The Jewel Box

The Jewel Box


Southern Skies are fasinating for someone like me, who grew up above the 50th parallel.

I will never forget the first time I saw the Southern Cross. I was in a lovely garden on the coast near Bagamoyo in Tanzania because I had explained to my generous hosts that I had always wanted to see a tropical night sky, and they insisted that we should go immediately away from the lights of the verandah and down the garden, where there was open sky, framed by tall and noisy coconut palms. I could hear the Indian Ocean (perhaps 100 meteres away) and the slight breeze was warm. Despite being very tired, from a long flight and drive, I was struck with awe and filled with energy.

The sky really did look like the deepest black velvet, studded with jewels. It was very dark indeed and the stars were almost painfully bright, and richly coloured with almost no twinkle. It was overwhelming and I could not make sense of anything I was seeing. Nothing was familiar until I turned to look northwards and saw constellations I knew, but upside down. I began to recognise what was overhead as shapes I was used to seeing very low down in the South and then without a moment's hesitation I recognised the Southern Cross. Everyone says it is smaller than you expect (it is) and it is a cross without a centre: more accurately a kite, and with an extra star to spoil the symmetry. It is upstaged by Alpha Centauri very close by: a bright, familiar looking star which is remarkably near to our sun and quite like it.

I did not have a telescope or binoculars with me that night, and it was more than amazing to simply look at such a dark and high-quality sky, but within the constellation Crux (the Southern Cross) is one of the most beautiful sights in a small telesccope: the Jewel Box. Its name reflects the richly coloured stars within this relatively young cluster and the sheer richness of stars in the telescopic field: this is a particularly rich area of the Milky Way.

This image

itelescope 63
I made this image remotely with Telescope 63 of iTelescope. This is a 300mm f9 reflector sited in Bathurst, NSW, Australia, and fitted with a specialist camera for deep sky images. The colour image was made from 5 one-minute exposures each through red, green and blue filters. I processed it in PixInsight software integrating the separate images before bringng out the detail, colour and contrast in startools software.