At night on the Equator, a clear sky above shows many recognizable stars, but also quite a few unfamiliar to those living in the northern hemisphere. On our Galapagos cruise, most evenings we are out on the sea, away from civilization, and are happy to turn off the ship’s lights in order to spend some time star-gazing. Lay down on your back, sit, or recline, and look at bright stars and planets from both northern and southern hemispheres fill the night sky.
In order to impose some form of order to the immense universe over our heads, astronomers have drawn in the sky an imaginary line onto infinity of the heavens, a line that reflects earth’s equator, and named it the “celestial equator”. The same goes for the celestial poles, thereby dividing the night sky into four celestial quarters, a very practical tool for positional astronomy. The name "equinox" is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, night and day are approximately equally long. In the Galapagos, our days and nights are approximately all 12 hours long, with only minor variations throughout the year. Sunrise and sunsets are roughly anywhere from 5;45 to 6:15, mornings and evenings throughout the year. Also here on the equator at zero degrees latitude, the sun sets perpendicular to the horizon which means darkness (and dawn), happens quickly, with no lingering sunsets or sunrises as are expected at higher latitudes.
The term “constellation” was used to refer to a perceived pattern formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another, and this practice is still common today as anyone who follows their zodiac sign and horoscope can tell you. The benefit of star-gazing on the equator is the potential of seeing stars and constellations from both hemispheres: the big dipper, bootes, Cassiopeia, Crux, Telescopium, Triangulum Australe and many more. Of interest to many are the constellations of the zodiac: Gemini, Taurus, Scorpio, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Capricorn, Libra, Sagittarius, Aquarius, Aries and Pisces. As these constellations lay along the celestial ecliptic for the most part, they are visible to anyone located on the equator. Not all the constellations are visible throughout the year (some are behind the sun for half the year), and others are infamous for their faintness; but with patience, good weather and the correct time of year, they can be found by those willing to search.
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