Evening entertainment Part 3 – Stars and satellites

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Southern Cross and Pointers

Watching the darkness fall as the muttonbirds come rushing home, you can’t help but be stunned by the unfolding display of stars. There is no light pollution on Maatsuyker Island (apart from the occasional annoying spotlight of a sheltering crayboat) and because it is not under any regular flight path, the only objects moving in the night sky are meteors and satellites.

By about 10pm, the birds had settled into their nests and silence prevailed once more. But on good weather nights,  it was impossible to go inside and turn your back on the beautiful night sky above. I had taken a cheap tarpaulin to the island to use for outdoor painting and drawing. It soon had another life as a groundsheet for star-gazing. We lay on it, on the patch of grass outside Q2 and with pillows and blankets you couldn’t have a more cosy set-up for watching the heavens above.

Looking west in the moonlight

Looking west in the moonlight

As well as watching the stars, we loved to spot Iridium Flares – Iridium satellites passing overhead soon after sunset, with their solar panels reflecting the sunlight.  If one happens to pass overhead, as it approaches, it quickly grows from a small white light into a blazing flare before dying away again a few seconds later as it continues on its orbit. Marcus would fax us the schedule on a fortnightly basis so we could watch out for them on cloudless nights.  You can get predictions for flares by entering your location on website http://www.heavens-above.com

Moonlight on the water was also a very special sight. This photograph was taken on a very calm night when the moon was almost full. Looking west, Cox Bight on the mainland can be seen in the distance.  The enlarged image also shows three cray boats that anchored in the shelter of the island that evening.

I was glad I took the tripod to the island so I could photograph at night. I had been hoping to see an Aurora Australis. We didn’t, but with all the other amazing natural phenomena at our finger tips, I could not be disappointed.

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