April is the beginning of the season of the planets. Jupiter gets higher in the sky and Saturn and Mars start making an appearance. It’s also the month where we can start to fully appreciate the Milky Way as the Galactic Centre begins to rise.
Getting to know the southern sky is for ever a wonderfully strange experience. In any new place that I visit I always feel grateful for landmarks. On Earth, I am looking for trees and buildings and mountains, in the sky I always look for the brightest stars. Here in New Zealand, there are places and times when the light of the individual stars is lost in the haze of the Milky Way as if a blanket of tiny lights is covering the Earth at night.
Another year is upon us and January offers a great opportunity to get out and observe the night sky after making the best of those long summer evenings.
This is an astrophotographer-friendly blog, about what is in the night sky in August 2017.
Out I went and nothing prepared me for what I saw that night. On the pitch dark sky of Wairarapa, with luscious hills that hold the horizon in sweet curves that rest the eye, a luminous whirlpool of stars was erupting from the east. Silver river of stars, one of its arms was meandering the eastern horizon in oval arched loops like an octopus’s arm that passed a Southern Cross marking the 12 o’clock position on the celestial time keeper of the south. The galactic arm was thinning down towards the western horizon and righteously so as the further we go from Scorpius and Sagittarius, we are actually looking towards the outskirts of our galaxy, where fewer stars venture. I stood there in silence watching the slow rising of the Galaxy and I realised that it was for the first time in my life when I was truly seeing it with my eyes.
In Maori, tahi, rua, toru means one, two, three. So Atu-tahi – One, Taku-rua – Two, Tau-toru – Three,
or you can count Sirius (1) / Canopus (2) / Alpha Centauri (3) / Arcturus (4) No matter what you prefer, these stars will be there in the evening of May.
At the fringe of our milky city of stars, on the north-western horizon, the Pleiades, the Shining Ones (Te Tawhiti) are preparing for the journey to the underworld. They are to disappear shortly behind the Sun and will stay there for a while.
And the explanation goes that since people of old did not really have an explanation about space, in trying to figure out where exactly the Pleiades went, they invented a underworld. This is probably one of the reasons why this group of stars is so linked to stories of death, rebirth, and ancestors, and used to mark the beginning of the year in some cultures.