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Southern Skies Observing


The best time to go would be when the Milky Way is right across the sky splitting it in two. This would be during May and June and especially a week before new moon so that the skies are really dark.


Looking at the 'Light Pollution map' it should be possible to find really dark sites near your destination. To get the best look for a site that has a S.Q.M. reading of 21.6 or better (22.00 being the darkest).or (Bortle scale 1 , 2 , or 3).


A pair of 10 x 50 binoculars or a spotting scope (70 - 100 mm) mounted on a table top tripod.
The bigger the better if you can transport it.
Contacting a Local Astronomy Club before your trip may enable you to use some of their scopes especially in Australia and New Zealand.

What to see:

  1. The Milky Way
    With all its Nebulae, 'just amazing' Best seen with naked eye lying on a camping mat or lounger with some 10 x 50 binoculars, to zoom in on any interesting objects.
  2. Large Magellanic Clouds
    Lots of H2 regions especially the naked eye 'Tarantula Nebula'. 10 x 50 binoculars show so much more. A small scope will show dozens of its open clusters and some of the globular clusters. To study the L.M.C. on its own would take many months.
  3. Small Magellanic Cloud
    Some H2 regions and a few open clusters.
  4. Globular Clusters
    The brightest and biggest is 'Omega Centaurus' a fabulous sight and resolved into many stars in 10 x 50 binoculars. Just stunning in a travel scope.
    Next is 47 Tucana, a beautiful sight (next to S.M.C.). A couple of other large globular clusters are:-NGC 6397 in ARA and NGC 6792 in Pavo.
  5. Open Clusters
    The 'Southern Pleiades' in Carina. 'The Wishing Well' Cluster in Carina (NGC 3532). The 'Jewel Box' in Crux. Note: The Wishing Well group is about 4 times larger version of M37). There are many more esp in Carina and Vela.
  6. Nebula (bright and dark)
    • Eta Carina, a naked eye object like M42 but about 5 times larger, great in 10 x 50 binoculars.
    • The 'Coal Sack' a dark nebula (a naked eye object) South and West of The Southern Cross.
    • The 'Emu' a very large dark nebula spanning a greater part of the 'Southern Milky Way' (similar to the Pipe nebula but much much larger). It fills most of the space between the 'Pipe' and the 'Coalsack'.
    • 'Thor's Helmet' NGC 2359 a bright nebula in Canis Major (this can be seen from Northern latitudes also.) Needs 12" scope or larger together with an 03 filter.
      This is a 'Wolf -Rayet' star blowing a big bubble in the interstellar medium; a really fascinating object.
    • 'Pencil Nebula' in Vela again needs a 12" or larger scope.
  7. Other Galaxies
    • Alpha Centaurus NGC 5218, an eliptical galaxy with a dark bank crossing its center, binoculars and telescopes needed to see it.
    • NGC 4945, an 'edge on' in Centaurus (just to the right and below Omega Cent. Glob.)
    • NGC 6744, the 'Great Pavo Spiral' galaxy. Needs a 8" or larger scope.
    To see some other famous galaxies it is necessary to visit the Southern hemisphere in September when the following will be available early in the night.
    • In the constellation of Cetus and Sculptor are the following NGC 247, 253 and 55, all large 'edge on' type, the best by far is 253, a really big bright one with lots of mottling.
    • The GRUS Triplet NGC 7582, 7590 and 7599 (similar to the Leo Triplet), a little nearer to the South Pole.
    • M83 the Seashell galaxy in Centaurus, can also be seen from U K but very very low down in the South through the thick atmosphere.

I hope the foregoing will help if you venture South for some stargazing.