In July, 2012, I attended the Southern Skies Star Party at Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. I was 12,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, and the night sky was impressive. The Milky Way was high up, arching from one end of the sky to the other. Scorpius was overhead, and on down the Milky Way was the Southern Cross. Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri pointed to the Cross. Alpha Centauri is the closest star. (Actually, its small companion Proxima Centauri is). The system is 4.4 light-years or 25 trillion miles away. Alpha Centauri is the 3rd brightest star and thought to be sun-like. Its proper name is Rigel Kent, meaning foot of the centaur. Beta Centauri is called Hadar. The Jewel Box is nearby, and I observed its gemlike stars through the telescope. It is an open cluster. I again saw the Coalsack, although it did not appear as dark as it did in Australia. I looked at Omega Centauri, the best globular cluster! It is a fuzzy ball of millions of stars, named like a star although not a star at all.
I was 16 degrees below the equator, so the south pole star was 16 degrees above the horizon. The southern stars revolve around Sigma Octantis like the northern stars revolve around Polaris. Sigma Octantis is dim at magnitude 5.4. The Southern Cross points to it, and I may or may not have seen it through my binoculars. Crux is between the centaur's legs and was once part of Centaurus.
In the old days, I never thought of Sagittarius as a teapot. Now, it is plain! The Summer Triangle was behind me. Everything was turned around. Orion is the constellation people cite as being inverted.
The hemispheres are upside-down from each other, and constellations like Orion appear inverted in the south. It is easy to get confused. I suppose Bolivians think the constellations are inverted when they visit the Northern Hemisphere.
We always feel like we are on top of our planet because of gravity, the same gravity that created our planet.
The first night is always the best! It drops off quickly, and I made myself go out. My roommate, an Iranian who left Iran during the upheaval of 1978, located 45 galaxies in one night. He went on to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Jen Winter, who organized the trip, and her friend Fred Bruenjes are eclipse chasers. They have photographed eclipses on every continent.