Carina, The Cross & Gemini
February sees the return of the “Other Cross” to our skies. Carina is best known as the false cross and precedes the arrival of the actual cross or “Crux” as it is correctly known in our southern sky. The false cross does have the distinguishing feature of a fine bright naked eye star cluster at its base, C86 . The fact that this beautiful cluster has just a designation, shows just how northern hemisphere centric the naming of the sky was ! Aboriginal Australians though had names for the Stars and clusters. Especially the desert people who navigated by the stars when they traveled at night. As we move into the eastern Sky Gemini is rising with the legendary twins, Castor and Pollux are in fact two bright and nearby stars at 51 & 33 light years away respectively. Through a good pair of binoculars you will see a number of open star clusters at the feet of the twins. Orion, Canis major & Taurus that we discussed last addition are now high overhead in the early evening and make a fine sight.
As we move into March Crux is now rising higher in the the southern in the early evening and is a clearly seen constellation we should all know (it’s on the flag after all!) Crux has many delights even with a small telescope. Next to Beta Crux (2nd from the base clockwise) is the delightful jewel box cluster right next door & each of the stars of Crux are doubles (binary) stars or more ! The cross has great significance to Torres Strait people forming the left hand of the constellation of Tagai the fisherman & when his hand dips into the sea as it does at this time of the year, it heralds the onset of the wet season.
For planetary conjunctions you can’t go past the conjunction of Mars, Venus & the Moon on the 1st of February in the western sky after sunset. Then on the 15th of February we have Jupiter in the eastern sky along with the moon and the bright star Spica in Virgo at 10pm (EST) I hope our wonderful Wet Season skies still provide you with some great viewing opportunities if your in northern Australia like me, or some great summertime viewing in the southern parts of our great green land !