Elusive Wonders

The astronomy field school in Portugal has been a huge success again this year; more images, more students, more late nights. In fact every evening was utilized as the weather was blazing hot (34 degrees on two days) and the nights were calm and balmy.

Time not only to see old favourites, but to look up the objects that from 51 degrees North , cannot be seen. Objects such as messier 6 and messier 7 are very low from Britain; the bright star Shaula in the tail of the Scorpion never rises in Britain and the whole constellation is a truncated mess of the glory that can be viewed from the Algarve. Another favourite is the huge globular star cluster Omega Centauri.

It was discovered by Edmond Halley in 1667 and over 150 have been found since, orbiting the Milky Way galaxy. This star cluster has the appellation Omega after Bayer thought it bright enough to be a star to be included in his catalogue of the heavens. Omega Centauri is in fact one of the few such clusters that can be seen with the naked eye and it is the largest known globular cluster associated with the Milky Way, containing several million stars. It is located about 18,300 light-years from Earth. The stars in its center are so crowded that they are believed to be only 0.1 light years away from each other.

Looking through the telescope at this low smudge of light, we were eager to get a picture of it, but its size demanded a wide field camera. Our digital SLR’s captured the object, a reddish glow barely resolving into stars with the shimmer of air along the horizon, but along came distance learning student Andy Burns and captured this fantastic object with an Atik webcam on a 75mm Televue telescope with a 10 second exposure.

Fantastic stuff! We bow to the master!

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