Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Night Sky at Arkaroola

Upon leaving Marree we headed South via Lyndhurst which didn't have much to offer, even the air pump at the servo didnt work, and Leigh Creek which is a small town but with a massive coal mining operation just North of it.  We took a gander at the massive scars left in the surrounds by the coal mining, which is due to end in 2025 I think, when they run out of coal.  Very interesting stuff, but the town was sleepy, we filled up with fuel, water and checked emails then left en route to Arkaroola via the Flinders Ranges...

Camped at Wetootla Gorge in Gammon Ranges NP which was a huge campsite that we had all to ourselves and very nice it was too.  We had a herd of feral goats pass by the campsite in the afternoon, whilst we were sitting out the heat and the flies, apart from that it was lovely and quiet.


Arkaroola, further North East into the ranges, was a hidden gem.  It is a wilderness sanctuary, family owned business and the dreamchild of a late Dr Reg Sprigg, geologist, astronomist, etc etc.  We spent one night bush camping there, but splashed out on an Astronomy tour of one of the three observatories they have on site.  Apparently NASA have called on Arkaroola to assist in observing deep space objects because they have no light or atmospheric pollution.  If you look at one of those Earth light maps showing all the light pollution that cities give off, then find Australia, then find the pitch black 90% of Australian outback, we were in about the lower left hand corner and high up in the Flinders Ranges.  Also interested Mars exploration societies have sounded out a number of Australian locations to find the most similar to our red cousin and picked Arkaroola as the most similar!  As you can imagine you can see a lot of stars from here.  I know this is geeky stuff, but I am quite excited to tell you this is what me and Em learnt and or saw from our trip to Arkaroola:

Southern Cross; The constellation containing the stars Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon Crux.  The Greek's named stars in alphabetical order going by brightest first.

Southern Cross's Pointers; "Alpha" the brightest pointer, pointing towards the tip of the Southern Cross is Earth's closest Binary Star - there are actually two suns rotating around each other with a distance of 12 trillion kms between them - at 4.5 light years away, but to the naked eye it looks like one star, and "Beta" Centaurii.

By working out the above two constellations you can then x4.5 the length of the Southern Cross along the longest axis, draw a straight line to the Earth's horizon and you have a navigational bearing of directly South (or the South Celestial Pole anyway).

Scorpion; very obvious when you know what you are looking for!  The 2nd brightest and red star up the body of Scorpion is Antares which is a red giant the same as our Sun, but in a later stage of it's life.  When our Sun is in the same stage in several billion years it will have expanded past Jupiter.

Saggitarius (sp?)/Teapot; I personally cannot see the hunter or Saggittarius, but I can see the Teapot!

Between Scorpion's tail and Teapot's base is thought to be the centre, and therefore oldest, part of our Milky Way (shaped like a discus with a bulge in the middle like a basketball).

Harp Constellation

Swan or cygnus Constellation (aka Northern Cross)

We also saw Jupiter (second brightest object in the Southern hemishere) with the naked eye, and through the telescope it's dust rings (I am not getting confused with Saturn here) and 4 main moons (Io, Europa, Gannimede and Calista).  There may be ice on Io.  And the moons of Jupiter all move in a peculiar orbit unlike our moon.  This is also the planet that caused - after spotting it and it's moon's orbits - Galileo to be imprisoned in the 1600's for suggesting that the Earth orbited the sun rather than vice versa.

Venus (third brightest object in the Southern hemisphere) with the naked eye, on the horizon.

NG407 (or 417 I cant remember) which is a nebula (or something!) about 15,000 light years away, but still in our Milky Way (our galaxy).  It would take man 7500 years at 300,000kms per second to travel here.  Maybe my maths is flawed (likely), but its a long way away!

The Moon at very close up; some awesome meteorite craters and the Moon's mare's or "seas".

Shooting stars (which we see a lot of in the Australian, esp outback, skies) are actually meteors about the size of a grain of sand.  Meteorites are the ones that make it through the astmosphere and hit the ground.  The glare we see when a meteor hits the atmosphere is actually the atmospheric gases glowing as they heat up, not the meteor itself.

Overall an excellent tour of something we have wanted to do during our trip around Australia and I reckon we chose the best place to do it.  Well recommend it to anyone and hope you have enjoyed reading about our experience!  And Arkaroola itself is well worth visiting anyway for the scenery, I dont have any shots of the night sky, but here is one of me and the car for good measure:


During our time at Arkaroola we had an almost very embarrassing incident.  We were due to turn up at 6pm to a briefing for the astrological tour.  We had spent the day driving around the 4wd tracks and looking around.  However when we arrived at the visitor centre at what we thought was 5:45pm there was nobody to be found.  We asked a guy at the bar and he apologised and said he had been out chasing his camels and had not made it back in time to conduct the briefing (he runs camel tours and night sky tours!) and had not turned up til 6:30pm.  Now this confused us immensely as we thought it was only 6pm.  The clock behind the bar said 7pm at this stage, so we asked him what the time was and he said the clock behind the bar was correct.  We walked away feeling mighty confused.  And on working out what was going on we realised we have been living 1 hour out of sync for the last week - since crossing the border across the Nullabor from WA into SA.  This is highly embarrassing and obviously not something you can do if a) you live in the city and b) have any sort of appointment to keep!  We started re-tracing all our steps over the last week and realised we had got shop opening times wrong (seeing shops close at 11am on a Saturday in small towns was, we thought, a strange time to close), also more importantly we were told Happy Hour in Marla Bar was 6-7pm and when we got there at what we thought was really 6pm expecting double drinks, the bell was rung and the double drinks ended, we cursed the barman, but in fact he was right and we had completely the wrong time...Anyway we managed to set our clocks correctly and got onto the astrology tour on time.  We are still amazed that we lived for one week in the wrong time zone though....we are sure this can only happen when you live for 6 months not knowing (or caring) what day it is or what time it is! 

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