Saturday, May 30, 2009

Starry Splendour over Prince Albert

- Hans Daehne -

In June we can enjoy the beautiful thick part of the Milky Way in all its glory again over Prince Albert and what better way to do it than with a whole night gazing session on the night before Winter Solstice at Abrahamskraal. All members of SPACE are welcome to contact Hestie for arrangements with accommodation.

Now is the time to observe the huge constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius above our heads at night as we are looking into the direction of the centre of our galaxy. Scorpius contains the red
super giant Antares that would extend right up to the orbit of Mars (Ares in Greek ) if placed at the position of our Sun. This star is also called Cor Scorpii, the heart of the Scorpion.
The Scorpion can only be seen in the winter while we can observe the Southern Cross nearly all year round and if viewed synoptically from south to south-east it comes as a surprise every year again to see these two beautiful constellations ( the Scorpion and the Southern Cross) so close together. The reason for this is that the Southern Cross is circumpolar i.e. always above the horizon for us while Scorpius is just outside the circumpolar region.
The bright stars in Sagittarius resemble the shape of a teapot ( rather than an archer of half horse half man configuration ) that could be pouring its contents into a fine string of stars arranged in the curved shape of a crown hence its name Corona Australis, the Southern Crown.

Venus and Mars are both morning objects with Venus very bright at magnitude - 4.5 and Mars fairly dim contrary to the claims made in an annoying e-mail that is doing its rounds again and that should be totally ignored.

Jupiter at magnitude - 2.5 is becoming an all-night object in the constellation of Capricorn. It is always very rewarding to observe the largest planet in our solar system with its four bright Galilean moons through a telescope. This is among other reasons because Jupiter rotates around its axis in under 10 hours and some changes of this fast spin can be observe during the night.

Saturn at a dim magnitude of only 0.9 is visible the whole evening with its rings getting really thin(viewed edge-on) and thus reducing Saturn’s reflectivity but now its moons can be found easier. This rare position of Saturn was last observed in 1995.

Full Moon will be on 7 June while the New Moon on the 22nd will be close to Earth.

Winter Solstice on the 21st June will mark the shortest day and longest night (good for star-gazing) and although the days will become longer thereafter it is termed as the beginning of winter in the southern hemisphere. Sunset in Prince Albert will be at 17h30 and will become later by one minute every evening from now on while only from 7 July will the Sun rise one minute earlier daily in the morning.

How successful the very fascinating undertaking of catching, refurbishing and setting free again the most famous space telescope Hubble by the space shuttle Atlantis on 11th May was, should become apparent soon with new and more detailed photographs becoming available on the internet.

These beautiful images of the vast space around us could be interesting discussion material for a whole evening and maybe we should do just that some time.

Keep the stars in your eyes!

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