It hasn’t been a year for spectacular astronomical events, such as comets, eclipses and interesting conjunctions of planets, but nonetheless it is always worthwhile spending time outside in the darkness, taking stock of our place in the universe. With loadshedding on the increase, these are perfect times for stargazing, as even the slightest light interferes with our eyes ability to adapt to night vision. Winter was cold and cloudy, with little opportunity or inclination to be out on the deck, and I generally take a look up before going to bed or early in the morning before sunrise rather than getting up in the early hours. This is a good pastime for the insomniac! I first started my amateur astronomy adventures at a time when I found myself awake most of the night, and although that has improved slightly, my interest in what’s out there hasn’t dimmed. I have graduated from an 8-inch Dobsonian to a 10-inch. Not an easy move, as it is unwieldy and requires two people to move it outside, and it’s not easy to adjust to the in-line spotter scope after the superior right-angled scope of the previous model, but stargazing involves a lot of patience and minute adjustments!
Last night I was awestruck by the clarity of the seeing (apparent blurring and twinkling of astronomical objects like stars due to turbulent mixing in the atmosphere of Earth, causing variations of the optical refractive index) and a tiny crescent moon hanging just below a startlingly bright Venus reminded me again why I find the night sky so fascinating. Higher up, the giant planets of Saturn and Jupiter followed the ecliptic, both dancing together in the sky over the last year and making interesting asterisms with the moon from time to time. At this time of year, one of my favourite constellations, Pegasus, is high enough in the north-west to give a good view of the Andromeda galaxy, our closest neighbour and with whom it is estimated we may already be interacting as we are set to pass through each other. With its light taking 2 million years to reach us, this may be a thing of the past already!
I would encourage you to step outside whenever the skies are clear, even for a few minutes, and look up and out into infinity.