Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Star is Born

"Eta Carina"

Wednesday evening was cold here in Christchurch. You could certainly feel Winter's imminent arrival. At 1 degree celcius (33.8 degree's fahrenheit) - I would have far rather been seated behind my torch, nice & warm - or even in front of the TV....anywhere, rather than outside traveling through dark rural roads with a car full of giggling teenage school girls & a 10 year old, on my way to the middle of nowhere to look at stars.

Such is life! A last minute thing, when the other parent that was going to take them got sick, meant that I had left home slighty stressed (I do like to know where I'm headed - especially in the dark!) - without a chance to look up a map, but with the assurance that there was a map on the back of the form the other parent had - all ready for me when I arrived to pick up the two girls from that point. It wasn't a detailed map!

We headed out of the city, already late - a stop at an ATM machine for one of the girls ensured we were even later. The country roads were dark - half of the signs couldn’t be seen in the headlights & each cross road I passed, I feared was the one I should have turned we'd stop, turn on the interior light & double check. We finally got there 12 minutes late - we only knew we were at the right place by the cars all parked in the middle of nowhere, but there was no other sign of all!

Once out of the car it was pitch black - we couldn't even see where the gate was. Eventually we fumbled our way in - judging we had approached the driveway by the crunch of gravel under our feet.
When we got to the building, which was lit by a single red light (I know!) I realised I had left my wallet in the car! I herded the girls still giggling inside to be assigned to groups & made my way back to the car. I was actually quite scared - that's how dark & quiet it was. Once back I joined the smallest group along with Gabriela & we let the big girls pretend they didn't know us ;o)

One look up to the heavens told me all I needed to know – The Milky Way in all of it’s glory, with the beautiful Southern Cross twinkling brightly – oh my! That alone was worth it – you just don’t realise how much you miss in the city with it’s bright lights reflecting & dimming the view, it was superb!

The first thing we got to look at through the 10” telescope was a cluster. To the naked eye this appears as a star just to the right of the Southern Cross. Called the ‘Jewel Box’ (Kappa Crucis) it is in the Crux Constellation & was a sight to behold!
Next on the agenda was Omega Centauri – a cluster of stars in the Constellation of Centaurus – pretty darn special when it is nothing more than a dim & distant twinkle to the naked eye. We were indeed fortunate, as these first two can only be seen from the Southern Hemisphere – so it’s makes it extremely special to get to see first hand what a large portion of the world won’t ever see with the naked eye or through a telescope, but only one film - which I now realise in no way prepares you for the feeling of standing there & viewing first hand.
One of the last stars we got to look at was through a 12” telescope, ‘Eta Carinae’ – in the Carina Costellation. Expected to become a super nova in the near future, it was different to the clusters we had looked at, being a nebula it is a star being born. If others hadn’t been waiting I could have stood transfixed at the end of that telescope for hours – feeling so tiny in the grand scheme of things, hugely humbled by the immensity of all that is beyond this earthly existence & the planet we inhabit.

Last on the list (well for me anyway) was a view that stunned everyone who looked through the 14” telescope – a small distant twinkle that when you put your eye to the piece became a huge yellowish rusty brown ball with a ring around it – Saturn in all of it’s magnificent glory! While waiting we had no idea what we were going to see – but the intakes of breath & utterances of ‘oh WOW’ that came from each as they took their turn pretty much gave those of us waiting a hint that what ever it was going to be was pretty spectacular! It was. There really are no adequate words to describe the feeling…at all.

For me that was the end of the night – I managed to put my leg down a rather deep hole (well it was DARK - & I was pleased that it was right at that point) & felt my ankle click out of place as it hit the bottom & went over on it’s side. Any light headedness felt after that was not the result of looking at the heavens - & after 5 minutes where I felt I was possibly going to faint (something I have never done in my life), I made my way back to the car with Gabriela & quietly waited the return of the older girls, while reflecting on how any of the beauty I had seen could possibly be interpreted into a bead….. I didn’t realise I already had begun that particular journey.

A reluctant star gazer is now eternally grateful for the series events that led to this amazing experience & the beginning of a new adventure.

Carina Nebula

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