Observations

The magnificent winter sky has Scorpius the Scorpion overhead, the Southern Cross high up and the ringed planet Saturn as a bonus. Excellent views can be had through Sydney Observatory’s telescopes!

The constellation of Scorpius is overhead in the early evening during August

The constellation of Scorpius is overhead in the early evening during August. A few of the main stars and star clusters in the constellation are marked. Diagram Nick Lomb

Winter is a great time to observe the sky. If it is not raining, the air is crisp with good visibility. In places like Sydney it does not get too cold and with a little rugging up it is perfectly pleasant to be outside. There is plenty to see with the wonderful constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion overhead in the early evening. It is a magnificent constellation as it is made up of bright stars so that it is easy to recognise and it is one of the few constellations that actually looks something like its name. In the diagram above we can see the claws of the Scorpion to the left, its heart represented by the red star Antares and its tail to the right.

The tail of Scorpius with the star cluster Messier 7 just visible

The tail of Scorpius with the star cluster Messier 7 just visible. Image and copyright Nick ©, all rights reserved

According to the Greek myth associated with Scorpius (NB it is Scorpius not Scorpio which is is an astrological sign), the Earth goddess Gaia sent the Scorpion to kill the hunter Orion as he was threatening to destroy all the animals on Earth. Scorpius was successful in his mission which he accomplished by stinging Orion and as a reward was put into the sky.

There are many spectacular sights in the constellation. Three of the best known are Messier 4, 6 and 7, the designation indicating that they were listed by the French astronomer Charles Messier in his catalogue. M4, near Antares, is a ball of many thousands of stars, known as a globular cluster to astronomers. At a distance of about 7000 light years, it is one of the closest globular clusters to the Sun. M6 is also known as the Buttefly cluster and is an open cluster with the stars spread out over about half a degree in the sky, which spread fits perfectly into the field of view of a small telescope. M7 is another open cluster of stars that is so brilliant that from a dark sky it can be seen withe the unaided eye.

The brightest globular cluster in the sky, Omega Centauri

The brightest globular cluster in the sky, Omega Centauri. Image taken remotely by students of Spring Harbor Middle School, Madison, Wisconsin, USA using a telescope that was for a while on top of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

The Southern Cross is high in the south-west sky at this time of the year in the early evening. There are a number of notable objects in its vicinity. There is a beautiful open star cluster named the Jewel Box near the second brightest star of the Cross, Beta Crucis or Mimosa. Above the Cross is the brightest and most spectacular globular cluster of all, Omega Centauri. Containing about 10 million stars packed together, it is the most massive of the 150 or so globular clusters that circle the centre of our galaxy.

The ringed planet Saturn imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994

The ringed planet Saturn imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. Courtesy Reta Beebe (New Mexico State University), D. Gilmore, L. Bergeron (STScI), and NASA

As mentioned in the title, at the moment we have the the planet Saturn in the western sky and conveniently placed for observation. Astronomers regularly observe this planet with telescopes great and small. Through a small telescope it may not look the same as the Hubble Telescope image, but nevertheless it is one of the most rewarding sights in the entire sky.

With so much magnificence on offer what are you waiting for? Come to Sydney Observatory and let the experts show you what’s up in the sky. Book a night tour today!

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