Where to Spot the Southern Cross

During the colder months, Willamette Intl Travel clients head annually to the Southern Hemisphere in search of sun, warmth, and adventure. Today let’s take a look at one of the South’s most prominent emblems—the Southern Cross.

photo by Ryan Wick, flickr creative commons

The Southern Cross is an iconic constellation visible to those in the Southern Hemisphere. It is comprised of four stars in the shape of a cross: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta Crucis—with some areas able to see a fifth, Epsilon Crucis.

Visible to ancient tribes in the British Isles in the 4th millennium b.c.e., it has since dropped down to the vistas of southern latitudes. In the recent millennia, the Cross has customarily been used by southward explorers in antiquity. Unlike the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere has no singular pole star to highlight the way for maritime navigation—so sailors used the Cross as the celestial point of reference. Though recorded throughout history, it was Joao Faras, astronomer to King Manuel I of Portugal, who was the first European to sketch the constellation during his Brazilian voyages.

The Cross, or otherwise known Crux, has come to represent the southern hemisphere and its cultures. Throughout the centuries it has appeared in folklore, popular usage, flags, and coats of arms. In many Australian Aboriginal cultures, the Cross is said to be an emu or a possum in the sky. It is an integral part of many traditions, the subject of songs and literature, such as Richard Rodgers’ musical ballad “Beneath the Southern Cross.” It’s also lent its name to towns villages, ships, airplanes, and newspapers across Latin American and Australia–Suiderkruis in South Africa and Australia’s Southern Cross come immediately to mind.

So where can you see this brilliant constellation?

New Zealand

As the Crux is visible all year from New Zealand, it is a prominent feature of the local culture and appears on the national flag. The Maori call it Mahutonga, which means “the anchor” — and it is part of a larger constellation of a canoe, comprised of the Western constellations of Orion’s Belt, the Pointers, and the Crux.

Australia

The best location to view the stars is Coonabarabran, home to the Anglo Australian Observatory. The stars appear on flags of Australia, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory. It is also the subject to countless local poems, songs, and speeches.

Latin America

The crux also appears on flags throughout Chile and Argentina, and on the Brazilian coat of arms. It was incorporated into the Brazilian National Anthem in 1909 and is currently apparent on all Brazilian Real coinage.

South Africa

The crux is the subject of the well-known South Africa Christmas carol, Somerkersfees. One of the most prestigious medals in the country, The Order of the Southern Cross, is awarded to remarkable citizens who have displayed exceptional achievement. Recipients include Chris Barnard, performer of the first heart transplant in the country, Oliver Tambo and Chief Luthuli for their contribution to the liberation struggle, and a number of professors for their exceptional work in their respective fields.

Northern Hemisphere

You can sometimes see the Southern Cross just north of the equator until about 25 degrees latitude—for instance in Hawaii or Northern Africa, as long as it’s in the months of May or June.

Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is the only location in the USA that you can spot the Southern Cross! Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain of the islands, houses the largest telescope in the world and is one of the best summits to experience snow and stars on a clear day. In the Hawaiian language, as in Maori, the Cross is an anchor, but identified by the name Hanaiakamalama, or “cared for by the moon.”

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Interested in Traveling to the Southern Hemisphere for the Winter? Seeking to spot the Southern Cross as it was meant to be seen? Let us advise you! Call 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com for more details.

3 Comments

Filed under Africa, Asia, Central America, Features, South America, Where in the World is the WIT Client?

3 responses to “Where to Spot the Southern Cross

  1. Timothy Fairbrother

    I saw it pretty clearly at a town called “Southern Cross” (Western Australia) just before dawn on an Autumn morning. I really have trouble spotting it out of Melbourne. Strange.

  2. Pingback: Ringing in the New Year | Willamette International Travel

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