Observing under the Southern Stars


OzSky Star Safari Panorama #2 (March 2014)

The Milky Way arches over our observing field at the OzSky star party in Australia.

What an amazing few nights it has been. We’ve enjoyed several clear nights under the fabulous southern Milky Way. About 40 people from around the world have had access to telescopes from 14-inch to 30-inch aperture to explore the wonders of the southern sky from a dark site near Coonabarabran, New South Wales.

I’ve seen lifetime-best views of the Tarantula Nebula, the Carina Nebula, the Horsehead Nebula, the Omega Centauri cluster, and on and on! But the views of Mars have been incredible, the best I’ve seen the planet in a decade as it is now close to Earth and high in our southern sky.

The panorama above is a stitch of 6 untracked segments taken with a Canon 60Da and 8mm fish-eye lens. Each segment is a 60-second exposure at ISO 3200.

The 360° panorama takes in the Milky Way from Canis Major setting at right, over to Scorpius and Sagittarius and the centre of the Galaxy rising at left. At top centre is the wonderful Carina and Crux area. The two Magellanic Clouds are just above the trees at centre.

At upper left is Mars, and just to the left of it is a diffuse glow – the Gegenschein, sunlight reflected of comet dust in the direction opposite the Sun. Mars is near that point now. You can just see a faint band running from the Gegenschein to the Milky Way — the Zodiacal Band of comet dust.

Observer & Telescope at OzSky Star Party #4 (March 2014)

Here, one of our observers takes in a view through a 24-inch reflector telescope under the stars of the Southern Cross, the pattern in the Milky Way behind him.

The nights have been warm and wonderful, though a little damp and dewy after midnight. However, rain is in the forecast again, a welcome relief for most local residents who want the rain. They can have it now. We’re happy!

– Alan, April 2, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Timor Cottage R.I.P.


Magellanic Clouds in Moonlight

Word has reached me that my favourite observing site in the world is gone.

Over the weekend, devastating bush fires swept through Warrumbungles National Park and surrounding areas near Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia. Several dozen homes were lost. Some were homes of friends I’ve made there in my many visits to the area in the last 12 years. Among the buildings burned and lost, Timor Cottage, the rental cottage where I stayed in 2010 and in 2012. Previous posts have extolled the virtues of this site. I’m told it is now ashes. Ironically, just last week I confirmed my booking for it, for a stay in early 2014.

Fortunately, all residents were evacuated safely. No one lost a life, just property.

The nearby Siding Spring Observatory managed to survive the fires largely intact, due in no small part to the fire suppression safeguards implemented in the last 10 years since the fires of January 18, 2003 that destroyed Australia’s other major optical astronomy site, the Mt. Stromlo Observatory. Some lessons were learned. However, they did not help the people living near by, many of whom were Observatory employees. It was, and is, a wonderful astronomy community along Timor Road. I wish them the best in their efforts to rebuild their homes and their lives.

It is life in unforgiving Australia — one month paradise, the next hell on Earth.

– Alan, January 14, 2013 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Southern Milky Way in the Blue of Dawn


Southern Milky Way at Dawn (December 2012)

At the end of a nearly perfect night of southern stargazing, I shot this wide-angle portrait of the southern Milky Way embedded in the deep blue of morning twilight.

In December at dawn, the southern Milky Way extends from Orion (at the extreme right) down through Canis Major, Puppis and Vela (where you can see a large faint red bubble-shaped nebula high in the south) then continues east (left) into Carina and Crux. The red Carina Nebula sits in the Milky Way and the Southern Cross is at left, rising before the two Pointer Stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri. The Magellanic Clouds sits above the cottage I’m using as my southern hemisphere home for stargazing while I am in Australia.

– Alan, December 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Cottage Under the Southern Stars


Timor Cottage & Magellanic Clouds

 

Here’s what heaven on Earth looks like to an amateur astronomer.

It’s a cottage all to myself under some of the darkest skies on Earth, and in the southern hemisphere where all the best stuff is in the sky. This is Timor Cottage near Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia, the self-proclaimed Astronomy Capital of Australia. Near Coona sits Siding Spring Observatory, home to Australia’s largest collection of optical research telescopes. I’m staying nearby, at this cottage under the stars doing my own southern sky explorations.

I was here in December 2010 but had to contend with torrential rains and floods two years ago. As you can see, the weather is much better in 2012!

This is a one minute exposure looking south, toward the most prominent objects in the southern evening sky at this time of year: the two Magellanic Clouds. They look like detached parts of the Milky Way but are separate dwarf galaxies orbiting our Galaxy and in the process of being ripped apart by our Galaxy’s tidal forces.

The red light at left is my other camera taking a shot of the Clouds through a telescope, the subject of my next blog.

It’s a perfect night when the only clouds in the sky are the Magellanic Clouds!

– Alan, December 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Southern Milky Way Setting & Zodiacal Light


On the eve of the November 14 total eclipse of the Sun, I was able to shoot the Milky Way setting amid the vertical glow of the evening Zodiacal Light.

This scene looks west toward the sunset point, but was taken well after sunset. The Milky Way and the area of Sagittarius where the centre of the Galaxy lies is just setting. The same area of sky contains a vertical pillar of light, very subtle, called the Zodiacal Light. This is sunlight reflected off dust particles orbiting the inner solar system and deposited by passing comets. The Zodiacal Light is best seen in the evening sky on dark moonless nights in spring, no matter what your hemisphere. But in this case it is November, spring in the southern hemisphere.

At left are the two Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, and visible at their best only from south of the equator. In this case we are at 16° South latitude.

The site is a lookout on the Mulligan Highway inland from Port Douglas where we made for the day before the eclipse and camped out overnight, along with a parking lot full of fellow eclipse chasers. But the morning still brought worrying clouds in the direction of the Sun, so we moved farther north to the site you see in my earlier Great Australian Eclipse blogs.

– Alan, November 20, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer