My wife is a remarkable woman in a great number of ways. I won’t delve into all of it but we often say, usually in the guise of a funny story, that we knew we could live together after a particularly dirty, smelly camping trip when we both laughed about what a mess we were rather than snap at one another. It’s true. We travel well together and this trip has been no different. She has been invaluable in getting me on my feet in South America and where figuring out how to get around would have been a pain in the ass by myself it has provided endless entertainment together. Tonight, at just a bit before midnight, her plane will take off, heading north. As princesses do, she has left a shoe.
Well, okay, two shoes. And they’re boots. And, man, they’re dirty.
I’m counting the days until she returns.
In a fragile state and at loose ends, I decided to shut South America out with some good old-fashioned American sittin’ on the couch and watching TV. I checked out the latest Jane the Virgin.
Son of a bitch.
Okay, when in my life things have been seriously out of kilter, I have, as many reading know, turned to the stars. It’s also no secret that exposure to the southern sky was a big factor in my taking on this assignment. I’m in the middle of Buenos Aires, so it’s very light polluted (seriously, folks, you don’t need that much light). Anyway, from my balcony I get a pretty good look at the sky. As it happens – and, really, I can’t explain this – it doesn’t seem that light polluted here. The sky has been really nice the last few nights but tonight there are some thin clouds and, yet, there are many, many stars visible in the sky. From Santiago, I was just able to make out Crux (the Southern Cross) and Alpha and Beta Centauri. Here, they are bright and plain. As is Orion, who is upside down.
Not to veer too far off course, or, perhaps, that is the point, but one reason the southern sky is so attractive has to do with where our Solar System is relative to the Milky Way. If north is up, our planet is slightly above the plane of the galaxy. So the stars one sees from the southern hemisphere are, on average, closer to us and there are more of them. So from a light polluted southern city, you’ll see more stars than in an equally light polluted northern sky. Still, I’m surprised by what I can see from my balcony.
Of course, I’m sitting here with astronomy gear, so I should put it to use. I think I may have worried my neighbors with this but I managed to shoot a decent image of Crux (upper left) and Alpha (lower right) and Beta (to Alpha’s upper left) Centauri from the balcony. This required setting the camera up and basically pointing it at the building next to me. Hopefully, this is just the first of many stellar images from the trip and, also hopefully, they’ll get better.
The Southern Cross is more a kite and, from the southern hemisphere adopts a variety of orientations as the Earth spins underneath it. From around the latitude of Hawai’i, it only ever pops just a bit over the horizon and stands like a cross. From here, as the photo shows, it’s hard to get a cross out of it. Alpha Centauri is, of course, the nearest star system to earth at just over 4 light years away. So the light captured in this photo left the star (stars – it’s a multiple system) around Christmas 2012.
I have no real conclusion to this piece. Four year old light from a star doesn’t fill the boots.