The Stars Are Projectors

"From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before
To mingle with the Universe and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal."

-- Lord Byron

The evening was clear with a crisp breeze.  About 25 people piled into an old school bus which dropped us off in the desert just far enough away from the lights of Yulara's hotels.  Yulara was a half hour behind AEST (A for Australian) so our sky guide started pointing out constellations at 8:30pm. 

First, and probably the most stunning to me, the guide highlighted with his powerful laser the only two stars visible from the Big Dipper constellation.  It blew my mind that I was looking at the same stars that I had often stared at while home in Canton;  the same stars that my friends & family back home could see.  They weren't in any particular formation though & I wondered if I was looking at the Big Dipper upside-down (sort of how people wonder if the water flushes the opposite way in the Southern Hemisphere)?  The guide then highlighted various zodiac signs.  By covering the moon I could find Libra (my sign) which actually resembled scales unlike the confusing Sagittarius constellation.

Then the group was shown Australia's famed Southern Cross -- the equivalent to the northern hemisphere's North Star -- which directed ancient travelers.  Stargazers beware, there was a false Southern Cross too!  So how do you know the true Crux?  I was informed one must find the pointer stars:  Alpha Centauri & Beta Centauri, both of which are very bright & easy to spot  (Alpha Centauri being the third brightest star in both hemispheres).  What I thought was Venus, hanging low in the sky, was actually Jupiter!  Our sky guide introduced the powerful telescopes & positioned one on Jupiter and one on the "Jewel Box" left of Alpha Centauri.  We were supposed to rotate between the two telescopes, but I was so captivated I stealthly took two looks at each image.  Through the telescopes I saw three smaller white dots which were Jupiter's main moons.  The area of the Jewel Box had red, white and blue stars.  The guide proceeded to zoom in on Alpha Centauri which -- upon closer inspection through the lens -- was actually a double star (two bright stars close together appearing as one).  Unbeknownst to me a lot of stars in our galaxy appear that way.   The telescopes were refocused onto Vega and the moon.  The moon being closer than all the previous stars, I felt like I could see every imperfection & groove on its surface.  Ha!  The moon up close & personal, no longer a generic, bright circle in the night sky.  Most impressive was a cluster of stars that were so far away they looked like grains of rice scattered all over the lens.  Each small strand was made up of even more clusters of stars!

One more too-amazing-to-be-coincedence tidbit...

Although the group had been studying the sky all night, the guide directed our attention to the black, starless patch of universe just right & above The [true] Southern Cross.  When he mentioned it, we immediately noticed the area was not like others in the sky.  It's like staring at a picture where all you can see is the foreground image until someone identifies the negative image & then you see both clearly.  Anyway, the negative space -- literally ;) -- formed an emu!  How ironic and patriotic!
Time was up.  Most of the group shuffled toward the same school bus, but I had to stay and linger a minute more.  Soon I would be inside a vechicle headed for Yulara.  I would get out & walk back to my hire car in the campsite.  I would drive 1.5 hours to Curtin Springs & still be in the car when I slept.  I had officially reached the end of my wonderous excursion.  No more activities.  No more time to explore.  The group ambled closer to the bus and asked the guide some questions.  As for me, I stared at the sky & tried to remember all I learned in the last few hours.  Just left of the Southern Cross I thought I saw a plane.  Actually, a shooting star blazed across the motionless sky, halving it before my eyes. I ended up seeing two more shooting stars but they were not as lengthy.   Rivaled only by facing the ocean, looking at the night sky is incredibly overwhelming, humbing and lonely.  Time to hit the road.

When I hired the car in Alice Spring & I signed a waiver claiming I would "not drive the car after dusk until dawn".  I laughed it off.  In fact, I had yet to see a single wallaby or kangaroo in the red centre. About 15 minutes on the deserted highway and I saw a posse of kangaroos hanging out on the side of the road.  30 minutes into the drive I violently swerved to avoid hitting a dozen kangaroos relaxing on my side of the road -- one even continued to lay on the pavement as I sped by.  Some kilometers further a mommy & joey were on a midnight journey.  I said "awww" aloud in the car and secretly prayed he would not cross my path.  Neither of them did.  I wondered if God was paying me back for laughing at the waiver?  I had underestimated nature & now He was going to prove His point.  Not more than 5 minutes later I laid on the horn to alert 5 more kangaroos -- one of which hopped alongside my car for about two kilometers, then darted into the brush.  This was getting ridiculous and dangerous!  I had dodged close to 50 kangaroos by now and, just as I considered pulling off the highway to avoid an accident, I saw the lone petrol a.k.a. gas station that was Curtin Springs.  The Lord had one last trial for me before I could rest: I had to miss three cows blocking the entrance.  I was so relieved to be at my resting point in one piece. In all honesty, the Lonely Planet: Australia I had been using as my tour guide must have chosen Curtin Springs to don the cover because the look was identical!
Tired and on edge from the 85 kilometer obstacle course, I was told it would be $5 AUD to stay & for the showers.  Curious, I inquired: what if I did not want to shower?  Camping and restroom facilities -- as usual in Australia -- were free.

(**None of these images are mine this time.  Borrowed from Google, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet and other sources**)


  1. I can see why motorcycles don't get the adrenaline going for you when you're dodging kangaroos and at times racing against them. I'm still really amazed and jealous that you just packed up and moved to Australia but not so much about turning down the 5$ shower. =)


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