The Stars From Carara, Costa Rica

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

7 P.M.

On the equator the sun rises and sets at about 6 A.M. or P.M. every day. In Costa Rica in January it sets a little before 6. This close to the equator the Sun drops almost vertically and it gets dark very quickly. By 7 P.M. it will be quite dark. The familiar winter constellations will dominate the sky, but Orion will pass nearly overhead and some constellations will be beyond overhead. They will be upside down compared to how you see them in Green Bay. The viewing hole at Carara is restricted and it can take some time to get oriented. From the porch of the station the trees obstruct everything below 45 degrees elevation. From the road there are clear views to the west and north and somewhat obstructed views to the south.

The Big Dipper is completely below the horizon. The bright southern star Achernar may be visible looking south along the highway. Canopus will be hidden in the trees to the southeast. The Magellanic clouds, satellite galaxies of our own galaxy about 170,000 light years away, look like detached pieces of Milky Way but are not visible unless you have a clear southern horizon.


By midnight the winter constellations are high in the west and Canopus will be visible directly below Sirius. The Southern Cross will just be rising low in the southeast. Chances are you've never heard of most of the southern constellations. They never rise in the northern U.S. and were mostly invented in the 1600's and 1700's.

5 A.M.

At 5 A.M. dawn is very near. Nearly overhead are two bright stars, orange Arcturus a bit to the north and blue-white Spica a bit to the south. Drop straight down from Spica to the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross will be at its highest but from Carara you will have to cross the highway and go a bit north to get a glimpse. Unfortunately, Alpha and Beta Centauri are blocked by the trees. The Big Dipper will also be at its highest.

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Created 18 January 2008, Last Update 11 June 2020