Stars are captivating. They are mysterious, mesmerising, beautiful. They inspire us to think big, to think beyond, to imagine what could be. Stars are a part of the mysteries that lie beyond Earth. What’s out there? What other secrets of the universe can we unlock?
Back on Earth, stars are also useful, they have been for centuries nature’s own reliable and informative navigational ceiling decoration. Needless to say, I am a big fan of stars. In fact, I love anything to do with space. Find something ordinary then add the element of space and it will instantly become a billion times cooler. Think ships are cool? Spaceships are cooler. Are you into rocks? Have you heard of moon rocks? And Power Rangers? Power Rangers In Space is by far the best series in the franchise- this is a statement.
Last month I visited the Sydney Observatory on Observatory Hill. I was super excited. I had even gone so far to ensure it was a moonless night in winter to maximise star presence and visibility. Inside the observatory is a cosy planetarium where tour groups sit and watch as constellations sweep back and forth under a large dome umbrella. It reminded me of the time when I went camping near Uluru. While laying outdoors on relatively frigid nights next to a firepit I would watch constellations roll pass. With the aid of my trusty star app, I traced the constellations like a giant join the dots puzzle. By the end of the week, I could tell time to the closest hour by finding the position of the constellations relative to the horizon. But I digress. Back to the observatory.
The Sydney Observatory houses one of the oldest telescopes still in service. The Schroeder telescope in the South Dome was commissioned to view the Transit of Venus back in 1874. In English this means tracking the position of Venus as it crosses “in front” of the Sun, appearing as a silhouetted dot against a giant blazing circle. Nowadays the Schroeder telescope is used to show enthusiasts the stripes of Jupiter and four of its orbiting moons. It’s ridiculous that we can see in detail our giant neighbour 600 million kilometres away! That night we also spotted the magical Jewel Box cluster, the twinkling Alpha Centauri binary stars and the shiny, shiny rings of Saturn! Yep, you can see Saturn too- that night it looked like circle surrounded by a thick egg-shaped ring.
“Imagine the possibilities, reach for the stars!” they say. Obviously, this isn’t to be taken literally with our current level of technology, but there is still much to be seen, gained or gazed on a clear winter’s night. These nights, even without a telescope, Jupiter and Saturn are brightly visible low in the western sky. And, if you look directly above around midnight you’d see the constellations Scorpio and Sagittarius twinkling overhead. Those stars have been there for forever, and maybe the light that reaches us now originated at a time before civilisation as we know even existed. It’s super cool to think just by looking at those twinkling specks we’re looking back in time, participating in history in our own tiny transit within the vast universe.