Southern Hemisphere Stargazing

Published: 10th February 2011
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There are so many excellent reasons to travel below the equator, and here’s one more: the night’s sky. You might be thinking that you can stargaze anywhere. Yet the sky down under is a completely different wonder, full of gems you may not have realized exist in outer space.

The hemispheres are upside-down from each other, making the moon and constellations such as Orion appear inverted in the southern hemisphere. The moon, planets, and many constellations are visible globally. However, the constellations closer to the North and South Poles are only visible in the corresponding hemispheres. These constellations are called circumpolar constellations, and explain why northerners see the big dipper while southerners cannot. Those in the southern hemisphere aren’t missing out, because there are 11 circumpolar constellations in the southern hemisphere. Six are first-order magnitude stars, whereas the northern hemisphere only has five circumpolar constellations, none of which has very bright stars. The South Pole faces the galactic center of the Milky Way, allowing for billions of stars to shine down.

Try to spot the brightest constellation, the Southern Cross, a characteristic constellation represented on the Australian and New Zealand flags. Within the Southern Cross, is the Jewel Box Cluster, full of colorful stars that come from a red supergiant, bright blue supergiants, and other brightly colored stars. Next to the Jewel Box Cluster is Omega Centauri, a bright globular cluster of stars that orbit the center of the Milky Way. Another visible southern circumpolar constellation is Vela. The constellation with greatest amount of visible stars is Centaurus.

The Milky Way is brighter in the southern hemisphere making it easy to spot dark nebulae within the white streak. Located between the two brightest stars of the Southern Cross is a prominent nebula in the Milky Way, named the Coalsack Nebula. Try connecting the nebulae within the Milky Way to create the Emu in the Sky. Additionally, be sure to watch for stunning galaxies that look like clouds.

One of the best places to stargaze in the Southern Hemisphere is Chile’s Elqui Valley. In Northern Chile, the large expanses of uninhabited desert and dry thin atmosphere have made the Elqui Valley one of the premier astronomical centers in the world. There are three large observatories, including one designed especially for the public. Further north, in Chile’s Atacama Desert there is also excellent stargazing. The highest desert on the Earth provides clear skies, little light pollution, and dry air. View the night’s sky at Observatorio Cerro Mamalluca or stay at Hotel Elqui Domos where bedrooms have detachable roofs. Astronomy fans travel half way around the world just to see the dark sky lit up by unbelievable stars and galaxies.

This guide to stargazing in the southern hemisphere was written by a Chile travel expert at Chile For Less available to help you custom design your exciting Chile vacations.

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