En­joy the stars and hope the Mayans got it wrong


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODDISH - CASE RIJSDIJK

MAY 2012 be every­thing you want it to be and as Earth, Sun and Moon con­tinue on their way, our cal­en­dars start an­other year. It is, how­ever, the last year in the Mayan cal­en­dar, which al­legedly brings the world to an end.

But more of that dur­ing the year, which starts with an al­most quar­ter Moon. Full Moon fol­lows on the 9th, af­ter which the Moon wanes, with new Moon on the 23rd. The lat­est sun­set oc­curs on the 7th and with the Sun still high in the sky, we can en­joy some of those glo­ri­ous late sum­mer evenings.

The Earth is clos­est to the Sun, known as per­i­he­lion, on the 5th. In the­ory this means that south­ern sum­mers should be warmer than north­ern sum­mers. How­ever the dif­fer­ence is small, a mere five mil- lion kilo­me­tres closer than when at aphe­lion, fur­thest from the Sun, in July, and fac­tors such as the dis­tri­bu­tion of oceans and land masses over the Earth’s sur­face mean there is no real de­tectable dif­fer­ence.

Venus, the evening star, is vis­i­ble for the whole of Jan­uary, while Jupiter can be seen high up in the north-west.

The north­ern evening sky is still dom­i­nated by the sum­mer con­stel­la­tion, Orion. Be­tween Orion and the hori­zon is the con­stel­la­tion of Gemini, with the twins Pol­lux and Castor, Pol­lux be­ing a lit­tle brighter and higher.

To the west, left of Orion, the bright star Alde­baran in the small clus­ter of the Hyades is vis­i­ble and fur­ther to the west is isil­imela or the Pleiades in the north.

To the east, or right of Orion, is the bright­est star in the sky, Sir­ius, with the Pro­cyon be­tween it and the hori­zon, the two form­ing a large tri­an­gle with Betel­geuse in Orion.

The sec­ond bright­est star in the sky, Cano­pus, is high up in the south-east and is also known as Naka, the horn star, or E a dishwa: “it is care­fully watched”.

The Moon can be used as a “marker” again this month. On the 2nd, a quar­ter Moon is just be­low Jupiter, and by the 5th it will be be­tween isil­imela and the small clus­ter of the Hyades. By the 8th a gib­bous Moon will be be­low Betel­geuse and above the Twins in Gemini. Later in the month, in the west, a wan­ing cres­cent Moon is to the right of Venus on the 27th. By the 30th it will be to the lower right of Jupiter and fi­nally, on the 31st, it is close to isil­imela once again.

To the south-east the South­ern Cross and the Point­ers are clearly vis­i­ble and, high up, to the up­per right, the Large and Small Mag­el­lanic Clouds can be seen if you are away from city lights. These are the two near­est gal­ax­ies to our own: a lit­tle smaller than our Milky Way. The former is about 160 000 light years away and the lat­ter 180 000 light years away. A pair of binoc­u­lars should help you find the small Mag­el­lanic Cloud and on the lower right-hand edge is the glob­u­lar clus­ter 47 Tu­canae, look­ing rather like a “fuzzy tennis ball”.

It con­sists of about a mil­lion of some of the old­est known stars. There are many of these glob­u­lar clus­ters and they are found in the “halo” sur­round­ing our Milky Way galaxy. Many of the big­gest and best of these clus­ters are vis­i­ble in the south­ern skies.

As usual, there is an open night at the SA As­tro­nom­i­cal Ob­ser­va­tory and, in ad­di­tion to look­ing through some tele­scopes, there is a talk en­ti­tled “Our strangely re­pul­sive Uni­verse: The dark en­ergy mys­tery in cos­mol­ogy” pre­sented by Dr Chris Clark­son of the Univer­sity of Cape Town, on Jan­uary 14 at 8pm.

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