Old 07-26-2012, 04:19 PM
Southern Skies Star Party

July, 2012, I attended the Southern Skies Star Party on the shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. We were 12,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. The night sky was impressive. The Milky Way was straight up, arching from one end of the sky to the other. Scorpius was overhead, and further down the Milky Way was Crux the Southern Cross. Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, the Southern Pointers, pointed to the Cross. Alpha Centauri is the closest star to us (or rather its smallish companion Proxima Centauri is). The system is 4.4 light years away. 25 trillion miles. Alpha Centauri is the 3rd brightest star and thought to be sunlike. Its proper name is Rigel Kent, meaning "foot of the centaur." Beta Centauri is called Hadar. The Jewel Box is nearby, and we observed its gemlike stars through the telescope. It is an open cluster. I again saw the Coal Sack although it did not appear as dark as it did from Australia. We looked at Omega Centauri, the best of the globular clusters. It is a big fuzzy ball of millions of stars, named like a star although not a star at all.

We were 16 degrees below the equator, so the southern pole star was 16 degrees above the horizon. The southern stars rotate around Sigma Octanis as the northern stars rotate around Polaris. Sigma Octanis is very dim at 5.4 magnitude. The Southern Cross points to it, and I may or may not have seen it through my binoculars. The Cross is between the centaur's legs and used to be part of Centaurus.

In the old days, I never thought of Sagittarius as being a teapot. Now, it's plain! It's a teapot! Behind us was the Summer Triangle. Everything was turned around. Orion is the example everyone gives as being upside-down.

The hemispheres are upside-down from each other, and this causes constellations like Orion to appear inverted in the south. It is the same with the moon. It is easy to get confused.

We always feel like we are on top of the earth because gravity pulls us toward the earth's center. It is the same gravity that created the earth in the first place.

The first night is always best. It drops off quicky, and you make yourself keep going out. My roommate, an Iranian who left Iran during the political upheaval of 1978, located 45 galaxies in a single night. He went on to Machu Picchu in Peru.


Jewel Box
The Jewel Box (NGC4755) is an open cluster visible to the naked eye. It is near the Southern Cross. The "jewels" are red, orange and blue. These stars formed from the surrounding dust and gas.

Achernar is 9th on the list of brightest stars. It is a flat star. Its rapid rotation caused it to flatten. Achernar means "river's end," and it lies at the end of the constellation Eridanus the river.

Coal Sack
This dark nebula is a patch of dust and gas in the Milky Way. It lies close to Crux, the Southern Cross.

Sigma Octanis
Sigma Octanis is the south pole star. It is one degree from the south celestial pole and very dim at 5.4 magnitude. It is in the constellation Octans the Octant (a navigation instrument). It barely moves in the southern sky as stars revolve around it.

Argo Navis
Nicolas de Lacaille split Argo Navis into 3 constellations. Carina is the keel. Puppis is the stern. Vela is the sail. Canopus is in Carina.

Crux (Southern Cross)
Crux is the smallest constellation. It is near Musca. Do not confuse it with the False Cross.

Alpha Centauri
This is a triple star. Alpha Centauri A & B are comparable to the sun. They are 4 light-years away.

Magellanic Clouds
The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are irregular galaxies. A supernova appeared in the LMC in 1987. Its light was from a star that exploded 150,000 years ago.

Musca and Chamaeleon
I took a fancy to Musca the fly and Chamaeleon the chameleon. The chameleon is trying to eat the fly. They are near the Southern Cross.
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