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Belize astronomy – private island dark sky

By Slickrock Adventures on March 29, 2012

Belize stargazing

Just off the island for a few days and I have something I have been looking forward to writing about!

Darin Laird and his wife Mary just joined us for their second Glover’s Reef trip last week, and I am so glad I was on the island with them. Darin brought out a super nice telescope and it enhanced an already great week. For any astronomy buff who is thinking of joining us on our private island in Belize, you might want to do the same!

Darin was into astronomy when he was a kid; his parents bought him a telescope when he was young. In the year 2000 he finally had enough money to purchase a good scope (he used his entire tax return). He was living in Austin, Texas at the time, and he joined the local astronomy club. He reports that’s when he really started learning about the different objects of the sky, not just the planets, but also nebulae, galaxies, stars, and star clusters.

He moved to Pittsburg (where they still live) the next year and kept up with his astronomy a few years more, but then he pretty much quit in 2003. Live took over, I guess. Seven years later he and Mary came out to Glover’s Reef with us; they were there for the New Years trip in 2010. He told me that one night he woke up to go to the bathroom and voila! he looked out off of his cabana porch and saw the Southern Cross for the first time! He was blown away!

He thought “I wish I had a telescope here.” So when he got home be purchased a really nice telescope that he could travel with. He bought a Tele-vue 85, which is an 85 mm scope. And he started counting the days until he could return to Glover’s Reef to look at the sky.

He thought a lot about how to travel with a scope. He decided he would only carry it on, as it is so expensive he didn’t want to risk theft or damage. So the scope has to fit into carry-on size luggage. He does check his tripod and his mount. But the scope and eyepieces all fit in his special carry-on case. He knew that theft wasn’t a problem with theft on the island as he had been here before.

He also has an 8 inch Dobsonian and a 5 inch Mac-Newtonian scope, but he leaves them at home because they are too bulky.

He says that our Limiting Magnitude is about 6 on the island. He explained that the Limiting Magnitude is how dense of a star you can see with the naked eye. He says a Limiting Magnitude of 6 is about as dark as you can get.

When he got here last week, everyone on the trip was very interested in his telescope. His trip leader, Charlie Woodward, told him that no one had ever brought a telescope on one of our trips to his knowledge, and I agree. We looked at Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. We also got to see all of the deep sky objects near the Southern Cross.

Darin says there were two highlights for him, astronomy-wise, about his trip this year: the Eta Carinae nebula and the Omega Centauri globular cluster. This is the first time he has gotten to see these objects because you have to be far south, with a dark sky, to see them. At Glover’s Reef we are at 17 degrees North, and quite a bit of the southern sky is available.

Another highlight was Mars, which is currently in opposition, so it was a bright and as big as it is going to be this year. Also, we had a new moon for his trip, so the stars were not washed out. He also thought that the Orion nebula was absolutely gorgeous. He said it was the best he has ever seen it since our sky was so dark.

He looked at the two galaxies in the Big Dipper, M81 and M82. He could see them together in one eyepiece. He looks at these often near Pittsburg, but he said that our dark sky made them stand out more than he has ever seen them.

Every once in a while a guest of ours shows up with something to teach us, instead of it being always the other way around. Thanks Darin for making last weeks’ trip so much better! [photos by Larry Staples]

Belize astronomy