The starry sky is fascinating. In most parts of Europe – as well as vast parts of Britain – fewer and fewer stars can be seen as a result of light pollution and smog. If you want to enjoy the starry sky to the full, you’ll have to find a place that shows stars in full splendour. According to connoisseurs, Monte do Casarão is such a place. Astrophotographer Carsten Jacobs and amateur-astronomer Tom Zalmstra were here and they are happy to share their experiences.
Carsten Jacobs’s starry sky
Normally, Carsten Jacobs travels to Namibia to take pictures of the stars at the International Amateur Observatory. He was at least as happy with the pictures he took on Monte do Casarão and with the circumstances here. He photographed both the Orion’s Belt (M 78) with the Horsehead Nebula and parts of Barnards Loop as well as the Rosette Nebula (NGC 2244) and the Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC 2264) in the Monoceros constellation. The photos have been taken with an RGB and an H-alpha filter with a two-hour exposition time. The camera Jacobs used is an FLI ML 16803, with a Mamiya long-focus lens 645 300mm 1:5,6.
We are allowed to use the pictures he has taken. You can find more pictures taken by him (and by fellow-astrophotographers) on the (German-language) website www.ias-observatory.org
Tom Zalmstra’s starry sky
Monte do Casarão is eminently suitable for enjoying the starry sky. Firstly, this is due to the rest and relaxation a holiday brings on. To enjoy stargazing, you really need to take your time. That goes for the beginner who is trying to recognize constellations and waiting for shooting stars from his deck chair. And it goes for the experience observer who is looking for pale nebulas with the aid of a telescope and a detailed atlas and tries to recognize the tiniest details by gazing at them for the longest time.
Then, there’s the darkness of course. Monte do Casarão is really dark. In Britain, you’ll have to travel far north to find a place where it’s this dark. Moreover, the Alentejo climate provides a dry transparent sky that helps you see far more stars, nebulas and constellations than elsewhere. You can tell with the naked eye, with binoculars and with a real telescope. For those in the know: an SQM value of 21.7 is quite ordinary here.
Lastly, there’s the location. Southern Portugal lies 15 degrees further south than London. In daytime, you can tell by the sun, which is 15 degrees higher and yields more heat. At night, all stars are 15 degrees higher as well and for that reason, they are easier to see. The vast advantage for stargazers (astronomers) is that objects that in Britain tend to remain hidden behind the horizon actually become visible here.
One example is the Centaurus constellation, featuring many beautiful nebulas and stars. In Portugal, the spectacular globular cluster of Omega Centauri can just be glimpsed above the horizon.
Another example is the environment of the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius: the most beautiful parts of the Milky Way. In Western Europe this area may just rise above the horizon during the summer and then usually drowns in the light soup of the nearest town of village. On Monte do Casarão these constellations rise well above the horizon (in the evenings during the summer or at night in the spring) so that you can make the most of the stunning objects: through binoculars you can look out for e.g. the Lagoon Nebula and Trifid nebula at your leisure, enjoying beautiful structures in the Milky Way.
Starry sky in real time
Before long, you’ll be able to view the starry sky above Monte do Casarão through a real telescope: the Sky-Watcher Skyliner-300P Flex Tube 30 12 inch Dobson.
It’s a present from our guests, to us and to our guests. We are really happy with it. We’ll be having a great time in the darkest hours of the night.