Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Are constellations like the Big Dipper in the Southern Hemisphere and do you just fall off the earth? Exploring the Chilean Atacama Desert

Greetings from Palmia Observatory

Well after viewing the July 2 eclipse we are here in San Pedro de Atacama for our continuing journey through the Atacama Desert.
We reported in a previous post on some observations of the Milky Way.  We received an email from Still in Control, Gene, who appreciated the photos and was glad that we didn’t fall off the Earth, because after all we are upside down in the Southern Hemisphere.  Yeah, right, thanks for that Gene!

It does raise the interesting question about viewing the constellations and how they can often appear upside down.  To get a sense of what this might look like, we discovered that part of the Big Dipper is visible here.  The GoSkyWatch app prediction for the Big Dipper is shown below and we see that only a portion is visibble here.
GoSkyWatch prediction for observing the Big Dipper now in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (Source: Palmia Observatory)
GoSkyWatch prediction for observing the Big Dipper now in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (Source: Palmia Observatory)



So, during our scheduled nighttime observing session, I took this long exposure with the 15mm M100 camera in the northward direction.  Yes, it seems that a portion of the handle and maybe one or two stars of the Big Dipper are visible.  It was easier to recognize the stars with our own eyeballs while in this long exposure image so many other stars show up that is harder to see.
15mm camera image, Looking northward from our observing sight in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Just the handle of the Big Dipper is visible from the Atacama In Chile (Source: Palmia Observatory)



This imag was submitted to Astrometry.Net to verify that the stars identified were really part of the Big Dipper.  Yep, the camera is indeed pointing in the right direction.

Using Astrometry.net to verify sky located pointed to by the camera (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Using Astrometry.net to verify sky located pointed to by the camera (Source: Palmia Observatory)


If we had made the observation at the same time in Orange County, we can refer to this Sky Safari Pro prediction as to what the Big Dipper would have looked like.  Hmm, it is not really upside down, but the appearance is different.  I also checked what the Big Dipper would look like in New York, which. Is in th same local time zone of Chile, except for 1 hour difference in offset to GMT.  In this case the Big Dipper was just higher in the sky, with the full bowl visible but still lower in the sky, just as it was seen in Chile.
Sky Safari Pro predicted orientation of the Big Dipper as seen in the northern hemisphere (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Sky Safari Pro predicted orientation of the Big Dipper as seen in the northern hemisphere (Source: Palmia Observatory)


As I recall, and you all can check to verify if this is the correct interpretation or not, is that the upside down viewing effect is most pronounced for constellations that are near the equator.  In his case it is easy to see that observers in the Northern Hemisphere are looking southward and those in the other hemisphere are looking northward.  So, yes, you could see rhe given comstellation as being upside down with respect to the two observers.  Likewise for constellations far away from the celestial equator, then both observers would report only slightly different oriemtioms and not directly upside down.  The constellation Orion, which is not visible to us right now, if often used as a good example for the upside down viewing effect.

Ok, so our journey through the Atacama can go on and a most common site are the snow capped peaks of the Andes and even some of the coastal mountains.  The Atacama Desert is divided into essentially four different regions and we had a chance to tour through the salt flats, with essentially no vegetation, and mountain lagoons with large populations of birds feeding on the brine shrimp among other things..  We saw different levels of vegetation and different kinds of vegetation from low brush and some grass to forests in one little area and cactus at the dry extreme.
Beautiful snow capped mountains and volcanoes as seen in San Pedro de Atacama (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Beautiful snow capped mountains and volcanoes as seen in San Pedro de Atacama (Source: Palmia Observatory)


On our drive from the Calama airport to our hotel in San Pedro de Atacama we saw many road saints that advised on various dangers and animals we could find along the road.  Here is a sign identifying that red foxes could be present.  Another sign warned of vacuna crossings
Road signs in the Atacama Desert identify wildlife in the area (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Road signs in the Atacama Desert identify wildlife in the area (Source: Palmia Observatory)



The Vacuna and Guanaco are the wild versions llamas and alpacas.  We saw several foxes along the way and at various stops along our journey.  Who knew that there would be so many animals in one of the driest deserts in the world.  You can also see the typical brush available as food for them.
Vacuna and other wild animals are very present in the Atacama (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Vacuna and other wild animals are very present in the Atacama (Source: Palmia Observatory)



We also saw an advisory sign that was of special interest to many eclipse chasers.  Unfortunately we were not able to stop at ALMA or other observatories.  Darn!  We had hoped to visit at least one of the observatories located in the Atacama.
We saw the road sign for the ALMA Observatory, but didn't have time to visit (Source: Palmia Observatory)Astronomical observatories are very present in the Atacama
We saw the road sign for the ALMA Observatory, but didn't have time to visit (Source: Palmia Observatory)



The roads were often winding and only packed gravel or packed dirt and the bus seemed to groan and creak in the high altitude.  The road from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama was a modern highway.  But no matter the road, the scenery was always fantastic!
Many roads in the Atacama are just dirt packed road, but the scenery is great! (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Many roads in the Atacama are just dirt packed road, but the scenery is great! (Source: Palmia Observatory)


We visited some of the many lagoons that are in the Atacama.  Most of the places we visited were quite high altitude in the 13,000 to 14,000+ elevation, and we had to be carefull not to over exert ourselves and get altitude sickness.  It was amazing just seeing so many lakes and lagoons in the desert and all of the snow capped mountains.  The Atacama is one of the dries deserts anyway, but there sure seems to be a lot of water at the high elevations.
Snow and Ice and water in the high altitude Atacama Desert (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Snow and Ice and water in the high altitude Atacama Desert (Source: Palmia Observatory)



While we were visiting the Miscanti and Miniques lagoons, just by chance I spied a couple of other Orange County Astronomers.  We knew they werwere also going to be in Chile to view the eclipse but never imagined we would actually be anywhere near the same place at rhe same time.  But here are OCA David and Jean, just enjoying the scenery.  That makes at least six OC Astronomers we know of in Chile for the eclipse.  Dave offered some suggestions for our upcoming portions of the journey and said not to count on clear skies in Easter Island.  We still hope to spot the GMC and LMC, but it might not be at Easter Islamd either.  Anyway good to see you π˜Ώπ™–π™«π™žπ™™ and Jean!
Serendipitous meet up with other OCA David and Jean in the Chilean Atacama Desert
Just by chance bumped into OC Astronomers, Dave and Jean, in Atacama, Chile (Source: Palmia Observatory)



Finally at the end of the day we had a chance to wander downtown in San Pedro de Atacama for dinner and shopping.  The Chileans were very friendly and helpful as we struggled to remember enough Spanish to get our orders understood.  We also saw the many stray dogs in every city we visited. There are the usual stray dogs that show up everywhere in Chile.  They mostly just mind their business and peek into various stores and restaurants to see if they can get some food.  They go up and down the streets mostly oblivious to the people, but will come up to you for a smell or a pet.  It is so cold in the winter and the dogs have a hard time in the winter.  So people put coats on the dogs and feed them on occasion.  Most of the dogs we saw looked like they were mostly well fed.  But we understand that their life is quite short due to the harsh winter conditions.
Walking the dirt packed streets, with ever present stray dogs, in San Pedro de Atacama (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Walking the dirt packed streets, with ever present stray dogs, in San Pedro de Atacama (Source: Palmia Observatory)

Ok, that is it for now and next time we will comment on the lagoons and flamingos and the geysers.  Who knew that the Atacama would have such a diverse set of environments.  It is not just dry rock and sand.



Until next time,
Resident Astronomer George


If you like things astronomical or Cosmological, check out other posts on this blog at: www.palmiaobservatory.com

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