Thursday, July 30, 2009

Starry Splendour over Prince Albert

-Hans Daenhe-

In August the days will already become noticeably longer, having already started to lengthen by one minute in the morning and one minute in the evening from the 7th of July. This is the time for the rich winter constellation Sagittarius in the dense part of the Milky Way above our heads at night; but the Archer is difficult to recognize as a man’s trunk with bow and arrow and an under body of a horse. It is much easier to look for a teapot with lid, handle and spout under the Scorpion where the Milky Way seems to split. This is the direction of the centre of our Milky Way galaxy and in this area of the sky we can find at least 20 Messier objects i.e. open clusters, globular clusters, double stars and nebulae that are awesome through binoculars and telescope.

Near Sagittarius is a clear little arch of star, like a crown, hence its name: Corona Australis, the Southern Crown.

For a naked eye observation before sunrise the grouping of bright Venus, dim Mars and the Moon in a nearly straight line makes a beautiful attraction on the 17th of the month.

Venus will remain the striking Morning Star for the rest of the year .

Full Moon is on the 6th of August with a penumbral lunar eclipse between 01h00 and 04h00. You have to look carefully because the darkening of the moon is very slight.

New Moon is on the 20th with the Moon at its closest approach (360,000 km) to Earth (perigee), which is usually a more favourable configuration for rain in the north of South Africa.

Jupiter is very bright just after sunset (mag. - 2.8) and is visible the whole night. The imaginary line from the Sun through Saturn and Jupiter helps to indicate the Ecliptic, the plane that the planets and the Moon describe around the Sun.

Saturn can only be observed for a short while after sunset at the beginning of August thereafter it will get too close to the Sun on its way to its conjunction with the Sun on the 17th of September.

Looking north a configuration like a large cross can be seen. This is Cygnus, the swan, thus also called the Northern Cross.

The Sun is our most observed star with six unmanned solar telescopes spread over the Earth, studying the Sun continuously. One of these automatic telescopes is at Sutherland where it tracks the Sun automatically and measures the oscillation of the Sun caused by the gravitational pull of the passing planets. There are also eight dedicated satellites keeping the Sun in their focus to measure solar flares, sun spots and the ejection of solar energetic particles that cause beautiful Auroras in the Polar Regions but that are dangerous to earthlings and especially astronauts. Never look at the Sun with unprotected eyes or through unsuitable equipment!

The beloved Southern Cross is now positioned on its side with the pointers above it, all of them soon to disappear behind the Swartberg until January; but the outstanding Magellan Clouds high in the sky will make up for this.

Keep the stars in your eyes!

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