A Guide to Stargazing in Bali – 4 Constellations to Look Out For

A Guide to Stargazing in Bali – 4 Constellations to Look Out For

The night sky universally gives rise to a deep sense of wonder and intrigue amongst us all. For many of us, a visit to Bali is a leap into a different hemisphere. Many a time, as we linger on the sandy shores of the island after a breathtaking sunset, our eyes lift up to the darkening sky above us and we are surprised to note that the subtle cartography of stars that we take for granted has undergone a tremendous change! With the shift in our coordinates on Planet Earth, we are also blessed with a jump in perspective, a chance to explore a star studded canopy that is unlike our own. 

While there are no known observatories or astronomical labs in Bali, it is a stargazer’s paradise nonetheless, particularly in the countryside. With the light pollution at a bare minimum, the dry season with its cloudless nights is the best time to lie down on a grassy knoll and bathe in starlight, contemplating the mysteries of life.

Astrological Significance 

The positions of the sun (Surya), moon (Candra) and stars (Bintang) play a huge role in the traditional practices of the Balinese. The astrological charts are consulted when a child is born, when a couple is to be wed and when any significant event has to be organised. The ancient nature of these practices cannot be underscored enough – palm-leaf manuscripts have been used to historically record astronomical events, accounts of lunar and solar eclipses. Great heroes named after stars are found in the Hindu Mahabharata epic, the names of prominent stars are recited in the mantras of priests and lamak cut out in the shape of stars are used in offerings. Balinese fishermen navigate by the night sky and farmers till today consult the stars for determining the best time for planting and harvesting. A comet (Bintang Kuskus) is said to have appeared at the death of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president who was half-Balinese.

Here’s what to look out for:

Scorpius

The brightest star in the Southern Hemisphere is Scorpius. The lashing tail of this expansive constellation reaches its entirety on the meridian in Bali at 8 or 9 pm in July. Just east of Scorpius is the broad shimmery band of the Milky Way (called Danau or “lake” in Balinese), stretching across the centre of the skies from north to south, replete with millions of sparkling stars. 

The Big Dipper

The Big Dipper (called Perahu or “boat” in Balinese) is only visible, low and to the north, after 8 or 9 pm from February to June. Orion doesn’t appear until mid-November. Called Tenggala (The Plough) in Balinese, it lies on its side and more resembles a plough than it does when viewed in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Aries

Aries, the Ram (called Bengkongor or “the curve” in Balinese) make its appearance in Bali late September. Magnificent Pheiades, the Seven Sisters, rises early October, and Taurus, the Bull, until late October. Taurus is unmistakable because of the fiery red colour of its main star Aldeberan, called Suda Malung or “eye of the pig” in Balinese.

The Southern Cross

The Southern Cross is quite distinguishable in the southern skies. Consisting of five medium bright stars, the constellation can easily be seen in Bali around 8 or 9 pm between December and August. It will be at its highest, 30 degrees above the horizon, in May at 8 or 9 pm, but will drop below the horizon during August, appearing again in the east in December. In its highest vertical position, the Crux will cover four fingers held at arm’s length.

Once identified, the Southern Cross will remain a constant point of reference around which all stars in the Southern Hemisphere are displayed. If you look west of the Southern Cross, you’ll see two principal constellations – the large rambling Vela, the “sail”, on Jason’s mythical ship, and directly below to the south is Carina, the keel of the seafarer’s ship.

FAQ for a Guide to Stargazing in Bali

When is the best time to stargaze in Bali?

The dry season with its cloudless nights is the optimal time for stargazing in Bali. This period ensures minimal light pollution, especially in the countryside.

Are there any observatories in Bali for stargazing?

Currently, there are no known observatories or astronomical labs in Bali. However, the island offers natural settings that make it a stargazer’s paradise.

How do the Balinese people incorporate stars in their traditional practices?

The positions of the sun, moon, and stars play a vital role in Balinese traditions. Astrological charts are consulted for significant events like births, marriages, and other pivotal ceremonies. Ancient palm-leaf manuscripts historically record astronomical events, and stars guide Balinese fishermen and farmers in their daily tasks.

When can I spot the Scorpius constellation in Bali?

Scorpius, the brightest star in the Southern Hemisphere, reaches its full extent on the meridian in Bali around 8 or 9 pm in July.

How does the Big Dipper appear in Bali compared to the Northern Hemisphere?

In Bali, the Big Dipper, referred to as Tenggala (The Plough), lies on its side and more closely resembles a plough than when viewed from the Northern Hemisphere.

Are there any significant cultural interpretations of the constellations in Balinese culture?

Yes, the Balinese have their own names and cultural significance for various constellations. For example, the Milky Way is called “Danau” (meaning “lake”), and the Big Dipper is called “Perahu” (meaning “boat”).

Can I see the Southern Cross throughout the year in Bali?

The Southern Cross is visible in Bali around 8 or 9 pm between December and August. In May, it reaches its highest point, 30 degrees above the horizon, but it drops below the horizon in August, reappearing in December.

Are there any local stories or legends related to stars in Balinese culture?

Yes, stars and constellations hold cultural significance in Bali. For instance, the appearance of a comet, Bintang Kuskus, is believed to have coincided with the death of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, who had Balinese ancestry. Additionally, stars are mentioned in the Hindu Mahabharata epic and play an integral role in Balinese traditions and ceremonies.

Explore the region on the map

Read more about Northwest Bali