The maldivian sky in January-February-March

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Look for a dark spot on the beach and let your eyes get accustomed with darkness: it will take about 20 minutes. If you need some light, be careful to use red lights only: they will not disturb the night vision.
A cheap red LED torch for bicycles will fit perfectly.

At first, you?ll be amazed by that glowing stripe across the whole sky: it looks like there are some clouds, instead it?s the light coming from billions and billions of faint stars of our Galaxy: the Milky Way.
Such a view is very rare in industrialized regions: to admire it you must climb to the top of an isolated mountain, in a very cold environment. The beauty of Maldives relies also in this: you can enjoy a magnificent sky from a warm beach. What else?

First of all, you must orient the sky map in such a way that, standing above your head, it will match the sky. So, as a first step, you have to find the cardinal points. The Sun sets westward, so if you are looking in that direction, the North will be at your right, the South at your left, and the East behind you.

As time goes by, you will notice that stars ? move! In fact, they slowly move from East to West, as the Sun does. Then our sky map is valid only for a limited time. If you want to know the appearance of the sky at any time, you need a planetarium software, such as the beautiful stellarium.
Many mobile apps are able to show you the night sky according to the orientation of the phone: it will be an amazing didactical tool.

Now look to the North: slightly to your right the famous Big Dipper constellation is visible (also known as the Big Bear, or the Great Chariot). Imagine to extend downward the line defined by the last two stars of the chariot: you will reach an isolated star: it?s the famous polar star.
Unfortunately, sometimes it will not visible, being covered by clouds near the horizon.
The whole sky rotates around the polar star. In Maldives, as we said, the celestial sphere is rotated sideways and all the stars both rise and set perpendicularly to the horizon.
This explains the motion of the Sun as we described previously.

Now let?s look at the beautiful constellation of Orion, that is identified by three aligned stars, nearly identical. At the equator it can be found above our head and it holds the key to the identification of all the other winter sky constellations.
But first, let review its stars: it is really worth.

The ancient Greeks depicted that constellation as the giant hunter Orion, having his club in the right hand and hid shield in the left (or, in other versions, the just captured prey).
The brightest star is Rigel, the left foot. It is a very luminous star: about 60,000 times our Sun. Unfortunately it?s also very distant: about 770 light-years. The second star is called Betelgeuse, from the Arabic ?the giant?s shouder?. It?s clearly red, which reveals its low surface temperature: ?just? 3500 K. Instead, Rigel is white because of its 10,000 K temperature. Even hotter, the blue stars of Orion?s belt reach up to 20,000 K!
The Orion?s sword contains the most beautiful nebula of the whole sky: the great Orion nebula, visible also through binoculars. But it?s only through a telescope that the vision will get magnificent: four newborn stars, forming a trapetium, lighting up the nebula and making its gas glowing in silky stripes.

Extending the Orion belt to the left, we will reach the brightest star of the whole sky: Sirius. It is not actually a conspicuous star: its luminosity is only five times that of our Sun. It appears so bright just because of its proximity: it?s the second star in order of distance from the Earth.
If we could swap Sirius and Rigel, the powerful light from the latter would light up our nights, so we could even read a book!
Sirius is the main star of the Greater Dog constellation. Another star, Procyon, forms together with Sirius and Betelgeuse a perfect equilateral triangle. It?s the main star of the Lesser Dog constellation. Of course, both dogs were imagined to be helping Orion in his hunt.

Instead, if we extend to the right the Orion?s belt, we will rech for a red star: the Bull?s eye Aldebaran. Going further, the beautiful cluster of stars called Pleiades, or the seven sisters. By naked eye, in fact, you should be able to count up to seven stars. Through binoculars more Pleiades will show up in an unforgettable view.

If we connect Rigel and Betelgeuse, going further will bring us to the Twins constellation, characterised by the two nearly identical stars Castor and Pollux.
Castor is a beautiful multiple star, having six components. Unfortunately, only three are visible through the telescope. Pollux instead is known for having a planet orbiting around: it was discovered in 2006. According to the astronomers, it could be three times as big as Jupiter.

Above Orion we can find the bright yellow star Capella, the brightest star of the Charioteer constellation.
Looking eastwards, we can see the huge Lion constellation rising ? almost vertically. Well, we have to remember we are at the equator!

So far we looked at well-known stars and constellations, to the European observer.
Now it?s time to discover a portion of the sky ? south to the Greater Dog ? that we cannot see from Europe, because it is always below the horizon.
Here in Maldives we have the opportunity to admire some of the most beautiful stars, clusters and constellations of the whole sky.

This portion of the sky is dominated by the huge constellation of the ship Argo, so large that in the last century it was divided in three separated constellations: the Poop deck, the Keel, and the Sails.
The Poop Deck contains the second brightest star of the sky: Canopus.
Between the Sails and the Keel there is a group of four stars very similar to the Southern cross constellation. Indeed, they are often called ?the false cross?.

The true Southern Cross in this season rises after the sunset, but it is wise to wait some hours more, in order to observe it shining well above the horizon haze. Its main star, Acrux, is clearly red. Nearby the left cross? arm star, a beautiful star cluster can be seen through a telescope, it is so shiny that his nickname is ?the jewel box?.

Halfway between the true and the false cross, lies a truly remarkable portion of the sky. It hosts the biggest nebula visible to naked eye: the Carina nebula.

The huge Carina nebula and its central regions, seen through the telescope.

Through the telescope the dark ?tkeyhole? nebula is clearly visible, so called because of its shape. Just nearby there is a reddish star, apparently insignificant. Yet, it?s perhaps the most massive star of the whole Galaxy: in 1843 it erupted suddenly, becoming as bright as Sirius! His name is Eta Carinae and it is destined to explode as a supernova. This star is already in the last phases of its life: it could explode right this night, or within a month, or a century ? nobody knows when.

Easily seen with the naked eye

Sirius CMa The brightest star of the sky, also known as ?the dog?. ?Only? 8.6 light-years (ly) away.
Procyon CMi From the Greek ?before the dog?, because it preceded the rising of Sirius. 11.4 ly away
Canopus Car The second brightest star of the sky. It?s 14,000 times more luminous than our Sun. Distance: 310 ly.
β Centauri Cen Toegether with Alpha Centauri forms the so-called ?pointers of the (southern) Cross?. 525 ly away
α Centauri Cen The closest star: ?only? 4,3 ly. Through the telescope is a bright double star, whose orbital period is about 80 years.
Castor Gem A six-members multiple star: three of them are visible through the telescope. 52 ly away.
Pollux Gem A Jupiter-sized planet orbits around it. 34 ly away.
Regulus Leo The main star of the Lion. It?s a double white-blue star, 77 ly away.
Rigel Ori Orion?s brightest star: a blue supergiant with a dim companion. Distant 770 ly.
Betelgeuse Ori One of the biggest red supergiants known, its diameter is 300 times than that of our Sun. 430 ly away.
Pleiades Tau The seven sisters. Binoculars reveal many more stars. 380 ly away.
Hyades Tau Sparse V-shaped cluster around Betelgeuse (that does not belong to it). 151 ly away.
Aldebaran Tau The main star of the Bull, remarkably reddish. Distant 65 ly.

Easily seen with binoculars

All lovers of the sky begin to observe it with binoculars. When they ?grow up?, they will buy bigger and bigger telescopes. Yet, some observers continue to prefer binoculars because of the unicity of that sight. The reason is simple: it?s the only instrument we can use with both eyes. The binocular vision allow us to perceive the low contrasts and is extremely relaxing.
Binoculars as small as 8×40 (8 is the magnification; 40 is the diameter of the frontal lens in millimeters) are enough to wander among the stars and nebulae of the Maldivian sky.
Naturally, bigger binoculars offer more and more light, but their weight makes them unusable.

M44 Cnc The Beehive cluster. Visible to the naked eye. Dist=600 ly.
2516 Car Spectacular open cluster with about 100 stars, spanning half a degree. Dist=1300 al.
3293 Car Rich cluster, surrounded by a faint nebulosity. Dist=8500 ly.
IC 2602 Car The southern Pleiades, bright cluster as big as two times the full Moon. Dist=500 ly.
3372 Car The huge nebula around Eta Carinae, a star on the verge of its explosion. Dist=8000 ly.
ω Centauri Cen The biggest among the globular clusters: it contains 11 millions of stars! Dist=17000 ly.
4755 Cru The jewel box: beautiful cluster with vivid colours. Dist=7600 ly.
LMC Dor The Great Magellanic Cloud, a companion galaxy of our Milky Way. Dist=180.000 ly.
M42 Ori The magnificent Orion nebula. Beautiful both through binoculars and telescope. Dist= 1500 ly.
SMC Tuc The Small Magellanic Cloud, another galaxy companion of ours. Dist=210.000 ly.

Telescopic objects

The Maldivian sky is beautiful already to the naked eye. With binoculars, it becomes astonishing. If you want to reach for the nirvana, a good telescope is what it takes.

A well crowded stargazing session on the resort?s beach

M67 Cnc Contains 500+ stars. One of the oldest clusters. Dist=2350 ly.
3918 Cen The blue planetary nebula. Through a telescope, it appears as a small blue disk.
2070 Dor A very bright nebula within the Great Magellanic Cloud. A star-forming region.
θ Eridani Eri Striking white-blue double star. Magn. 3.2 e 4.3. Visible with a small telescope.
3242 Hya The ?ghost of Jupiter?. Bright blue disk with a faint star at the centre. Dist=2600 ly.
β Monocerotis Mon A triple star.
2264 Mon The ?Christmas tree cluster?. Associated to the Cone nebula. Dist=2450 ly.
σ Orionis Ori Superb multiple star. In the field there is also the triple star Struve 761.
κ Puppis Pup Two nearly identical white-blue stars.
M1 Tau The Crab nebula: the remnant of a supernova that exploded in 1054. Dist=6500 ly.
3132 Vel One of the brightest planetary nebulae, with a faint central star. Dist=2600 ly.

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