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Friday, July 24, 2009


Seeing the Emu

The eastern horizon, around 9:00 pm local time in Australia. Can you see the Emu? Click to embiggen.

This is the third of a planned series of posts on looking at the sky and how to find your way around it as a beginner.

Now, when the Moon is still in its very early crescent stages, is a great time to find the constellation of the Emu. Now you are saying: ‘Emu – but there is no Emu!’ However, the Emu is one of the indigenous Australian constellations. And interestingly, it is a "dark" constellation, one that is made up entirely of dark dust lanes!

"Dark" constellations are unique to the Southern hemisphere. In South America they had the constellations of the Tinamou (and Emu relative) and two llamas making up the constellation the Indigenous Australians called the Emu*.

See the Emu now?

The Emu consists of the Coal Sack, the dark dust cloud that nestles in the crook of the Southern Cross (the head of the Emu), and a dark dust lane that stars near the Pointers (alpha and beta Centauri) and runs down to the curl of stars that forms the body of Scorpio. This is the neck and wings of the Emu. A second dark dust lane forms the lower body and legs.

Being made of dark dust lanes, it is almost impossible to see in any city. However, here in the suburbs, if I let my eyes adapt for several minutes I can make it out. And of course in the country it is almost immediately obvious. Once you spot it, you will wonder why you never saw the Emu before. The best time too look currently is about an hour and a half after sunset, when the Emu is nearly vertical and easier to recognise. Later, it stretches over the Southern sky more or less side on, so it is less impressive.

*There is more than one Emu, another Indigenous group identifies Orion as an Emu.

First post: The Dark Adapted Eye.
Second post: Let the Moon be Your Guide


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