In Episode SH030 of Star Hopping…
We’ll be exploring the rich Centaurus region, and we’ll use our star hopping methods to find the bright face-on barred Spiral galaxy, Messier 83, the peculiar galaxy NGC 5128, and the largest and brightest globular cluster in the sky, Omega Centauri.
Well we are back to locating some great deep sky objects, and this week I have a trio of very southern objects for you. For this of you located at about 30 degrees north latitude or below, these three targets are located in the deep southern sky. At this springy time of the year, of course we’re talking about the rich constellation of Centaurus, the Centaur. Spring is the best time to view Centaurus, and to take advantage of its highest culmination in our skies.
I think I have mentioned it before on Star Hopping, that for many years, I attended the Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys. The campsite where they have the WSP is between Marathon and Key West, and it lies at only 24 degrees north latitude. Having full ocean at the southern exposure, it is possible to see some extreme southerly celestial sights, such as Crux, the Southern Cross, and the great nebula Eta Carina, which only gets about 5 degrees up. But I have seen it from the Winter Star Party site, when we were lucky enough to have a clear sky right down to the ocean.
Positioned quite a bit above these low targets is the main body of the constellation of Centaurus, who is depicted as a Centaur; half man, half horse. Centaurus’ left front leg dips well below the horizon, even in the Florida Keys, and it contains our closest neighboring star, Rigil Kentaurus, also known as Alpha Centauri. This is the third brightest star in the sky, after Sirius and Canopus. The Rigil Kentaurus system lies only 4.3 light years away from Earth, essentially right down the block from us. If our own Sun were viewed from the Alpha Centauri system, it would appear as a bright yellow star of magnitude +0.46 in the constellation Cassiopeia, very similar to bright Capella that lies closeby in Auriga.
But well above Rigil Kentaurus, Crux, and Eta Carina are a pair of gorgeous galaxies and a massive globular cluster. Let’s check out the first one right after this…
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Credits for this Episode
- Star Chart Images & Simulations Courtesy of SkySafari Astronomy http://SkySafariAstronomy.com.
- M83 image by Scott Rosen
- NGC 5128 image by SSRO-South
- Omega Centauri image by David Hearn / Kissimmee Park Observatory