Field guide training: Astronomy – Part 2
Conducting game drives at night is an important task of a field guide in Africa. Therefore, essential knowledge about astronomy should not be missing. Learn more in our blog.
A night safari is part of the African experience as much as the animals in the bush. Far away from the bigger cities, on the southern hemisphere, the stars have an intensity that takes your breath away. Satellites which shoot through the sky and innumerable shooting stars, which burn up as soon as they enter the earth’s atmosphere make the sight of the African night sky an unforgettable experience. It can easily happen that you lose yourself in the vastness of the milky way and start thinking about the purpose and beginning of life.
The best time to observe the African night sky is around new moon. The moon is then situated between the earth and the sun and the part of the moon which is facing the earth is not illuminated by the sun. It is also possible to start a night safari before the moon rises, then the starts are accentuated in the best way possible. It is highly recommended to bring binoculars or a telescope to get an even better view of the stars. By the way: All stars which are visible from the earth belong to our galaxy. Our sun which is the source for all life on earth is just one star within. The other suns in our galaxy form the center of not yet discovered and unknown solar systems. Most stars are suns, which means that the words “sun” and “stars” can be used synonymous. One characteristic of stars is that they shine from their own power and do not need to be illuminated like, for example, the moon. The total of the stars visible to us are only less bright than the sun because they are thousands of light-years away from the earth.
To orientate yourself at night in the wild, it is important to know a couple of simple rules. A small, but very prominent constellation called “the southern cross” can be very useful. Similar to the great wagon on the northern hemisphere, which allows the location of the northern celestial pool with the support of the polar star, the southern cross can help locating the southern celestial pool in the southern hemisphere.
The southern cross consists of four stars called Alpha Crucis, Beta Crucis, Gamma Crucis and Delta Crucis. By extending the axis between Gamma and Alpha Crucis by 4,5 and constructing a perpendicular at the end of the line one can define the southern celestial.
Two other constellations which should be mentioned are Orion and Scorpios. Orion the hunter can be observed from the northern as well as from the southern hemisphere. From November till May he can be found on the night sky of the southern hemisphere. Even though the constellations are upside down, the famous belt of Orion and his sword are clearly visible. The sword appears due to the luminous cloud of gas called “The Great Nebula”, the belt is formed by the three stars Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak.
The scorpion appears on the night sky of the southern hemisphere from May until November. Contrary to most other constellations his name resembles the formation of his stars. The stars Shaula, Sargas, Anteras and Alniyat form the tail while Jabbah, Graffias and Omega 1 show the head with two pincers.
SourcesNature Guide – Learner Manual, Hine, Grant and Gillie
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