Sand and Stars

Hyenas and a Wolf Named Lupus

A beautiful brown hyena. Image credit Cape Nature

10 Sep 2016

I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book – Hyena Nights and Kalahari Days by Gus and Margie Mills. It is the hyena book for hyena lovers – an extraordinary insight into the lives of these fascinating and beautiful animals. It really is a must-read for anyone who loves hyenas, or loves the Kalahari, or loves both. 

In 1972 Gus and Margie, newly married, came to the Kalahari to study the little-known brown hyena. So enchanted were they by these amazing animals that they stayed for 12 years. Their studies allowed them to get to know the hyena clans and their hierarchies intimately, observing and recording behaviour that very few people had ever witnessed… a tremendous read. 

I’ve only ever seen one of these elusive and solitary scavengers; it was late one evening and it loped across a gravel road close to the Botswana border. They really are strangely beautiful creatures! They have a dark shaggy coat and a long cream-coloured mane. Their heads and necks are grey, and their legs are covered in brown and grey stripes. Like their more common spotted cousins, their front legs are longer than their hind which gives their back a sloping appearance and they have powerful jaws with strong teeth.

Lupus from Bode's 1801 Uranographia
Lupus from Johann Bode’s 1801 Uranographia, looks very beast-like to my eye

Last night I spent the night in the company of another gorgeous beast… Lupus.

Interestingly, the ancient Greeks called this constellation Therion, representing an unspecified wild animal, while the Romans called it Bestia, the Beast. Actually, no animal even entered the picture until the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy called it Lupus and the Latin translation transformed it from the “beast” into a wolf.




10″ f/5 Dobs; magnifications of 90x, 144x and 208x 

Barnard 228 – Dark Nebula

RA 15 44 57.9   Dec -34 31 00   Opacity 6   Size 240 x 20

Barnard 228. DSS image

Aptly named the Dark Wolf Nebula, this is a superb on-the-edge view of a dark nebula… and a binocular treat! The 15×70 binoculars show a long thin streak of blackness against the star field, without any obvious starlight – it looks like a deep dark channel carved into the star field, about 4° in length, and running in a north-west to south-east direction.

Dark nebulae really are a treat in these dark, dark skies; they stand out as vividly and impressively as star clouds. Dark nebulae always surprise me with subtle shapes and variations in darkness that take considerable time and attention to distinguish in their inky blackness. They also respond amazingly well to deliberate image motion (always a good thing when I am using the 15x70s without their tripod). I find that if I tip the binos back and forth, or rock them from side-to-side it really helps to bring the subtle detail out. And it certainly helped with this long thin streak of darkness, the slight motion revealing a subtle variation in the shape – the north-western part revealed itself as a little thicker than the rest of the nebula.

And then of course, there are the beautiful neighbourhoods in which the dark nebulae reside – there always seems to be a nearby open cluster, or a planetary or, in this case, a lovely globular cluster and double star…

NGC 5986 – Globular Cluster

RA 15 46 03.5   Dec -37 47 10   Mag 7.6   Size 9.6′

Image credit ESA/Hubble
NGC 5986. Image credit ESA/Hubble

Thanks to the dark skies and my long sojourn in B 228, this globular cluster was easy to pick up in the 15×70 binoculars – a tiny little glowing ball of starlight. In the telescope it is a beautiful globular: a bright little core surrounded by a gorgeous hazy glow of starlight. It stands out beautifully against the background field of stars. Like most globulars, it takes high magnification well, its core showing a dense gathering of starlight, and the outer edges of the cluster looking ragged, a little tattered even. There were some nicely resolved stars on the edges that flickered in and out of view against the unresolved starlight. A lovely globular cluster! 

And while in the neighbourhood, a lovely double star…

Dun 192 – Double Star

RA 15 47.1   Dec -35 31 Sep 34.7″   PA 143°

DSS image
Dun 192. DSS image

Gorgeous with B 288’s dark shadow to the north and a starry field to the south. The pair of bright white stars form a nice line with a close field star, also white. 

NGC 5824 – Globular Cluster

RA 15 03 58.5   Dec -33 04 04   Mag 9.1   Size 7.4′

Image credit Hubble
NGC 5824. Image credit Hubble

This globular appears as a beautiful silky glow of light; a small, relatively bright, and very compact cluster. It grows gradually brighter to a rich and dense bead of starlight at its core that appears almost star-like. Even at high magnification no stars are resolvable, although the edges on the south-eastern side appeared to become very slightly frostier. 

NGC 5927 – Globular Cluster 

RA 15 28 00.5   Dec -50 40 22   Mag 8.0   Size 6.0′

DSS image
NGC 5927. DSS image

NGC 5927 lies in a gorgeous busy star field, strewn with stars of different magnitudes and colours; the globular is stunning set against it. It shows a large round bright glow of frosty starlight that brightens to a small and round compact core. It has well-defined edges that stand out beautifully against the background stars, with a few resolved outliers to the south that flickered in and out of view. The northern part of the globular seems to be slightly more starlight-dense than the southern section. With averted vision the globular loses its roundness and appears to have some stubby little outcrops of starlight that are arranged in a curiously symmetrical fashion.

You can’t look at NGC 5927 without skipping about 1′ east over the border into Norma to see the tiny globular cluster, NGC 5946…

NGC 5946 – Globular Cluster

RA 15 35 28.5 Dec -50 39 34 Mag 8.4 Size 3.0′

DSS image
NGC 5946. DSS image
NGC 5946 appears as a small, round droplet of starlight. With averted vision I could pick up the slightest brightening to the centre, but only a hint, a subtly brighter silkiness in the tiny silky nebulous glow.

NGC 5822 – Open Cluster

RA 15 04 12.6   Dec -54 25 00   Mag 6.5   Size 35′

DSS image
NGC 5822. DSS image

This is a gorgeous open cluster! Easily visible to the naked eye from this dark site, in the 10×50 binoculars it explodes with stars, so huge it appears like a star cloud (the DSS image doesn’t do it justice, I must say). It’s a beautiful sight! At low power in the telescope it pretty much has everything you can ask for in an open cluster… star chains, lovely tangles of short strings of stars, doubles, areas of concentration, some starless zig-zags, symmetry here, asymmetry there, and some lovely strings of very faint stars that appear to run out and mingle with the rich star field that surrounds it. An absolute delight.

NGC 5749 – Open Cluster

RA 14 48 48.8   Dec -54 30 00   Mag 8.8   Size 10′

DSS image
NGC 5749. DSS image

An attractive open cluster set in a beautiful starry background. It is a loose grouping of stars containing a very pretty vaguely Y-shaped asterism of 10th and 11th mag stars at its centre.

IC 4402 – Galaxy 

RA 14 21 13.8   Dec -46 18 01   Mag 11.6   Size 4.2′ x 0.9′

DSS image
IC 4402. DSS image

There is something special about an edge-on galaxy; I love observing them… even when all one sees is the smallest sliver of very faint light, with pointy ends.

NGC 5643 – Galaxy 

RA 14 32 40.7   Dec -44 10 39   Mag 10.0   Size 4.6′ x 4.0′

DSS image
NGC 5643. DSS image

This galaxy shows as a small round fairly bright glow that gradually brightens to the centre, showing a small but obvious nucleus. With averted vision its edges showed a fuzziness.

NGC 5530 – Galaxy 

RA 14 18 27.5   Dec -43 23 12   Mag 11.3  Size 4.2′ x 1.9′

DSS image
NGC 5530. DSS image

This galaxy appears as a very faint, small, very soft silky oval haze elongated northwest-southeast that brightens to a bright star-like nucleus. The star field is very pretty, scattered with faint stars.

A nice little hop away – just a degree to the south-east lies –

IC 4406 – Planetary Nebula 

RA 14 22 26.5   Dec -44 09 05   Mag 10.2   Size 106″

IC 4406. Image credit Hubble

This planetary forms a lopsided triangle with two 12th mag stars to the northwest. Without a filter it shows as a boxy, almost rectangular, shape. As soon as I popped on the OIII filter I could see two very slight lobes either side along its east-west axis… bright, but no colour that I could see. Cool to look at this little boxy smudge of light knowing that chances are, it’s a hollow cylinder, just like all torus shaped planetaries – we just happen to be catching it from the side. 

NGC 5882 – Planetary Nebula 

RA 15 16 50.0  Dec -45 39 00  Mag 10.5  Size 20″

NGC 5882. Image credit Hubble

This planetary nebula responded well to the OIII filter, showing a very small, surprisingly bright, round, sharply defined orb. It was tinted a very faint bluey-greeny colour.

NGC 5873 – Planetary Nebula

RA 15 12 51.1   Dec -38 07 33   Mag 11.0  Size 13″

DSS image
NGC 5873. DSS image

Spectacularly tiny but surprisingly bright planetary. It forms a beautiful triangle with two 11.5 mag field stars and also forms a “double” with a 13th mag star which I’d estimate is only 6″ southwest of the planetary. It appears like a slightly out of focus star, with a light blue tint to it. Using the OIII filter on it was good… although it is extremely tiny the filter sharpened up the planetary’s fuzziness a tad. 

 And to end, some lovely doubles…

Mu Lupi – Triple Star

RA 15 18.5   Dec -47 53   AB: Sep 1.0″   PA 323°   AC: Sep 22.0″   PA 129°  

DSS image
Mu Lupi. DSS image

A beautiful triple set in a background littered with stars. A tight evenly matched pair of bright yellowy-white stars. The third companion has a slightly orangey tint to it.

Dun 178 – Double Star

RA 15 11.6   Dec -45 17   Sep 30.9″   PA 258° 

DSS image
Dun 178. DSS image

A wide pair with a pretty contrast in colours – the primary a yellowy orange, its companion white.

Eta Lupi – Double Star

RA 16 00.1   Dec -38 24   Sep 14.8″   PA 90°

DSS image
Eta Lupi. DSS image

A beautiful pair that stands out well in a starry background. The primary is a very bright white star, its smaller companion is a greyish-white star.

Dun 177 – Double Star

RA 15 11.9   Dec -48 44   Sep 26.5″   PA 143

DSS image
Dun 177. DSS image

A bright easy wide comprising a very bright yellowy-white primary with a less-bright white companion.

Xi Lupi – Double Star

RA 15 56.9   Dec -33 58   Sep 10.3″   PA 49°

DSS image
Xi Lupi. DSS image

Another beautiful pair of gems that contrast beautifully with the starry field; both bright yellow stars.

Copyright © Susan Young 2016