The maldivian sky in July-August-September

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Even if the summer monsoon brings lots of humidity, normally the Maldivian nights in those months are clear or, at most, veiled with clouds rapidly passing-by. Here the sky map for August 2009 at 11pm local time is shown.

After getting the eyes accostumed with darkness, we are astonished by that magnificent glowing stripe crossing the whole sky. It looks like some clouds are reflecting the lights of distant islands. Actually, we are seeing the light coming from billions of tiny stars of our Milky Way, too distant to be perceived individually.

Unlike the winter?s Milky Way, the summer view of our Galaxy is much more fragmented in dark and bright patches of sky, especially towards the South. We clearly perceive that the thickness of the galaxy is larger: in fact, this region contains the core of the Galaxy. Our eyes are now looking towards the mysterious object (a black hole, maybe?) that is the center of rotation of all the stars we see in the sky.
Even our Sun is part of this procession: it takes about 250 million years to complete a lap. It?s weird to think that one ?galactic year? ago, there was no man on Earth, and not even the dinosaurs. Life on earth was still at the beginning and the first creatures were emerging from the sea to conquer the mainland.

First of all, you must orient the map in such a way that, standing above your head, it will represent the sky. So, as a first step, find the cardinal points. The Sun sets westward, so if you face 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 of the night. If you want to know how will be the sky at any time, you need a planetarium software, such as the beautiful stellarium.
Many mobile apps are able to show the appearance of the sky according to the orientation of the phone: it will be a useful didactical tool.

We know that the easiest way to find the polar star is starting from the Big Dipper. After all, we have been taught that is always visible. To our deception, towards the North we don?t see any Bear at all! In fact, at the equator all the constellations rise and set and in this season the Big Dipper is not visible because it is below the horizon during night time.
What to do then?
We have to look for another constellation opposite to the Big Dipper with respect to the polaris: Cassiopeia. It?s a W-shaped set of five stars that opens right towards the polaris, that lies just above the horizon. The polar star is not particularly bright: it?s not the brightest star of the sky, as it is often rumored.

Cassiopeia appears immersed within the Milky Way. If we follow upward that glowing stripe, we will reach for a pretty big, cross-shaped constellation,: the Swan, also known as ?the Northern Cross?.
The constellation depicts the bird with open wings and a beak directing towards the Galactic centre. The swan?s tail is marked by the bright star Deneb: a star 60,000 times more luminous than our Sun.
If we could bring it to the distance of Sirius, it could light up nights more than the full moon!
The swan?s beak is famous for being the prettiest double star of the whole sky: Albireo. Even a small telescope will show up a beautiful pair of stars: one blue and the other orange. A beautiful color contrast.

The most beautiful double star of the sky

Near the Swan the bluish star Vega shines, the main star of the Lyra constellation.
Towards the South, nearly as bright as Deneb, we can see Altair, the main star of the Eagle constellation. In this way, the summer triangle is complete. It is the main feature of the summer sky, as Orion was the key to the winter sky.

Even the Eagle depicts the bird with open wings a the beak pointing towards the Galactic centre.
Continuing along the Milky Way, we find two beautiful constellations: one represents faithfully its name, the other ? absolutely not! The Scorpion is clearly marked by bright stars indicating the claws (the tree stars in a row), the body (the bright red star Antares), the long tail and the sting (two stars very close).
The Sagittarius, instead, requires a lot of imagination to find a credible representation. Then, it?s better to follow the Brits who call it ?the teapot?. And it?s right this way: we can see the cap, the handle and the sprout!

It is beautiful to wander with binoculars through those constellations. Even without knowing what we are looking at, we will see star clusters, nebulae, double stars, obscure clouds and colorful stars. A feast for the eyes.

Down again along the Milky Way, we will approach the horizon where, if we are luky, we will see the pair alpha and beta of Centaurus. The former, clearly yellowish, is the closest star to us.
Let?s go back to the summer triangle. If we connect Deneb and Vega and go along that direction, we will meet the third brightest star of the sky: Arcturus. It is the main star of the Bootes constellation, the guardian of the Big Bear. This orange star is coming closer and closer: in half a million of years it will be at the minimum distance, before disappearing in the Galaxy.

Before reaching Arcturus we must have stepped by a gracious constellation in the shape of a semicircle: it is the Corona Borealis.
In the opposite part of the sky, towards the East, the fall constellations are raising. The huge square of Pegasus and Andromeda is clearly visible.
The Andromeda constellation hosts the only galaxy visible to the naked eye (except for the Magellanic Clouds): the famous Andromeda galaxy. To find it we have to follow the map indications, but it is also important to take in account the first principle of stargazing: the averted vision.
Our eyes are trained to the diurnal color vision: for this reason the central part of the retina is rich of cells sensitive to bright and coloured light (the cones). The cells active in the nocturnal vision (the rods) are more numerous in the peripheral part of the retina. Thus, if we want to look at a faint object of the night?s sky, we have to look some degree sideways. Magically, we will see the object more clearly than looking at it directly!

To the tight of Pegasus, we find the constellations of Aquarius, alas inconspicuous, and Capricornus (the Seagoat). The latter is a constellation poor of bright stars, but its triangle shape is well marked by a lot of faint stars. During 2009 this constellation hosts the king of the planets: Jupiter. Very bright and surrounded by a court of satellites.
Even binoculars can reveal the oval of the planet and the group of four satellites aligned on its equatorial plane: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Hour after hour, we can clearly perceive that they are orbiting around the planet in a sort of ? celestial dance!

Below the Seagoat there is a portion of sky not so interesting: it?s far from the Milky Way and thus poor of stars. We can see the four big birds: the Crane, the Toucan, the Peacock and the Phoenix.
A special mention goes the Southern Fish, right below Aquarius and Seagoat. ITs main star is called Fomalhaut and is extraordinary because around it there is an orbiting planet imaged directly by the Hubble Space Telescope!
So, when we are looking at this faint star, let?s imagine that maybe someone down there is looking towards that pale yellow star ? that we call Sun!

Easily seen with the naked eye

Altair Aql The brightest star of the Eagle, its name means “the eagle in flight”. Dist=16.8 ly.
α Centauri Cen The closest star: 4.4 light-years only.
Deneb Cyg ne of the largest blue supergiants, so it?s easily the brightest star of the Swan.
Vega Lyr The fifth brightest star of the sky: a white-blue star distant about 25 ly.
Fomalhaut PsA Surrounded by a ring of dust. A planet is orbiting around it.
Antares Sco Bright red supergiant in Scorption. Its name means ?the rival of Mars”. Dist=136 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 uniqueness of that sight. The reason is simple: they?re 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 impractical.

M31 And The Andromeda galaxy: the farthest celestial object visible to the naked eye (about 2.5 million light-years)
μ Cephei Cep The “blood drop”: perhaps the reddest star you can observe.
M13 Her Best globular cluster of the northern hemisphere. Dist=23,000 ly.
ε Lyrae Lyr The famous double-double. With binoculars it appears simply as a double star, but each of the components is actually a double.
M8 Sgr The beautiful lagoon nebula with a star cluster embedded in it.
M22 Sgr Spectacular globular cluster. A good telescope will show individual stars.
M4 Sco Globular clustar near to the red Antares. Dist=7,000 ly.
M7 Sco Breath-taking cluster between Sagittarius and the Scorpion. Dist=780 ly.
Cr 399 Vul Small group of star, coat-hanger shaped!.

Telescopic objects

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

7009 Aqr The Saturn nebula: in fact, through the telescope, it appears like the planet.
7293 Aqr The Helix nebula, apparently as big as half the Moon.
Albireo Cyg Double star with a breath-taking chromatic contrast orange-blue.
M57 Lyr A beautful ?smoke ring? in the constellation of Lyra. Dist=4000 ly.
M20 Sgr The Trifid nebula, divided in three parts by a dark nebula.
M17 Sgr The Omega nebula, which contains also the star cluster NGC 6618.
M16 Sgr The Eagle nebula, beautiful in big telescopes.
M27 Vul The “dumb bell”: a beautiful two-lobed planetary nebula. Dist=1000 ly.

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