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  • Thomas Grohmann

A manifold heavenly round dance

presented itself to us during our stay in Portugal's oldest light protection area, the Deep Sky Park Alqueva, for the new moon date around 23 February 2020.

Already in the evenings before that, shortly after sunset, the planet Mercury, the closest to the sun, could be seen in the western horizon together with No. 2 (Venus) as a beautiful couple.

On the way to Alqueva we could observe spectacular moon rises and sets in the Spanish Grazalema, a mountain range in the Andalusian interior.

The sparsely populated landscape around the Alqueva reservoir in the Alentejo guarantees a particularly dark night sky - and cloudless on relatively many nights a year.

This allows very long and deep photographic exposures of so-called deep sky objects, as they can be found in the region around the belt stars of the constellation Orion. With a lot of dust and red glowing ionized hydrogen clouds it contains the typical ingredients for the birth of new stars. And indeed, this region of our Milky Way is also the closest cosmic delivery room to us. The following image with a total exposure time of almost 11 hours was taken in three consecutive nights.

Nice to look at above the reservoir was the planetary circle with the moon and the bright star Antares in the early morning of February 19, 2020:

The evidence of a millenium long colonization almost reaches into the sky, such as the megalithic group not far from the small town of Monsaraz with its central, large menhir, also known as the Cromeleque (stone circle) do Xerez.

It seemed even lonelier and darker in the Noudar Nature Park near the Spanish border with its dominating castle complex from the early 14th century. Milky Way and Zodiacal light with the setting Venus rose up majestically above the castle.

Here too, a deep sky object could be photographed in two nights with a total exposure time of about 8 hours. The so-called Seagull Nebula, also an emission and reflection nebula with red and blue components, lies in the middle of the starry winter milky way between the constellations Monoceros and Canis Major.

It was very exciting to see the extremely narrow crescent of the moon rising again shortly after sunset on the horizon after the new moon phase.

A completely different scenario presented itself in the ruins of the mining town Mina de Santo Dominos, which were illuminated by the young moon in conjunction with Venus.

Oh yes, during the day the oop-oop-oop calls of the hoopoes often accompanied us. One morning, a couple showed up looking for food in the immediate neighbourhood of our site at Campinho, directly at the Alqueva reservoir.


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