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Your experiences under the Southern Milky Way?

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#1 Lucullus


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Posted 13 August 2019 - 05:29 AM

While there are not too bad to good observing conditions in various areas where I live I've never been out of light-polluted Western Europe to do night sky observing. A colleague once told me about his Namibia experience where he could see the Milky Way cast his shadow and somewhere I read it is even so bright that the headlines of a newspaper can be read. After just heaving read this article https://www.eso.org/...-in-the-desert/ I am wondering how you describe your experiences under supreme observing conditions below the Southern Milky Way.

#2 Tony Flanders

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 05:45 AM

There are two factors at play here: the difficulty of finding dark locations in Western Europe, and the fact that the part of the Milky Way visible from the Southern Hemisphere is vastly bigger, brighter, and more beautiful than the part visible from Europe, which lies quite far north of the Equator.


There are in fact dark areas in Western Europe, and it's worth traveling to them. Parts of the Alps, Spain, the Balkans, Scotland, and northern Scandinavia are dark enough for the Milky Way to appear dazzlingly bright, and cast shadows.


But in the Southern Hemisphere right now, the huge broad center of the Milky Way in Sagittarius and Scorpius is now directly overhead. In Europe, it's seen cut in half by the horizon at best, and not at all at worst. Even brighter is the region starting in Alpha Centauri, going through the Southern Cross, and on through the Eta Carinae Nebula. Nothing in the northern Milky Way even comes close.

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#3 tchandler



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Posted 13 August 2019 - 06:04 AM

Travelling south (or north) of the equator for the first time will certainly enhance anyone's Milky Way experience. Having spent a year travelling in South America, I visited southern Patagonia in April and camped several nights next to a lake with a very European-sounding name (Lago Nordenskjold), located around 53 degrees south. Winter was already setting in, and long streamers of snow had begun coiling up the treeless slopes of the surrounding mountains. Down at the lake shore it was ferociously windy, but above freezing. 


Night fell above my little campsite. The Milky Way materialized, stretching from Orion to the west, through Centaurus and Crux high overhead, and on toward the southeast where Scorpius was rising tail first. A few clouds passed overhead, jet black silhouettes. One of these clouds didn't move, which turned out to be the Coal Sack. Canopus was circumpolar, passing almost directly overhead at dusk.


By dawn, Canopus had swung due south of the south celestial pole. The Sagitarius Milky Way was somewhat high in the northern sky, next to a third quarter moon. 


To witness the night sky from a wildly unfamiliar setting it to see the sky again, for the first time. 

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#4 Araguaia


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Posted 13 August 2019 - 06:55 AM

The Milky Way was at its brightest here last month, when Sagittarius and Scorpio were at about 45 degrees altitude and the bright band from Carina to Centaurus was still high above the horizon.  It cast clear shadows, and I had to shade the eyepiece to keep its glow out.  I didn't try to read by its light but I could see individual grass blades on the ground and tell the difference between my light beige shirt and the white telescope.


(digression: why does Meade paint their tubes white?  Don't they realize it is reflective and annoying?


Looking at it, I could see the whole Emu of dark lanes, of which the Coal Sack is the head.  The dark band split near Scorpio, with the upper band fragmenting into intricate filigrees of dark lanes.  The core of the galaxy behind them glowed all the way up to above Antares.  The Lagoon Nebula stuck out like a thumb of light.  M22 was a fuzzy spot in the brightness near the Sagittarius Tea Spout.  Sweeping around at low power with the scope was entrancing.  


Just as entertaining is the reaction of people who have never seen the Milky Way under dark skies.  It is one of the grandest spectacles of nature, on a par with a volcanic eruption or a great whale breaching.  

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#5 ChristopherBeere


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Posted 19 August 2019 - 07:08 AM

I remember my first time under the southern skies at Grove Creek observatory in New South Wales back in 2003.


The first couple of nights saw us locked in the observatory whilst a torrential electrical storm ripped through the blue mountains.


When it calmed down i headed out under a completely cloud covered sky and witnessed the darkest outdoor environment i had ever seen.


It was pitch black, no natural or artificial illumination. I could barely make out the silhouette of the observatory and managed to walk into the permananent equatorial pier. Twice.


Later that night the clouds broke and the southern sky beamed down on me for the first time. I could easily see the environment (and most importantly that **** equatorial mount !) illuminated by the bright galactic star clouds approaching the zenith.



My next trip south was in June 2011 to the Kalahari desert deep in the heart of Namibia. The Australian sky was awesome but for me Namibia was on another level.


In the high altitude desert environment there is practically no humidity and the transparency is outstanding - 4th/5th magnitude stars could be seen popping out from behind savanna bushes within 5 degrees of the horizon.


Airglow was a complete menace on the southeastern/southern horizons glowing brightly as high as 30 degrees at times.


It was here that i first saw the zodiacal arc in its entirety. With the galactic core setting on the western horizon in the early hours and the zodiacal light blazing in the east i was able to see the fainter zodiacal band arching all the way through the ecliptic plane from Sagittarius right back to the zodiacal light.


I also saw the light bridge that arcs from the Large Magellanic Cloud up into the galactic plane via Triangulum Australe.


You know the skies are close to perfect when you see these natural sky phenomena.



I am heading back to the Kalahari in 4 weeks time to spend another week under those magical skies. Because its close to the equinox the counterglow - Gegenschien - will be well away from the galactic plane and im looking forward to seeing it for the first time - its the last of the natural sky phenomena on my list !


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#6 MEE


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Posted 20 August 2019 - 03:42 PM


BrookObs made this post in the following thread:


“As a longtime reader of the IAU Circulars, I still vividly recall reading bulletins issued by a team of pro and amateur astronomers on an expedition to map and study the ZL, band and gegenschien during the mid 1960's. One of their releases noted that during the previous few nights members of the team had visually recorded more than a dozen areas of condensation within the zodiacal band that appeared to slowly shift position from night to night as the Earth moved along in its orbit!“

Perhaps something you could look for during your next trip to Africa?
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#7 ChristopherBeere


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Posted Yesterday, 10:10 AM



I most definitely will. 


That sounds like a very interesting phenomena, subtle shifts in density along the zodiacal band !


It is worth mentioning that whilst the zodiacal band is "faint" in relative terms it is actually quite prominent and you can resolve it with direct vision from the Kalahari. 

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