Night Drive and Stars

Drive from Port Douglas, early morning, 14th November.
The evening is tense. We are trying to decide whether we drive inland or stay put. The weather satellite pics shows a narrow coastal fringe of cloud. The same is forecast for tomorrow, the morning of the total eclipse. It should be clear west of Mareeba according to the latest Weather Bureau report. Eventually we come down on the side the drive inland. It won’t be worse than on the beach and may be better. Not as far as the Palmer Roadhouse though. Ten thousand people have congregated there. Sounds like it will be overpopulated by those of the New Age. Unappealing.
We set off at two am. The drive out is through the warm darkness and across the flat, coastal area of the Cook Highway beyond Port Douglas. We climb into the hills to Julatten by an incredibly long and winding road. We turn North onto the Mulligan Highway. Graeme has warned us of the danger of kangaroos and stock on the roads. Signs on the road repeat the warning as does the squashed body of a roo. There are very few cars. This is a relief, we had feared a mass exodus. Clearly not everyone is as worried about the weather as we are. Then we are on to the long, straight road beyond Mount Carbine. We see A number of cars that have already parked on the roadside as we drive. The road verge is of sunbaked mud with scattered trees beyond. We spot a broad area, drive off the road and park. It is around three thirty am.
We get out into a silence rendered more intense by a quiet, insect background. The air smells delicately spicy, sort of vanilla. It is warm but not the humid oppression of Port Douglas. Then we see the starscape in the sky above us. It is just stunning. The sky is totally dark. The air is clear. The exquisite bright band of the Milky Way rises from the south east to cross the sky. The bold brilliance of Orion is vertically above us and Sirius a little to the west. Canopus leads the stars of the Ship scattered along the Milky Way. Suddenly I realise that the four stars just above a tree in front of us is the Southern Cross. Hello at last! The Coal Sack is clearly visible. A hole in the Milky Way just below the Cross as we see it. Above that there are several patches of nebulousity. Once again I’m using SkySafari with its compass setting. It really is good. There’s eta Carinae, lambda Centauri and the Southern Pleiades. The whole area is incredibly rich. Sweeping it with binoculars takes your breath away. There’s kappa Crucis, the Jewel Box in the Cross. I need to get a look at that with a telescope. Now, low in the sky through the trees, I see alpha Centauri. For the first time in my life I see the third brightest star in the sky.
Time for a little ceremony. The only luxury item in my luggage is the old ‘Norton’s Star Atlas’ I used to use as a teenaged amateur astronomer. I have the glossy, greatly expanded and updated version at home. I used to look at the plate of the South Polar stars and say to myself; ‘ Someday I’ll see you.’ Well, today’s the day! Alison takes a photo of me with the battered old volume open at that page standing in front of the Southern Cross. There’s no way you can see the Cross but I know it’s there.


2 thoughts on “Night Drive and Stars

  1. That’s a great pic – a boyhood promise fulfilled! I bet when you thought of looking at the southern skies you didn’t imagine you’d be using an iPad alongside the old star atlas :). Xxxx

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