Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Star-gazing in Charleville

A man with a telescope journeyed out to Charleville 18 years ago.

The plot of land he camped out on happened to afford one of the best views of the Southern sky.

Last night, we shared in the star cluster and constellation excitement.

It was freezing but our visit to the Cosmos Centre was both enjoyable and educational.

Residents in Charleville rounded up $500,000 to fund the operation, inspired by one man's passion for stargazing.

Each night, visitors can book a seat in the open-air observatory. A guide provides voice over commentary while you peer into the GPS-powered telescopes.

One of the first clusters we had a look at is called The Jewel Box.

Positioned beside the Southern Cross, the Jewel Box is just a black empty space to the naked eye.

But hunched over a telescope, with one eye squinted, I could see just how appropriately-named the Jewel Box is!

At first, the sparkling dots are hard to make out.

But once my eyes adjusted, I detected pastel hues emitted from the stars.

As I gazed into the scope, the guide explained that the astronomer who discovered this particular cluster thought that the stars looked like gems scattered on a velvet mat in a jewelry store.

As the Aussies would say, "He wasn't wrong."

Below is a shot of the Jewel Box, captured by the Hubble.

Next we had a look at a nebula 12 billion-years-old, which sits right outside of our galaxy. When the Milky Way was formed, our galaxy was not strong enough to pull these stars in but, the stars were also not strong enough to pull away.

So there it sits, literally on the edge of our galaxy. And it holds one million stars!

With the telescope configured, we were able to see one million stars all at once. It was like looking into a really fancy kaleidoscope.

Next, we were really impressed with the binary star Alberio.

Sitting under our blanket, Alberio appeared to be just one star. With closer inspection though, we see there are two stars: one yellow and one blue.

These two stars were a little easier to identify because their colors were so vibrant.

The real treat of the night was towards the end though.

The guide pointed out Saturn with a super high-powered green laser.

From our seats, the planet looks like any other star in the sky.

Through the telescope, however, Saturn's distinct rings were immediately apparent.

The planet literally looks just like it's depicted in textbooks--only without the color!

Example of Saturn as seen from a telescope.

The guide explained that Saturn, unlike the Sun and other stars, does not give off light. The only reason we can see Saturn in the sky and through the telescope is because light reflects off the planet from nearby stars.

The reflection, however, makes the planet and it's rings appear only as white in color.

Saturn's rings are made of ice and rocks; if the rings were made of only ice, we wouldn't see them at all.

The last bit of the night featured a Magellanic Cloud, only slightly visible without the telescope.

The cloud, which holds a massive amount of stars, is actually in another galaxy.

Our view of the Southern sky was tremendous--a definite highlight of the trip so far.

A few times I thought about how we are all just a speck underneath such a massive, mysterious sky.

It's humbling to gaze up at a night sky and think about what else might be out there.

Just as I started to wade deep into thought, though, a shooting star would streak across the sky and usher me back into simple enjoyment of the night sky.



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