In the center, the Southern Cross constellation and its two bright pointer stars (at the left) adorn the pale band of the Milky Way in the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere.
It was almost midnight when we arrived at Macquarie Lighthouse in Sydney for the second time. In the afternoon, we’d come as tourists to this spot, checked it off our list and hadn’t planned to return.
“We’ve lived here for decades and never seen this lighthouse, and now we’re seeing it twice in one day,” David said.
Okay, so we weren’t thrilled at this unscheduled second trip — my fault, I admit — but even the locals had to admit they were charmed to see the lighthouse in action. I’ve visited a dozen lighthouses, but I’d never seen one at work before. It was a beautiful summer night in late January.
Armed with flashlights (or torches, as they say), we soon focused on finding Monica’s bracelet, lost on our first trip. (Yes, my fault.) It had been a long day and a long drive, and we just hoped to find the bracelet and get home to bed. Overhead, the old lighthouse steadily flashed its beacon. Beyond was the dark Tasman Sea, pounding on the rocky shore below the cliffs.
Macquarie Lighthouse is Australia’s first and longest operating navigational light. There has been a navigation aid on this site since 1791 and a lighthouse since 1818.
“I found it,” Monica announced, displaying the bracelet. That afternoon she’d slipped it off her wrist so that her hand would fit under a fence to retrieve my camera lens cap. (I should buy my lens caps by the gross.)
“That was fast.” Relieved, we turned to leave, but the night sky was so amazing.
We turned off the flashlights and stared at the heavens. The pale ribbon of the Milky Way stretched across the sky. Even though we were on the outskirts of Sydney with its light pollution, the clear, black sky was sprinkled with bright stars. Despite my poor night vision, I could easily pick out Orion, although he looked a bit askew from this southern latitude.
“See, aren’t you glad you lost your bracelet here? ” I asked.
Macquarie Lighthouse stands at the southern entrance of Sydney Harbour, which Captain James Cook missed while investigating the coast of Australia.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Monica fired off. I was sure I could see her smiling in the dark.
She and David pointed to the Southern Cross and to its two pointers stars. It was then that it really hit me. Not only was I was 9,000 miles from home, but I was just a tiny blip in the cosmic picture. I felt exhilarated!
You can’t see the Southern Cross from the Northern Hemisphere, even as the people in the Southern Hemisphere can’t see the North Star. One of the pointer stars is Alpha Centauri, a star system that is closest to the earth, “only” 4.37 light years away, which you can’t see from the Northern Hemisphere.
“Hello, neighbor,” I said to Alpha Centauri. “Nice to meet you at long last.”
This aerial view of Macquarie Lighthouse shows the Sydney skyline in the background. The lighthouse stands on the south head of Sydney Harbour. This isn’t my photograph, though I wish I could claim it!
The Down Unders certainly don’t feel that they are at the far end of the world. To them, the stars are as they should be.
I got my bearings at 33 degrees latitude south and felt right at home in Oz.
Who’s on top of the world? It all depends on your perspective.