Why would anyone come out into the cold on a wintery Tuesday evening and drive to Zauchensee? Obviously it’s to take a voyage of discovery beyond the final frontier, through space. We are not talking about the year 2200, as galaxies, planets and star groups can easily be explored today – at the Telescopic Star.Gazing at the astronomy station on the Path of the Moon in Zauchensee.
As the introduction may already indicate, I am a Star Trek Enterprise fan (this is the predecessor of Star Trek). Nevertheless, my astronomical knowledge is just enough to recognize the constellation of the plough and maybe the pole star in the sky! Today I want to fill in the gaps in my knowledge gaps.
Saying farewell to my cosy sofa was admittedly a bit difficult, but even on the drive to Zauchensee, it is clear that it will definitely be worthwhile. It is a clear night, the snow shines brightly and Zauchensee is bathed in the light of a dreamlike, starry sky. Astronomy expert Siegfried Hollinger is already waiting at the observatory, with other interested parties, above the northern lake shore.
Zauchensee is an ideal location for the observatory due to its altitude of 1300 m and is equipped with a high spec telescope. According to our expert, the air here is particularly clear, relatively dark and above the fog line.
We start by diving into the world of constellations. With a laser pointer Mr. Hollinger gives us an overview. I learn that my plough actually belongs to the constellation of the big bear and learn to recognize Orion with its distinctive belt of stars. It is exciting to see how the constellations seem to migrate during the night, due to the earth’s rotation around its own axis.
A look through the telescope
Now we get to take a look through the telescope. Our expert has already focused on a star cluster. The so-called Pleiades, a collection of over 1000 stars, are wonderful to see through the telescope, even though they are an impressive 400 light-years from Earth. In comparison, the brightly lit Sirius is particularly visible to the naked eye as it is a mere eight light-years away and seems to be just around the corner. It is the brightest star in the sky,.
Stars and legends
Different legends have always been entwined around stars and constellations. For example, one of the most famous legends about the Pleiades is from Greek mythology. The Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. One day Orion, son of Poseidon, fell in love with the sisters and would not stop pursuing them. This displeased Zeus, the father of the gods, and he sent the seven sisters into the sky as a constellation. Orion still pursues them up there today, but can never reach them.
During the guided telescopic star gazing we can observe two more galaxies. Galaxies are large collections of stars, planetary systems and gas mists. It feels unimaginable that they are 12 million light-years away, especially as I can quite clearly see both the spiral-shaped Bode galaxy and the Cigar galaxy through the telescope. The second one was so called because of its shape, which resembles that of a cigar. Nevertheless, it also has a very high star formation rate. Really fascinating.
As an astronomical layman, I would have finally liked to see a planet but I have to be patient. The two most prominent planets Jupiter and Saturn can only be viewed in summer in the night sky due to their planetary positions in the solar system in the next few years but Pleiades and Sirius are obscured in summer.
So now I want to visit the observatory again on a clear Tuesday summer night, and have the second half of the night sky explained to me. Maybe then I will also be able to spot the Enterprise as Captain Kirk and crew were obviously not in our orbit today ;)!
Photo credits: Anita Ellmer, Matthias Fritzenwallner, Nadia Jabli,