Saturday, February 27, 2010

Starry Splendour over Prince Albert

- Hans Daehne -

In March we will have the Autumn Equinox already on the 20th after which the nights will gradually get longer. In Autumn we are in the ideal situation that we can still enjoy the last of the Summer constellations in the early evening above Prince Albert to the north-west and already see some of the early winter constellations in the late evening in the north-east.

Make a last effort to look at the Orion Nebula with a pair of binoculars on some kind of support – it is really worth-while. The Orion Nebula (M42) is the fuzzy patch above the three belt stars and it can be regarded as a maternity ward of stars.

The dense gas cloud that you will see is illuminated by the bright, young stars it has borne and the hydrogen gas itself is only made visible to us that way. Can you imagine how much gas there must be so that one can actually see it?

Seen through a telescope the Orion Nebula looks alive and photos from the Hubble Space Telescope show a colourful display of gas and stars. It is difficult to grasp that our Sun wastefully converts 4,3 million tons of hydrogen gas into helium per second – no wonder it is so hot in Prince Albert.

The three red “stars” that can be seen in an obtuse triangle are from west to east Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus, the red supergiant Betelgeuse in Orion and Mars.

Now at opposition Mars is the very bright red object in the otherwise inconspicuous constellation of the Crab. “At opposition” means that it is in “full Mars” position and thus at its brightest for us for the next two years.

Saturn makes its reappearance for 2010 in the constellation of Virgo and it will be at opposition on 22nd March with its rings still in the edge-on position. The imaginary line Mars – Regulus – Saturn – Spica is called the Ecliptic and is the orbit around the Sun where the planets and the Moon can be found. All the constellations of the Zodiac also lie on or close to the Ecliptic while Orion is a constellation on the Celestial Equator which is the other imaginary line in the sky straight from east to west. The celestial equator is the projection of earth’s equator extended skywards and runs approximately parallel to and close to Orion’s belt.

New Moon will be on the 15th and Full Moon on the 30th of March.

The brightest star (Sirius) is still up in Canis major and together with Procyon (Canis minor) and the red Betelgeuse it forms our Summer Triangle , an unilateral triangle with horizontal base (Betelgeuse – Sirius) and apex (Procyon) pointing down.

In summer we can also see the most beautiful open star clusters. In Taurus the Seven Sisters or Pleiades increase to 13 or 20 when viewed through a pair of binoculars. In Canis major not far from the bright Sirius is M41 and of course the Jewel Box close to Becrux must not be forgotten. If you really want to have lots of stars in your eyes look at the bright patches in the Milky Way to the right of the Southern Cross.

For any comment or celestial query feel free to contact Hans Daehne at:
072-641-9657 or at

Keep the stars in your eyes!

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