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Observation Report
Alexandra, New Zealand, Monday, May 14, 2001

First Exposure to the Southern Skies

by: Shneor Sherman

Despite over 30 hours of travel, capped by a drive of over 5 hours through the very extremely scenic interior of New Zealand's South Island, I was not about to abandon my first night to fatigue, though I had enjoyed but a few disjointed of hours of sleep on my journey. (Though I was not fool enough to try to set up my 13", which survived in good shape.) After a shower, I called my Alexandra ("Alex" as the natives refer to it) contact, Alan T., with whom I have been corresponding for seven or eight months, who picked me up, introduced me to his lovely wife, served a wonderful dinner, and then took me to the local observatory, at the edge of the airport.

The observatory is a boxy building about 15 feet high. Inside sits a 21-inch Newtonian on a massive equatorial mount. The entire building rotates, and viewing is done from a shelf about 7 feet high. The weight of the telescope and fork arms are not balanced by equit\valent weight on the other side, but is set in concrete. We did not use the telescope. Alan had brought two pairs of undistinguished binoculars, a 7 x 50 and a 10 x 50 with a tripod mount.

The skeis had been cloudy off and on through the late afternoon and evening. It was now about 8 p.m. (dusk was about 6). The Milky Way shone above, from horizon to horizon, through Scorpius all the way to Gemini. Interspersed with the Milky Way was a glorious spread of jewellike stars, many in Centaurus, against a velvety-black sky, with the Southern Cross nearly overhead. To the South the Magellanic Clouds were visible, looking just like normal clouds, except for the lack of motion. the LMC higher and to the right.

I handheld the 7 x 50s and viewed the LMC. The Tarantula Nebula was easily visibile, a giant cloud of glowing gas. I turned to the LMC, and saw the glow of 47 Tucanae to the left. Alan showed me the Jewel Box in Scorpius, an open cluster that looked almost 3-dimensional, as one colored star (reddish, I think) seemed to be closer than the rest. I tried to identify constellations, but some seemed to be upside-down and thus difficult to recognize. Got Centaurus and Carina, the Southern Corss, and perhaps a couple of others. But by now the clouds were moving back, and I finally had to give in, so we packed it in.

Alan said that the sky was OK, not good. It looked good to me, though there was considerable moisture in the air. Very steady, no twinkling. Alan said that the skies are often much better. I hope the forecast changes for tonight...

Clear skies,
Shneor Sherman

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