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Under The Martinborough Stars

June 18, 2019 June 2019 No Comments

“Wairarapa house and night sky star trails (Photo by Glen Butler)
NOTE: The building is on private property and permission for the image was obtained from the landowner.

By Becky Bateman

My house is north facing and I get people telling me all the time how good my tomatoes must be. On face value that seems a perfectly fine and normal comment but, thinking deeper, it shows how much the sky affects our lives.

The more I thought about this, the more complicated and amazing it is how much the sky influences our day-to-day living. Like me, you’ll think of the obvious ones first; that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West to mark our day and that by midday it is in the North.

Look at Martinborough. It is a perfect place to grow grapes for award winning wine, as most vines are planted facing north in the full sun and protected from strong winds. This little town is also perfect for night time stargazing as it is in the proposed Dark Sky Reserve and the community are involved in keeping the night sky dark for all.

We can look at compasses on our smart phones if we need to find our direction, but long before such technology existed, we had to read the sky to know where we were.

All the planets, the Moon and the twelve signs of the Zodiac rise in the East and set in the West. They follow the Sun’s path, which is known as the ecliptic.

To find South, you can use Crux, the Southern Cross. Most people can recognise this small constellation, its four bright stars in a small cross within the Milky Way/te Ikaroa are easy to find. Simply draw an imaginary straight line through the long axis until you hit a bright blue star called Achernar/Marere-o-tonga. Achernar is a squashed blue star, imagine a giant blue M&M and you’re almost there. Halfway along this imaginary line is the Southern Celestial Pole (SCP for short).

This SCP area is directly above the South Pole which all the sky appears to spin around. Of course, this is an optical illusion as it is the Earth that is actually spinning and not the sky.

Once you know where South is, it is easy to find the other cardinal points by turning around in 90 degree turns.

So next time there is a clear night, look up for the Southern Cross. It is always in the night sky all year round and all night long. See if you can work out your direction and where your place faces.

And if you are lucky and it faces North, then you’ll be in for a bumper crop of tomatoes next summer and some good cabbages coming up too.

Becky Bateman runs the nomadic astronomy tour guide service “Under The Stars” around the Wairarapa.

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