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Under The Martinborough Stars

October 14, 2019 October 2019, Regular Features No Comments

The Milky Way (Photo: Lee Mauger)

Take a look up tonight and you’ll see a sparkling silver band of stars dominating the night sky. Our home, the Milky Way Galaxy is always worth looking at.

The Milky Way has always fascinated throughout time and amongst all cultures. The term Milky Way relates to a story from the Ancient Greeks where milk was spilt across the sky. 

Here in Aotearoa, it is known as the Great Waka with Tautoru/Orion’s Belt and Te Matau a Maui/ Scorpius at either end. The Southern Cross is the anchor known as Te Punga and the pointer stars are the ropes. By the start of Summer, the Waka lies parallel to the horizon. It shows Māori voyagers that it is a good time to start a journey across the seas as the weather is calm.

In other cultures, the Milky Way is seen as a Silver River, a road of straw, a path of birds and our Australian neighbours see it as a path to the skyworld. No matter what we call it, we are all looking at the same Galaxy; our home. 

The Milky Way is huge; it’s one of the largest galaxies in our local area of the Universe. It is over 100,000 light years across with at least 200 billion stars. 

In the centre of the Milky Way is a supermassive black hole which is holding the galaxy together. The centre is the thick bulge near Scorpius and Jupiter. There are at least 10,000 other black holes scattered around the Milky Way.

The Milky Way is often described as a flat disc, imagine a fried egg with the yolk as the centre bulge. Another way to think about it is that it looks similar to a drunk octopus. 

It is sometimes difficult to comprehend the size of the Milky Way. Hold your hand flat and imagine a grain of sand in the centre. That grain is the Sun. Now close your hand into a fist and this represents the size of the Solar System. The Milky Way in comparison would be the size of Australia.

Next time you are outside look up and take a second look at the Milky Way. Try a moonless night and head to a dark area. 

The Martinborough Dark Sky Society are aiming to deliver a dark sky reserve within the Wairarapa so visitors and locals will be able to see the Milky Way even within the town centre.  Star Field, the newly opened dark sky site 10 minutes outside Martinborough is a great place to see the Milky Way. The detail you can see with your naked eye is incredible.

You can help protect the night sky by simply reducing your own outside lighting at your house; as a collective we can all make a huge difference. To find out more go to the Martinborough Dark Sky Society and Star Field Ltd websites.

Becky Bateman runs the nomadic astronomy service Under The Stars

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