Published: May 6th 2012May 6th 2012
Now as many of you know, I am not really a night owl. Once the sun has set I prefer to be settled on the sofa or in bed already, old before my time maybe but happy with it all definitely. However, there are a few things in life that are best done after dark and seeing stars is one of them. So last night, I set off for Itaipu Dam once more where they offer an astronomical experience.
Now before I go into details of the evening, I have to apologise for the photographs or lack thereof! It goes without saying that when it is very dark there is little that can be seen by the naked eye, let alone my little camera so I have very few photographs to offer you and those that I do have I confess are not of the best quality, although obviously I liked being an astronaut!
So the adventure began with a short bus journey through the grounds of Itaipu across to their Observatory and Planetarium. On arriving at our destination, everything was incredibly dark. There were no lights from surrounding buildings, we were lit by just the glaring brightness of
a very full Moon. We later learned that this was a bad time to try to observe the stars and planets as the Moon´s white light polluted the sky. A pathway lined with dim red lights led us into the main building where we were able to examine meteorites, some of which glittered like fairy dust and others which looked like simple jagged rocks.
My favourite part of the night happened shortly afterwards. We were led upstairs into the Observatory, I was fascinated by the whole dome not to mention what could be seen from the deck. The roof is 6 metres in diameter and after opening the thin observation shaft, the roof was rotated 120° and the slither of space was lined up with the enormous telescope. Even the noise of the roof spinning was exciting for me, you could hear the stone grinding as it turned, adding to the anticipation and magic of what the night sky held. Looking through the telescope was amazing, I could see Saturn clearly, shining like silver on a black base. I couldn´t believe how perfect it looked, exactly as a child would have drawn it. It was a perfect circle with
its rings tilted across like a belt, brighter than I could have imagined and more breath taking than I had realised that it would be. Nearby you could see a couple of other glistening objects which we were told were a few of Saturn´s satellites. The picure was so perfect that I can still pull it back up in my mind and can still feel the awe now. Fantastic.
After the excitement of planet spotting through a telescope we climbed onto the roof where sunloungers lay waiting for us, or maybe that should be moonloungers? Anyway, we lay down and one of the Scientists talked us through the sky above us. He pointed out the different constellations including Gemini, the twin stars and the important Southern Cross. This reminded me of how far from home I was, instead of glimpsing the North Star, I was looking on Alpha Centauri and its neighbours. I was intrigued to learn that next to the Southern Cross there is a False Cross which has misled many navigators over the centuries. The important difference is the shape of the formation; the Southern Cross forms a kite while the False Cross forms a rhombus. If the navigators had paid more attention to the beauty of Mathematics maybe they would not have gotten lost! There is a lesson there!
We also saw Venus, which was shining so brightly it could not be missed. It really did look like someone had just stuck a jewel in the sky for us to see. I know that even with my excellent photography skills I simply cannot do it justice, but trust me, that little dot in the dark is Venus!
After bathing in the moonlight, some of the brazilians shivering in the 20°C nightime air, we moved into the Planetarium where we watched the planets and stars fly towards us through the dark. It was a wonderful evening and I hope I can remember the sights that I have seen so clearly for many more years to come.
I will be back with more to share with you as soon as I can.