Posted by: rlearmonth | August 23, 2008

Under the Southern Cross

Most evenings, I get back to my cabin at about 6:30, and position myself with a drink in my hammock to watch the sun set and wait for the stars to emerge. My hammock faces southwest, providing a view of the sunset, and later, the Southern Cross high in the southern sky (I actually have two hammocks – the other faces northwest, for a better view of the sea). Last night was a particularly beautiful sunset, and the night sky was absolutely clear, complements of the northeasterly trades, which had been blowing about twenty knots all afternoon.

I am far from an expert on the stars, and can pick out only a handful of constellations – the ones we see in the northern hemisphere appear upside down in the southern sky – including Orion and the Big Dipper and maybe a few others if they are pointed out to me. But I had heard about software called “Stellarium” that is available for free on the web. I downloaded it, and am learning how to navigate with it around the night sky. The program automatically coordinates with the time and date on the computer, and when you supply the geographic coordinates, it gives you wonderful maps of the stars and planets, including variations on the constellations ranging from a simple outline of the stars to elegant artists’ renditions of them. It also provides details on individual stars, naming them and indicating their distance from the Earth. It is a stunning resource for stargazing.

I have a lot to learn about the various features of the program. I did find a “red” switch, that can be used when outside so the viewer’s night vision isn’t ruined. So last night I took my laptop out on the deck, settled in my hammock and skidded my cursor around the southern sky. I was awestruck. I may never sleep again.



  1. What a great way to spend and evening! You are so fortunate to have the laptop. In Swaziland I used to go out to look at the sky and then go look at the book and then go look at the sky that was covered by clouds by then. I didn’t learn too much.
    Keep learning and enjoying for all of us back here in the land of stinky politics. Peace, Lucy

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