Category: StarryTelling

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PhotoPills: imagine, plan, shoot – an astrophotography planning tool.

“Any photographer that has a question that needs an answer can use PhotoPills. Beginners use it to find sunrise and set times, golden hour and blue hour times…” (my favourite is actually all the crepuscular information) “and for basic calculations like depth of field. Then we have the photographers that plan their Sun, Moon and Milky Way shots… it all depends on your needs.”

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The sky of April – a rope of stars

Lower down on the path of the Milky Way the two pointers look now as if they are hanging from the Southern Cross. First comes Beta Centauri (the genitive for Centaurus, the name of the constellation) then the famous Alpha Centauri. For Maori they are also known in a different time of the year as the rope of an anchor and I can’t stop but thinking that this is the end of my rope of stars. If I let it go now, I will fall into the center of the galaxy which is slowly and majestically climbing on the Eastern Horizon.

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The sky of March – The Shining Ones

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.

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The sky of February – only the brightest!

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.

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The sky of June – Preparing for the arrival of Matariki

It is the month of June again and once more here in New Zealand we celebrate the Maori New Year, Matariki.

Matariki is a lunar celebration. As you do with the Polynesian cultures, not everyone does everything in the same way. But some tribes, celebrate the new year, te Tau Hou, by observing the heliacal rising of the Pleiades, M 45, or as the cluster is called at this time of the year by Maori, Matariki. Some tribes use the star called Puanga (or Rigel). But no matter what marker they use, they observe its heliacal rising (that is before the Sun) just after the first new Moon that occurs after the longest night.

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When is Matariki?

It is the month of June again and, once more, here in New Zealand, we celebrate the Maori New Year, Matariki. But is Matariki really falling in June this year? … Is there anyone actually looking at the stars anymore? Kia Kaha and clear skies… and then since it’s Matariki soon and we are also remembering the dead, let’s not forget the Tohunga Suppression Act from 1907, and pray that the spirits of the tohunga tatai arorangi are watching us from the heavens, to send us hints to help us figure out when Matariki really is.

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The sky of May – Tahi, Rua, Toru

In Maori, tahi, rua, toru means one, two, three.

Three bright stars share the evening sky in May, and you can see them in three ways when you look at the sky: with the naked eye, with a pair of binoculars and with a telescope. I like each of these methods. They are, each in their way very special and each add a layer of depth to the previous one. My first binocular was called Li. That is because according to the Chinese wisdom, a road of one thousand li starts with the first step.

Cloudy Nights

Mention the words “cloudy night” to a star gazer, and they’ll mumble and grumble and say something like “Might as well get some sleep.” Of course in the southern hemisphere this takes on a whole different meaning. Cloudy night in this treasure trove of heavenly delights refers to an evening exploring our companion galaxies, the large and small Magellanic Clouds. And for northern star gazers this is very high (if not number 1) on the must see list. How amazing it must be to see another galaxy so large that you could fit 20 full moons across its diameter. That’s the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), and for the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) we’re looking at about 9 full moons. Let’s spend a moment exploring these clouds.