Galaxy’s south window looks into intergalactic space

Galaxy's south window: Star chart outlining a blob-like shape with one star, Fomalhaut, labeled.
Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish is notable for its one bright star, Fomalhaut. When you look towards Fomalhaut, you are looking out our galaxy’s south window and into intergalactic space. By the way, the rest of the stars making up Piscis Austrinus are difficult to see unless you are in a dark sky. Chart via Chelynne Campion/ EarthSky.

Gazing towards our galaxy’s south window into Intergalactic space

As you gaze toward the moon on the evenings of November 29 and 30, 2022, you’ll be looking in the direction toward our galaxy’s south window. In other words, you’ll be looking away from the flat plane of our Milky Way, where most of our galaxy’s stars reside. And you’ll be looking in the direction toward one of the poles of our galaxy. That’s where there are fewer stars, and beyond the Milky Way’s stars, there is intergalactic space.

Also, on those nights, the bright star below the moon is Fomalhaut. It is the brightest star in the constellation Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish.

Beware though, the other two bright “stars” in the area in 2022, are Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter will be the brightest of the three and below the eastern side of the Great Square of Pegasus. Saturn will be the most western of the trio and a creamy golden color.

You can do this no matter what part of Earth you’re standing on. Just look toward the moon and nearest bright star.

You might say we’re looking out the south window of the galaxy.

Note: To see a precise view from your location, try Stellarium Online.

The Milky Way’s south galactic pole

Sky chart showing the constellation Sculptor and the South Galactic Pole.
The circle with tick marks indicates the position of the South Galactic Pole, just above the triangle shape of Sculptor. Chart via Chelynne Campion/ EarthSky.

Why find Fomalhaut? When you look at this star – sometimes called the Loneliest Star – you are looking some 90 degrees from the plane of our galaxy’s equator.

Our Milky Way galaxy is round and flat, like a pancake. When you look toward Fomalhaut, you’re looking away from the pancake, and out the south window of the galaxy. In other words, we’re looking away from the star-packed disk of the galaxy, into intergalactic space and the realm of galaxies.

Want the exact location of the south galactic pole? It lies east of Fomalhaut, in the faint constellation Sculptor. See the chart above.

Finding Fomalhaut without the moon

The moon doesn’t have to be in the sky for you to locate the star Fomalhaut. It’s a very noticeable star because it’s in a region of the heavens where there are few stars bright enough to be seen with the eye. That’s why Fomalhaut is often said to be the loneliest star. If you’re not sure, try using the Great Square of Pegasus to confirm the star you see is Fomalhaut. See the chart below.

Our galaxy’s south window from the Northern Hemisphere:

The Great Square of Pegasus appears high in the south to overhead by around 7 to 8 p.m. local time in late November. This large asterism really does look like a large square pattern, with four medium-bright stars marking the corners. Draw a line through the Great Square’s two westernmost (or right-hand) stars, and extend that line southward to land on Fomalhaut.

From the Southern Hemisphere:

Follow the directions above, but – instead of looking southward to overhead for the Great Square – you’ll be looking low in the north. You’ll still draw your line southward, but, in your sky – starting at the Great Square – that means you’ll draw the line upwards to Fomalhaut. So, just take the chart below, and turn it upside-down!

Chart showing Great Square of Fomalhaut in relationship to Fomalhaut and Sculptor.
The 4 stars making up the Great Square of Pegasus might be visible, despite the moonlight. And when the moon is long gone, you can always use the Great Square to find the star Fomalhaut. Chart via Chelynne Campion/ EarthSky.

Bottom line: On November 29 and 30, 2022, use the moon to find the star Fomalhaut. Then, when the moon is gone, use the Great Square of Pegasus. And once you’ve found Fomalhaut, you’re on your way to visualizing looking out our galaxy’s south window into intergalactic space.

Easily locate stars and constellations during any day and time with EarthSky’s Planisphere.

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November 29, 2022

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Bruce McClure

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