We went to the Stardate South Island over the weekend and discussed how we managed to pack a Toyota Corolla with 100 tons of astronomical and camping equipment a couple of days ago on Milk-Way.kiwi. Aside from the mechanics of getting to Staveley from Wellington, in the North Island, we actually had a couple of nights with fantastic views and great company from a bunch of stellar astronomers from all over the South Island. In this article we have a look at some of the stunning sites that we saw in the night sky, retracing some old favourites and introducing some new awesome objects to get out there and find.
The first night was not the best seeing so the 200mm dobsonian, we had, provided some amazing views that, at times, seemed better than the giant 400mm Meade Lightbridge. I set the 200mm up with a 26mm 2” eyepiece which gave some fantastic wide views of the same stuff we were looking at in the bigger telescope. The great thing about these sorts of get togethers is that as the evening falls, the telescopes get set up and lots of discussion happens as astronomers compare equipment and help each other. During the evening we had a couple of talks, including one from Rob Glassey discussing some highlights of the night sky and in particular some very nice objects around Canis Major. Of these, the two that stood out for me were a beautiful double, 145 Canis Majoris, and a fantastic little cluster surrounding a bright star, called NGC 2362.
We’ll do a couple of videos to show how to find these two awesome objects but they are essentially along a line extended from Adhara through Wezen for about the same distance again.
NGC 2362 is a bunch of stars surrounding the bright star called Tau Canis Majoris. It’s an interesting cluster as it’s completely dominated by the bright star at its centre and it is thought that Tau Canis Majoris is actually part of the cluster, giving quite a contrast to the less bright stars. The cluster is very young, which makes it quite interesting as well, at probably around 5 million years old. In binoculars the central star looks like it has a bit of fuzziness around it and in a telescope the cluster is easily resolvable.
A little bit to the left of NGC 2362, is the fantastic and colourful double 145 Canis Majoris. This is a stunning sight and rivals the other colourful double in the Northern sky of Albireo, this one is a little smaller and not so bright, but I reckon the colour is just as good, if not better, than Albireo. It was a real pleasant surprise to see this fantastic double and we had great views of it in both the 400mm and 200mm dobs. The second night of the Stardate was crystal clear, we had a bit of rain in the morning and this seems to have cleared the sky up nicely. There was some suggestion that there may have been an aurora visible, but we saw no sign of it.
Rob gave another talk on Saturday night which focused on the objects of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). This was fascinating and really opened my eyes to these two nearby galaxies. I’ve only ever really looked at the Tarantula Nebula in the LMC and NGC 346 in the SMC so it was great to be shown that there’s a whole lot more to these galaxies. The conditions after the talk were perfect to get out there and have a look as well. Though Rob pointed out over 50 objects in the LMC, I think I only remembered about ten of them in particular, but I had a great time scanning the LMC and seeing the extent of the different objects. There’s a whole lot more to the LMC than the Tarantula Nebula. It was the same with the SMC and though I’ve spent plenty of time viewing 47 Tucanae and a little bit of time on the less popular next door globular cluster of NGC 362, I’ve never really spent much time looking at anything in the SMC. The big 400mm telescope really worked a charm on the two clouds and showed up many of the objects that Rob had talked about.
This is the real value of these sorts of events. They are a great opportunity to learn about the night sky from other astronomers and share techniques and information.