We have all heard of the famous Big Five and you may have even heard of the small five (leopard tortoise, red-billed buffalo weaver, rhino beetle, ant lion and elephant shrew) but something that you may have not heard about and might just have a chance to see at Londolozi is the celestial big five.
These are five of the best specimens of deep-sky objects (star clusters, bright and dark gas clouds and galaxies) that were selected by a special ‘deep-sky task force’ from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA) that are visible from anywhere in the southern hemisphere and can been seen with just a pair of binoculars.
The Southern Pleiades
The first of the five is an open cluster of stars which resembles the famous Pleiades, also known as the seven sisters. It is group of a few thousand stars that were formed roughly around the same time can be found in the constellation of Carina.
The Carina Nebula
This is bright nebula which is an area of recent star formation as well as an area of star death and destruction. This is also the brightest patch along the southern Milky Way and is also found in the constellation of Carina. Within the nebula there is a star called Eta Carinae which is on the brink of death and could possibly be the next supernova (a large explosion that takes place at the end of a star’s life) in our galaxy.
This globular cluster is a spherical collection of about 10 million stars and is the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way and one of the very few that is visible to the naked eye. It looks like a fuzzy star and can appear to be as large as the fully moon. It can be seen in the constellation of Centaurus.
The Coal Sack
At 500 light years away the Coal Sack is one of the nearest dark nebulas to earth . A dark nebula is a type of interstellar cloud that is so dense that is blocks any light from objects behind it making it appear as a dark cloud in the night sky. It is a dormant star nursery with no stars inside but in the beginning phase of developing into a star forming region. It can be found in the Southern Cross constellation and is best see on a dark moonless night.
The Milky Way
This is a barred spiral galaxy that is our very own home in the universe. It is the beautiful band of light that stretches across the night sky that is formed by the stars that we cannot individually distinguish with the naked eye.
So next time you get a chance on a clear night to gaze at the heavens above try to see if you can see any of these fascinating celestial objects. It can be a very humbling experience…