[AZ-Observing] Finally realized

  • From: Bob Christ <bchrist@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: az-observing@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2009 14:05:59 -0700

For many years I fondly associated the term “Southern Cross” as being 
something distant and adventuresome, my thinking incited by my exposure 
to the term's use in film; I simply liked the sound of the name.

Years ago I attended a cruise ship lecture about the Southern sky while 
sailing the waters of French Polynesia and learned the Southern Cross is 
a recognizable object in the sky; this before I became actively engaged 
in astronomy. I also learned that there are false crosses that can be 
mistaken for the real deal. The lecturer said to liken the Southern 
Cross to a baseball diamond. The brightest star is home plate, and there 
is a “base runner” between home and first – a star not present in the 
false crosses. Armed with this information, I proceed to look for the 
Southern Cross each night and was greeted with cloudy skies.

Not to be deterred, several years ago my wife and I took a cruise 
throughout Asia that began in Singapore and I was sure I would be able 
to “bag” the Southern Cross during this trip. Not so. Again the skies 
were cloudy each evening: foiled again. I am detecting a pattern here: 
cruise ships + ocean + sky = disappointment.

This month my wife and I took a cruise around South America and I was 
prepared with a Southern Hemisphere chart from SkyMaps.com and pages 
copied from my Sky & Telescope Pocket Atlas. Not only was the target the 
Southern Cross, but now also Omega Centauri. “If I cannot see one 
object, perhaps I cannot see two.”

We lodged in Valparaiso the night before boarding the ship and late in 
the evening I climbed to the roof of our mini-hotel and looked up. There 
it was in all of its glory: the Southern Cross. I was ecstatic! The sky 
was not perfect and I could not detect the “base runner,” but knew I was 
on the real cross, guided by the pointer provided by Alpha and Beta 
Centauri. Exhausted from the plane trip, I had forgotten to take my 
binoculars with me to glance at Omega Centauri. One for two.

Out at sea, once again the formula for disappointment prevailed for a 
string of nights until the ship^ had reached southern Chilean waters. On 
the first cloudless evening, I looked up and there was the Southern 
Cross, poised about 50 degrees high in the sky! Using my 9x25 
(non-astro) binoculars, I was also able to bag Omega Centauri. Two for two!

Following a conversation with the Cruise Director, he asked if the 
captain could turn off the lights on Deck 11, the highest one, at some 
point to view the sky. On the evening of March 25, the sky was clear and 
at 11PM the lights on Deck 11 were turned-off. The Milky Way simply 
jumped out, and the 50-60 of 303 passengers that stayed awake beyond 
their bedtimes were treated to a wonderful sight that most have never 
seen. I pointed them to the: Southern Cross, one of the false crosses, 
Sirius (sky’s brightest star), and half of the winter hexagon (Sirius, 
Procyon, and Pollux/Caster) because the remaining 3 stars had settled 
below the horizon "taking Orion" with them. I was a great time.

My quest had been satisfied, save for one downside: I missed this year’s 
Messier Marathon. Oh well, next year’s marathon will roll around 

Clear skies.

Bob Christ

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