Galactic core a beauty to behold

Photo: Supplied
Photo: supplied

Yesterday was a cross-quarter day, marking the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, writes Ian Griffin.

Ian Griffin
Ian Griffin
Many years ago, when working at the Armagh Planetarium, in Northern Ireland, I learned that in the Celtic calendar, where equinoxes and solstices marked the mid-points of the seasons, the cross-quarter day between spring and summer was called Beltaine. It was a day for song and dance, celebrating the coming of summer.

So, according to Celtic custom, today is the first day of summer.

Sunrise this morning occurred at 6.05am, with sunset at 20.38pm. Let's hope the clouds stay away for the 14hr 33min the sun is above our horizon.

The moon reaches last quarter on Saturday. This means that each night it will rise later in the evening, so for the next week or so, the early part of the night will be darkest and the best time to stargaze.

While not asking you to belt out a song to honour Beltaine, I will instead encourage you to find time to bid adieu to a rather beautiful part of the sky that is very much a symbol of southern hemisphere winter.

As the sun moves south, it is slowly approaching the region of the sky containing the galactic core. If you miss it, you will have to wait until February to once again enjoy the glorious star clouds of Scorpius and Sagittarius when they emerge in the pre-dawn sky.

If you are interested in photography, it is possible to obtain some unique ''selfies'' that include the centre of the galaxy.

To do this you will need a camera with a wide-angle lens focused on infinity. You will also need a sturdy tripod. Set your camera for an exposure of between 15 and 30 seconds at its highest ISO. Point the camera towards the southwest, set the self-timer, and press the shutter!

I tried this experiment myself back in 2015 and this week's picture was the result. It was taken on one of the pull-offs on the road between Brighton and Taieri Mouth.

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