We’ve been looking up at the night skies in Morocco for two months now. Further south, and in particular near the desert, there is so little light pollution that the sky gleams with thousands upon thousands of stars.
Orion’s Belt was easy to find, but the Plough was initially nowhere to be seen. We are used to looking at a sky much further north. Down here, on the 31st latitude, the handle of the Plough is on its side almost touching the horizon.
To be honest the only constellations I know are the Plough and Orion’s Belt. And how to find Polaris, the North Star. If you can track down Polaris, you can navigate in the dark. Look at the Plough, and find the front two stars making up the bucket. Extend an imaginary line 5 times the distance between these two stars and you will reach the North Star. It shows you which direction is north. Super handy in the desert if you miss the last camel home. Or for a family who get lost, a lot.
We’ve just bought an IPad app (£1.99) called Star Walk to help us find other constellations. It’s pretty nifty. We’re going to try it out and see how our star gazing knowledge improves. You point the iPad up to the sky and it names the constellations you are looking at. And tells you useful stuff like the North Star is 434 light years away. Although a Russian telescope 18months ago changed that to 323 light years at the end of 2012. That means that the flicker of light we looked at last night happened more than 300 years ago. I can’t sleep now for thinking about it.