Saturday, March 20, 2010
Orion's High in the Southwest Sky
....as the song says. Except last week, when we were in Buenos Aires on vacation (short version: we got a cheap opportunity to spend a week in an exotic-sounding place, so we took it). And one clear night it occurred to me to have a look at the southern stars. Which was kind of hard, being in a big city with tall buildings and light pollution, but I managed to find Orion pretty quickly -- only somewhat higher in the sky than I'm used to and upside down. And of course Orion is closely followed to the southeast by his hunting dog, Canis Major, with the star Sirius -- the brightest star in the sky, and easily visible even through the city's sky glow.
So far, these are still things visible from southern Ontario where I've lived my whole life, just shifted to an unfamiliar angle (Buenos Aires is at 35 degrees south latitude). But continuing a little further south from Sirius I found another bright star: Canopus, or Alpha Carinae. At -52 degrees declination, it is never visible from home.
We spent a while mucking with Google Sky and trying to find a spot with a good southern horizon to check out the circumpolar stars, but never managed to identify anything. Unlike the case in the northern sky, there aren't a lot of bright stars around the south celestial pole, and it's too hard to make out constellations when you can't see a big swath of sky all at once. So we contented ourselves with having "bagged" Canopus.
Back home, I went for a walk about 9pm the other night -- and there was Orion back where he usually is, half-way up the sky, and with his sword hanging below his belt. And for some reason, more than any amount of exotic architecture, foreign money, or a different language, that made me realize that I'd been to a far-off land.