Farewell to the galactic core

One of the things I enjoy most about being a stargazer is observing the regular rhythms of the cosmos. Watching the ever-repeating cycles of the heavens is, for me, an almost transcendent experience that connects me with the universe and provides a sense of proportion on those days when life gets a bit intense.

The rising and setting of the sun is the most familiar celestial pattern. Each daily sunrise and sunset paints the sky with the palette of day and night. Earth’s rotation sets the tone for what is to come. It provides a regular heartbeat by which we can measure and anticipate longer cosmic processes, such as the phase of the moon or the sun’s annual apparent motion around the sky.

At night, the appearance or disappearance of particular constellations or asterisms has helped astronomers from many cultures record the change in seasons; for example, the appearance of Matariki before dawn in June or July marks the beginning of the Māori new year, signalling it is time to start planning and preparing for spring.

Each November, around the time of the New Moon, I always take time to enjoy the end of another annual cosmic cycle. At this time of year, we enjoy our last view of the magnificent star clouds at the centre of our galaxy after sunset in the west before they disappear when the sun obscures the winter constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius. The observing season for the galactic core is about to end. With the new moon occurring at 6.55am on Wednesday, the next few evenings are the perfect time to wave a fond farewell to the heart of our galaxy.

The galactic core becomes visible in the morning sky in spring, is high overhead at midnight in winter and its disappearance into the sunset at this time of year informs us that summer is just around the corner.

Watching the so-called galactic kiwi slowly disappear below the horizon as the sky darkens is, for me, one of the finest sights in the heavens. Farewell, my galactic friend, see you again in autumn!