Nightsky and Neighbours. Both Stellar and Human…

Been out and about again. Quite often in the course of a day I’ll be about my business, walking from the base modules to the workshop or the garage and you almost forget where you are. Yes, it’s minus 40 and you’re wrapped up in umpteen layers of clothes but you are still really just out and about in the course of your working day – as stupid as that may sound to all of you back home. What you can’t ignore though is the sky, the weird atmospheric conditions and the horizon turning funny colours. I know I’ve probably repeated variations on that theme a few times now, writing about being down here, but one, I can’t help waffling about this stuff and two, I don’t remember things too well. Anyway, the more we get into winter, the more I’m really starting to enjoy looking at the sky. I think I’m turning into a bit of an amateur astronomer, I’ve had all the books I can find in the base library out, trying to familiarise myself with the stars, constellations and planets and generally try to get a handle on the stuff I can see as I wander around. I’ve been playing with the base telescope this week too – though I’ve not quite managed to get it set up and taking pictures yet but watch this space!

The more you know the stars and where they are in relation to each other the more interesting looking skywards becomes, once you get the brightest ones, such as Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri, and the more obvious constellations such as Orion, Crux (the Southern Cross) or Scorpius then you can work outwards and recognise more stuff. I think I might just be getting a little bit geeky about the whole stargazing thing.

The sights this week have included Venus as I was off trotting to the garage. You’ve probably all seen Venus, either in the evening or morning sky back home. It’s the brightest celestial body in the night sky after the Moon and can generally be seen way before (or after) any of the other stars are visible. Not long ago Venus was high in the sky down here, and I got some good pictures – though not with the telescope yet. First one that came to hand is this un, with venus above the Moon:


moon and venus antarctica

Right now though, Venus is lower down, nearer the horizon and because of where it rises and falls it appears to shine a number of colours as it comes up and down. The reason for this is that when Venus rises it does so  right about where the Sun used to pop up. The Sun is quite far beneath the horizon at the moment but it’s light still shows a tiny bit, making a deep red or sooty orange glow appear for a few hours in the afternoon away off to the North. Now, when Venus rises it changes colour before your eyes, depending on the clouds and atmospheric conditions. Sometimes it is it’s more customary bright white, others orange but every now and again it will appear as a brilliant red dot, almost like a traffic light, before changing colour again.

The other two planets curremtly knocking about in my sky are Saturn and Mars. Mars has been around for a while now and Saturn is not too far away from it – I think if you get a clear night back home you can probably see them both right now too. At the time of writing they should be close to the full Moon. Mars is the reddy orange star, to the left (or right for Northerners, we’re upside down here) of the moon. As you come closer to the moon the star Spica is next and then just before the moon, slightly yellow is Saturn. If I can figure out how to get the tracking working on our telescope I’ll try to get some pictures of it in all it’s glory, rings and all.

Edited to add: Nah, just checked and you can’t see any of that!! One hemisphere at a time for me I think.

The temps and conditions this week have been right for what’s known as diamond dust, microscopic particles of ice that hang in the air, shimmering in any sort of light and causing weird things to appear in the sky. I’ve seen these before in the daylight – things such as Sun dogs Sun Halos, Sun pillars and other gorgeous, multi-coloured, bizarre-sky things. This pic has been up here before, but I like it and it shows what I mean.


Sun halo

More rare is when these happen at night and it’s the moon showing itself off. This week as the moon approaches fullness  (on Friday the 13th – wooooh) we got Moon halos, pillars and dogs.

Moon pillar and Moon Halo


Moon pillar and Moon Halo

Moon pillar and Moon Halo, with saturn

Hard to actually focus and get the moon and the stars in detail at the same time as showing the halo but the last picture I’ve tried to limit the light taken in  and you can see the little dot to the right of the moon – well that’s Saturn (though it’s now further away from the moon) with the star Spica to the left and also the bottom of the constellation Scorpius., which can be seen in the first two pics. The 3 stars making up it’s claws begin to the right of the moon and its tail then goes up into the sky where it will curl and bend back on itself like a stinger. You might have to click on the picture to get a better look.

Here’s what I mean:

Moon, staurn and scorpio

Also got a nice email from another Antarctic winterer this week – who funnily enough likes the night sky too. Patrick, who is wintering at the South African base Sanae, which is one of our near neighbours (ie, only a thousand miles or so away)

This is a great picture Patrick got of the milky way behind the base, with a little bit of a tinge from the Aurora in the background:

SANAE under the milkyway

You’ve got to love looking up at stuff like that!


The rest of the time I’ve been fettling away with my winter gift. I think it’s turned out pretty good, though a bit more polishing won’t do it any harm, and I’ve also continued with the Race Antarctica. Still winning. but man, I’m wanting this to be over. Starting to feel like an old man. Only another 1500km’s to go though!







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s