Checking Out The View From Down Under

So this post is a result of a stuff-up. Not just by one person, but two.

I’ve been down in Sydney, Australia for the last couple of weeks on a sort of holiday. I’ve been staying with a good friend of mine, Robert, who moved here a couple of years ago.

We decided to go out on the town and got back to his place late at night. As we were walking to the front door, I see him padding down his pockets.

He had lost his keys.

He asked if I had bought the spare pair he had given me whilst I was staying with him. Nope.

So there we were locked out at 3 am in the morning. After calling a locksmith we had some time to kill as we waited for them to come and save the day.

The great thing about Robert’s house is he lives out of town, so you don’t get much light pollution. Which means you have a clear view of the stars.

As I lay on the grass waiting for the locksmith, the first thing I realised is how different the stars look in the southern hemisphere compared to the north.

I could see some constellations I was familiar with, but they weren’t in the right place, and others weren’t there at all. There is a reason for this.

You may notice in photos of the night sky (like above) that the stars move in a circular motion around the sky. This is due to the rotation of the earth. The stars nearest the point the stars rotate around (known as the celestial pole) tend to make smaller circles and don’t go below the horizon. These stars that are always above the horizon are known as circumpolar stars.

On the other side of things, there are stars that are always below the horizon. They are called never-rise stars.

An interesting fact is that circumpolar stars for the northern hemisphere are never-rise stars for the southern hemisphere.

As I lay there on the grass out the front of Roberts house, I was seeing stars I hadn’t seen before. It was exhilarating. I wish I had my equipment with me.

As I looked up at the sky, I immediately noticed that I couldn’t see the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is one of the main constellations in the northern hemisphere. I couldn’t see any sign of it! After some research, I found out that if you want to see the Big Dipper in the Southern Hemisphere you need to go north of latitude 25 degrees south to see it in its entirety. Apparently if you are in the northern part of Australia, you can only just see an upside down Dipper on the horizon just after sunset. Crazy!

For Australians, it is the same for their beloved Southern Cross. The Southern Cross can be seen year round in their night sky. It is even on their flag!

Despite its name, you can see it above the equator, but unlike in the Southern Hemisphere you won’t see it all year round in the North. Eventually, the curvature of the Earth gets in the way.

Eventually, the locksmith came and I was happy to be in bed. But I was also grateful for the small moments looking up at the sky.


mauna_kea.jpgOne month ago my mother told me to prepare my nerves and that I am going to experience how it is to drive in a plane in two weeks. I was kind of terrified by the idea of flying in a giant pile of metal, but I suppose things that are new to us can be quite scary.
She didn’t want to answer where we are going, it was a surprise. To be honest she have the best surprises you can imagine so I was really looking forward towards whatever she was planing this time.

Two weeks passed fast and as we arrived to the airport I realized we are going to Hawaii! That was amazing, a surprise vacation. I told her how I can hardly wait to start swimming, but her response was that we might not have time for that. So why the hell would we go to Hawaii if not to enjoy ourselves in the ocean?

As we arrived to Hawaii in that shaky and rather scary airplane (my hands were dead tired from clenching when we arrived) we went straight to rent a car and drove towards a huge mountain. She said it was an inactive volcano named Mauna Kea and that we will be going straight to the summit which is 14,000 feet higher than the water level. The little gears in my head started turning and I remembered.. Mauna Kea… world’s largest astronomical observatory. Suffice to say I couldn’t control myself and was even more excited then before.

We stayed for their nightly stargazing program at The Visitor Information Station which was amazing and their staff was very knowledgeable. I think even my mother learned couple of things.

After a good night sleep we went for the summit, which introduced me to altitude sickness. The sudden change in oxygen levels and climate were rather shocking. The trip was a fantastic experience.