Space Chronicles on Ice #3
by Don Pettit
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Confusion in the Southern Hemisphere
Nov 29, 2006:
People who grew up in the northern hemisphere oftentimes find it a bit confusing when they first travel southward to New Zealand. Coupled with a healthy dose of jet lag from rolling off an airplane, this can lead to some trying moments at finding your hotel for a much needed horizontal sleep. First and foremost, they drive on the wrong side of the road here. Of course, they say the same about us (and they have an accent down here too, or perhaps we are the ones with the accent). It is probably best to say that they drive on the left side of the road while we drive on the right. Realizing that this confusion could cause some rather nasty accidents, the rental cars here have a big decal placed over the speedometer that states, "KEEP LEFT." Very good advice if you plan to drive. However, even if you do not plan on driving, this could still spoil your day as a pedestrian. When you step out into a street, years of training cause you to first look left. This of course is the wrong direction which you realize in the nick of time just before a car coming from the right smacks into you. I do not know if this look left reflex, honed since childhood, can ever be adapted to living here. It is a good thing we were taught by our parents to look both ways.
Image at right: "KEEP LEFT" decal on rental car speedometer, which is good advice. This does pose one question. When deployed to McMurdo, operated by USA, and driving to the nearby Scott Base, operated by New Zealand, do we change to the other side of the road? (Photo Credit: Don Pettit)
Another subtle aspect of finding your directions in the southern hemisphere is the sun angle. For us northern hemisphere folks, the sun travels through the sky in the south. The warm spot in your house is the south facing side. You plant your tomatoes on the south side of your yard and your ferns on the north. In the southern hemisphere, it is just the opposite. The sun travels through the northern part of the sky and tomatoes are planted in the north section of your yard (and moss grows on the south side of trees). The effect of all this is that you look at a map for directions (with north still being up), decide upon the appropriate path, and then head in the wrong direction based on subconscious whisperings derived from sun angle directions. Fortunately, the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west.
Image at left: Mosaic image of the Southern Cross area in the southern hemisphere made from images taken from the International Space Station during Expedition 6. (Photo Credit: NASA)
At night, the stars offer both a strikingly beautiful and equally confusing projection (when the New Zealand clouds decide to give you a peek). Your mind applies its standard pattern recognition filter and nowhere can it find a match. The iconoclast big dipper itself is nowhere to be found. And neither is Polaris, the northern star. Like with the sun, the moon travels through the northern part of the sky. When you do find an old friend in a constellation, such as Orion, it is upside down. However, greeting your eyes is a myriad of new stars, draped with a very bright section of the Milky Way. You smile with the excitement of a little kid when you first take sight of the Southern Cross, and relearn the Boy Scout method of finding true south from the Southern Cross and its two helper stars.
Perhaps one of the most interesting observations about the direction of things here is seen after completing a hot steamy bath. A careful observer will notice that when draining the bath tube, the swirl moves in the opposite direction (counterclockwise).