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  • Elizabeth Cocking

Did you know? The Southern Cross

The Southern Cross is an iconic constellation steeped in our nation’s history and culture. The photograph in this post was taken by Geoffrey Wyatt, Senior Education Producer Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Copyright Geoffrey Wyatt

The Southern Cross is the smallest of the 88 constellations spanning only six degrees from north to south. It was once visible from the northern hemisphere thousands of year ago due to the shift of the Earth’s axis (known as precession). Its Classical name is Crux, and the constellation is easily identified by its four stars that appear from our planet to be oppositely aligned and almost of equal brightness, and then a fifth star which is not quite as bright,

Stars in the Southern Cross are very important to Aboriginal Peoples and in some areas were used for mapping. The star we call Epsilon Crux (or the fifth star of the Southern Cross) has been officially renamed as Ginan - the name used by the Wardaman People, who live in the Northern Territory. You can find out more in a book written by Dr Hugh Cairns and Senior Aboriginal Elder Bill Yidumduma Harney called Dark Sparklers.

The constellation contains the Coalsack nebula which is the nearest nebula to Earth at only 600 light years away. The dark patch in the sky is visible to the naked eye and you can see it in Geoff Wyatt's photograph.

It also contains The Pointers – Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. Alpha Centauri is actually a star system and contains Proxima Centauri the closest star to Earth after the Sun at 4.3 light-years away.

The five stars that form the Southern Cross are represented on the flags of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Brazil. The Southern Cross is also included in the national anthems of Australia and Brazil.

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