Its better in the Southern Hemisphere
It’s about 2AM and you are lying in your tent trying to decide what to do; do I need to get out and do what a man must do or can I hold on a few more hours? You are in a bush camp on the Trans-Oceania, the South American Epic or the second half of Tour d’Afrique (it must be the 2nd half as you will soon see) and there are no electrical lights so outside is dark, really dark.
For all you know there may be some wild animal right in front of your tent and, if not there, certainly in the bushes, where you should go if you are going to do what you must do. Or maybe you are in a desert and there are no bushes, but who knows there may be scorpions and God knows what else. It is still a few hours before you need to get up for another day of cycling. You have a little headlight but that is just to help you see where you step and in any case the batteries are getting weak.
There is nothing else to do so you unzip the tent. Surprisingly, it is not that dark and you really can see where you are going even without the headlight. In fact, the sky is dazzling. Even though you have camped before in the Canadian/American outdoors and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, walking towards your destination it crosses your mind that you have never seen such a sky. You are not much of an astronomer so you think, no, a sky is a sky, but this is great.
You find a spot far away from the other tents you dig a little hole and you squat. As you crouch there and observe the heavens, from the little you know of the night sky, things seem to be upside down and then you remember that you are in the Southern Hemisphere. You think that you see Orion the Hunter except that he is not standing on his feet but rather doing somersaults. Depending how long you stay there you may see a few other things – like the fact that the Southern Hemisphere has the three brightest stars of the night sky and this may be just one of the reasons that you really do not need your headlight.
In a recent article in the New York Times called the ‘Dazzle of the Southern Sky‘ the author Vanessa Barbara quotes a Dutch American astronomer Bart Bok that the Southern Hemisphere has “the largest and brightest naked-eye external galaxies, the largest diffuse nebula, the largest dark nebula and a Milky Way bright enough under our dark transparent skies to cast shadows during certain times of the year”. In fact, according to Bok, “The Southern Hemisphere holds all the good stuff.”
In her article, Barbara goes on to quote another astronomer Professor Neville H. Fletcher at the Australian National University, who once said: “In astronomy circles it is often remarked — mostly by envious northerners — that God, in creating the universe, perversely located all the most interesting regions of our galaxy in the Southern Hemisphere, but all the astronomers in the north.” That is because just about everything in the sky except the fabulous Northern Lights (which you can see on our North American Epic) you can see more in the Southern Hemisphere.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, it is all very simple. A new year starts and with it another Tour d’Afrique and for those participating there will be times when you wake up in a middle of the night, because you may have been enjoying yourself a bit to much the night before or simply because you have succumbed to that wonderful fried food sold on the street. But rather than feeling sorry for yourself, look up into that wonderful show above your head. Or better yet, if you plan to do one of our 7Epics that will take you to the Southern Hemisphere, pack a small telescope. The rewards will amaze you.