Friday, February 20, 2009

The Night Sky

Since the moon isn't full anymore, the rest of the night sky is absolutely brilliant. On a clear night, there are thousands of stars littered across the sky. In the past week, I've seen some of the most amazing night skies of my life.

Since I switched from the night shift to the day shift, I was able to see the planet of Venus sinking to the west, an hour or so after sunset (~8-9 pm). Venus is only ever visible in the night sky just after sunset or just before sunrise, because it's closer to the sun than the Earth is. Unfortunately, the only time I was able to get a picture of it with my camera was shortly after sunset; compared to the sun, it is quite dim. This picture is from February 21st, and Venus is the dot in the top right of the picture (you have to look very hard to see it).

At first, the southern sky was so foreign to me that I didn't recognize any of the stars except those in the constellations of Orion and Canis Major - which can also be seen in the northern sky. But after some help from the guys on the bridge (and a neat navigation program on their computer), I've finally seen the Southern Cross that everyone mentions. Some other familiar favorites are the Pleiades, and the Big Dipper. I didn't even think that I would be able to see the Big Dipper in the southern hemisphere, but early in the morning, part of it is visible just above the northern horizon.

It really isn't easy to pick out constellations, because there are thousands of stars in the sky. After a while, I became content to just lay on the picnic table on the deck or on the ropes in front of the bridge and watch the stars sway back and forth with the rocking boat. With a cool breeze and the sound of the waves crashing against the bow, it's quite possibly the best way to end the day.

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