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  • Constantina Alexander

Midnight Rendezvous

Can't sleep. It must be nearly sunrise. Look at phone. No. It's just after midnight and I am wide awake.

Cat hopeful for at least half an hour of cheek and ear rubbing. Sorry cat I need tea. I schlep downstairs and Rover can barely manage a tail wag. He has no problem getting some shut eye. Tea made, lights off and I go out onto balcony. Now I know why I am awake:

The moon has set and the sky is full of stars.

Action stations. Run upstairs for phone with star charts app, warmy dressing gown and slippers. Cat glaring for want of fuss. Three Dreamies suffice to keep the peace. Skeeter back down, grab tea and handful of astronomer's Jaffa Cakes - de rigeur for star gazing. Dog still comatose. Unlock cellar door. Run down another flight of stairs into studio. Grab lens case and extension. Deposit tea, bikkies, case and extension on garden table. Run back for telescope. Tripod leg catches on insect net on door. Manage to free it. Hit head with finder scope. Plug in and switch on. A pale orange eye glows reassuringly from side of scope. Off come the lens covers. I point my blessed beast up to the South East:

And there is the most beautiful, ever delightful, awe inspiring Jupiter accompanied by four visible moons on this night - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. My dear friends.

Observing. The tea, a little too cool now, is irrelevant. I nibble a Jaffa Cake and nail the King of the Roman gods in the cross hairs on the finder scope and then peer through the main lens. Wow! I never, ever will get fed up with observing Jupiter, in reality. Not from an enhanced photograph but from my back garden, even in the presence of those two damn lights from neighbouring gardens shining into my sacred dark space. I am here on Earth and I can see this wonderful planet 5 Astronomical Units from the Sun ( 5 Earth-Sun distances). The first time I looked through my Mak I was expecting to see something like you see on the NASA website. But I soon got used to the slightly fuzzy, creamy blob with barely discernable layers of gas circulating in its atmosphere. What blew me away was the presence of the moons. I was not expecting to see them and each night they were in different places. Jupiter the Juggler tosses his moons around every evening. Sometimes all in a row, sometimes two close together, sometimes just three as one passes behind or in front of the planetary disc. Is it any wonder that people have always loved looking at the night sky?

Biscuits scoffed I look to the left and see another bright star. Can anything be better than Jupiter? Yes! Saturn. Chasing after his big brother, he is rising over the neighbour's sunshade awning and I can now focus on him. The rings of Saturn make my fuzzy golden blob look like an alien space craft. I am so mesmerised by these two, the rest of the stars are getting anxious lest I forget them. I glance up as see the ISS space station gliding, at speed, across Auriga. I would so love to be up there.

So which stars shall I look at tonight?

Ursa Major

Stars. The night sky is relatively clear of high cloud so I go for the double in Ursa Major, Mizar and Alcor. Then another vain attempt to track down Bode's Nebula. My eyesight is not good enough, the sky not clear enough or I am looking at the wrong patch of sky. Probably the latter but then it would be the faintest smudge in my lens. My tracking gear is broken so I can't even cheat by programming the star finder. Never mind, I will find it one day. I visit my other friends, Regulus and Denebola in Leo and Altair in Aquila. I do not know why, but since I have been in the habit of star gazing the stars seem to impart on me a sense of friendship, almost as if they want me to come out and find them and gaze upon them. They seem to have a Presence. I love them as if I have always known them from their creation. Or they have known me since mine.

The sky lightens in the East and the Sun is coming. Time to get back into bed with ice cold feet and try not to wake up hubby!