The Milky Way - starry magnificence

Those who come to see these wild and beautiful desert places come for many reasons - the space to breathe, for time to still the mind, and for their eyes to rest on natural phenomena. One thing they are often not prepared for is the awe-inspiring night skies – and this is the impression many take away as a powerful memory of a desert.

Devoid of light pollution, the 400 odd billion stars of the Milky Way arches overhead in such splendid magnificence, few remain untouched by its extraordinary radiance. But one of 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, one is humbled by the sheer magnitude of it all.

Within the Milky Way, and unique to southern latitudes, is Crux - the Southern Cross. Visible at any time of year and an easily recognisable constellation, it is of significance to several southern hemisphere cultures.

Crux as navigation

Often used in national flags (Australia and New Zealand) or as jewellery and even corporate logo’s – like our own galloping horse with the bright Alpha Centaurus above the horse. This is the 3rd brightest star in the skies and is closest to the sun. It forms one of the two pointers which, together with the 5 stars that make up the Crux and was used by navigators to find the south celestial pole.

Lying in your camp-bed at night with the starry magnificence above, one easily recognisable constellation is that of Scorpio, the scorpion. More than any other constellation it really does resemble its name. The bright star Antares (Alpha Scorpii) forms the heart of the scorpion is a red supergiant, one of the most luminous of the observable stars – even more luminous than the sun. In Greek mythology Scorpio of the slayer of Orion, the hunter

Orion, also visible in the northern hemisphere is easily recognisable by the three stars which make up the belt of the hunter. Not far from Orion is the brightest star in the sky, Sirius also called the dog star. The Greeks thought that Siris added its heat to the sun, producing the warm summer months and the word Sirius means “scorcher”, so the hottest days of summer were called ‘dog days’.

For those who are lucky enough to have spent nights under the majestic Milky Way will know that words fail. Even photographs are not able to capture the grandeur which apprehends one on seeing this remarkable spectacle. We can but live in captivated wonder…..

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