galaxy. It is the furthest celestial object that can be seen with the unaided eye but there is good news for the short-sighted because it coming closer to us at a tremendous speed to reach us in three billion years when the two galaxies will merge.

The Moon will be new on the 11th of October and full on the 26th when it will be at perigee, the right combination for a higher possibility of rain in the Western Cape. This favourable requirement for rain in the Cape will occur every month until December – let’s hold thumbs!

Mercury is an evening object for the first half of the month and thereafter the speedy planet will show itself in the morning again. To observe the tiny planet a trip up Gordon’s koppie will be necessary.

Venus is very bright early in the morning also for the first half of the month.

Mars although already visible in the evening will only become a bright object in December around Christmas.

Jupiter at a magnitude of -2.0 (brighter than any star) will be visible during the first half of the night untill the end of the month.

It was with great relief that we learned of the safe return of space shuttle Endeavour which had delivered a new set of solar panels to the International Space Station.

With them installed the ISS has grown to a huge dimension and should become quite a sight when next seen as a satellite in the early evening.

To obtain information when a visible pass of the ISS will occur at a favourable time over Prince Albert visit the web site, feed in Prince Albert as your observation site and it will supply the time and direction of visible passes for ten days in advance.

Building on the ISS must be completed by 2010 (in time for the Soccer World Cup in South Africa) when the space shuttles will be scrapped to make way for more advanced space vehicles.

All very exciting matter and the best of it all is that the space shuttle will capture the Hubble Space Telescope, fit it with a new set of optics and other equipment and set it free again, all in 2008.

Keep the stars, ISS and HST in your eyes!

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