Southern Cross: Crux constellation, stars and mythology

The Southern Cross is an asterism made up of essentially the most seen stars within the constellation Crux. 

The enduring group of stars is seen primarily from the Southern Hemisphere. Due to its orientation within the evening sky, the Southern Cross has traditionally served as an important navigational information: two of its main stars kind a line that factors to the South Pole. The Southern Cross can be featured within the flags of a number of Southern Hemisphere nations.

Crux is the smallest of the 88 official constellations outlined by the Worldwide Astronomical Union (IAU) (opens in new tab). The Southern Cross just isn’t all the area of the sky that makes up Crux, however quite simply the 4 (or 5) stars that make its iconic cross form: That is what makes it an asterism. 

Associated: What number of stars are within the universe?

What stars are within the Southern Cross?

The Southern Cross is made up of 4 or 5 stars, relying on who you ask. To seek out the Southern Cross, viewers can use two “pointer stars” Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri to information the way in which. (Picture credit score: Future) (opens in new tab)

The Southern Cross is made up of 4 or 5 stars, relying on who you ask. The 4 foremost stars, in response to Constellation Information, are Acrux (also called Alpha Crucis), Mimosa (Beta Crucis), Gacrux (Gamma Crucis) and Imai (Delta Crucis). Acrux is the southernmost star, whereas Gacrux is the farthest north. Mimosa and Imai kind the crossbeam.

The Southern Cross on Brazil’s nationwide flag

Brazil’s nationwide flag exhibits the Southern Cross in reverse in comparison with the celebs on Australia, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand’s flags. That is as a result of, in response to Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, the Brazilian flag exhibits the celebs throughout the Southern Hemisphere in a mirror picture. Think about observing the celebs over Rio de Janeiro from a fictional place “outdoors of the sky.”

The fifth brightest star within the Crux constellation, Ginan (Epsilon Crucis), is included in some depictions of the Southern Cross: for instance, the nationwide flags of Australia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Brazil. Ginan seems within the area between Imai and Acrux, not as a part of the principle cross formation. It is left off of the nationwide flag of New Zealand, which options solely the 4 brightest stars of the cross.

Alpha, beta and delta Crucius — also called Acrux, Mimosa and Imai — seemingly share a typical origin, wrote Constellation Information, as they’re all made up of huge, hot-burning B-type stars. 

Acrux, the brightest and southernmost star within the Southern Cross, is the Thirteenth-brightest star within the evening sky with a visible magnitude of +.76, in response to a 1966 paper printed within the journal Month-to-month Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa. The decrease a star’s visible magnitude is, the brighter that star is. For comparability, the brightest star in Earth’s sky is Sirius, with a magnitude of -1.46. 

Whereas for magnitude functions it’s thought-about to be one star, Acrux is definitely a a number of star system, in response to the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa. Whereas it seems to be like one star to an unassisted observer on Earth, extra delicate telescopes reveal that it’s made up of a number of elements.

What else are you able to see within the Southern Cross?

Astronomers have recognized a number of different objects of curiosity in or close to the Southern Cross. For one of the best view of those objects, we advocate utilizing binoculars or a telescope. In the event you want tools, our greatest binoculars and greatest telescopes guides could assist. 

As a way to discover the planetary nebulae, it is useful to know their magnitude, proper ascension (RA) and declination (Dec). 

Magnitude tells you ways brilliant an object is because it seems from the Earth. The decrease the variety of an object’s magnitude, the brighter the item. For instance, an object of a -1 magnitude is brighter than one with a magnitude of +2. 

Proper ascension is to the sky what longitude is to the floor of the Earth, equivalent to east and west instructions. It is measured in hours, minutes and seconds. 

Declination tells you ways excessive an object will rise within the sky. Like Earth’s latitude, declination measures north and south. Its items are levels, arcminutes and arcseconds. There are 60 arcmins in a level and 60 arcsecs in an arcmin. 

The Coalsack Nebula 

This picture that includes the Coalsack nebula was taken by the Extensive Area Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope (Picture credit score: ESO ) (opens in new tab)

Coalsack Nebula

Approximate distance from Earth: 600 light-years

Location: 12h 50m (proper ascension), −62° 30′ (declination)

The Coalsack Nebula in response to the European Southern Observatory (ESO) types a conspicuous darkish silhouette towards the Milky Method. The nebula, wrote the ESO, has been recognizable to folks within the southern hemisphere for “so long as our species has existed.” That is as a result of it is without doubt one of the most distinguished objects of its variety seen to the unaided eye — an inky blotch in an in any other case brilliant space at evening. Hundreds of thousands of years from now, the ESO wrote, the Coalsack will finish this darkish section and ignite with new stars, flammable similar to the darkish coal it is named after.

The Jewel Field 

The FORS1 instrument on the ESO Very Massive Telescope (VLT) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory was used to take this exquisitely sharp shut up view of the colorful Jewel Field cluster, NGC 4755. The telescope’s large mirror allowed very quick publicity instances.   (Picture credit score: ESO/Y. Beletsky) (opens in new tab)

The Jewel Field

Magnitude: +4.2

Approximate distance from Earth: 6,440 light-years

Location: 12h 53m 42s (proper ascension), −60° 22.0′ (declination)

One other object of curiosity within the Southern Cross is the Jewel Field, a galactic star cluster situated about 6400 light-years away. In accordance with the European House Company (opens in new tab) (ESA) it’s roughly 16 million years outdated, and is simply brilliant sufficient to be seen with the bare eye. Its nickname dates again to the 1830s and comes from the English astronomer John Herschel (son of astronomer William Herschel), the ESA wrote, as a result of its twinkling blue and orange stars made Herschel consider a bit of unique jewellery. 

How are you going to discover Southern Cross?

In accordance with the IAU (opens in new tab), Crux is the smallest of the 88 formally acknowledged constellations. However it’s nonetheless straightforward to identify for viewers within the Southern Hemisphere, particularly these greater than 35 levels south the place the celebs are seen any time of evening, all yr spherical. It is even seen some instances of yr for these within the Northern Hemisphere under about 26 levels, wrote EarthSky (opens in new tab). Hawaii, southern Florida, and a few elements of Texas, for instance, will see the celebs of the cross clear the horizon on clear Could evenings. 

To identify the Southern Cross, viewers use two “pointer stars,” Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, wrote The Australian Broadcasting Company (opens in new tab) (the ABC). That is partially how skywatchers can separate the true Southern Cross from plenty of false crosses within the evening sky. 

From the Northern Hemisphere, the cross will usually seem vertical. However within the Southern Hemisphere, in response to the ABC, the cross might look like mendacity on its facet or the other way up relying on the month and the time of evening. 

The simplest method to be sure you’re wanting on the proper Southern Cross is to make use of a compass. Look south, comply with the Milky Method, and draw a line between the intense pointer stars to seek out the cross.

How is the Southern Cross used for navigation?

The Southern Cross can be utilized to level a navigator on the Earth’s floor towards the celestial south pole, in response to EarthSky. A line drawn from Gacrux on the high of the cross by means of Acrux on the backside will level to the south. 

Navigators utilizing conventional Polynesian wayfinding methods additionally use the celebs of the Southern Cross as one among many tips that could the south, in response to the Polynesian Voyaging Society. 

The cultural significance of the Southern Cross

The Southern Cross asterism seems in a number of nationwide flags, as famous above. The celebrities had been beneficial guides to European explorers who left the celebs they knew — Polaris and the Large Dipper, for instance — to navigate seas within the Southern Hemisphere. The primary European to explain the 5 stars of the Southern Cross, Andrea Corsali, wrote of their magnificence and habits in 1515 for his patrons within the Medici household, in response to a 2019 article from Hordern Home (opens in new tab). Corsali’s description offered a useful resource for hundreds of years of later European explorers.

However the stars had been first recognized by civilizations that far predated the European seafarers: for instance, the ABC lists a number of myths from Indigenous peoples of Australia figuring out the celebs as a part of a wedge-tailed eagle, an emu’s head, or a bunch of trouble-making children. In truth, the IAU acknowledges the star Ginan by the title given to it hundreds of years in the past by the Wardaman folks of northern Australia, in response to a information article within the Sydney Morning Herald (opens in new tab). The Indigenous Data Institute (opens in new tab) on the College of Melbourne notes that Indigenous Australians used the Southern Cross stars to navigate.

The Maori, the Indigenous folks of New Zealand, additionally named and referred to the celebs recognized by the IAU because the Southern Cross. The Maori thought-about the asterism to be the anchor of a celestial canoe, in response to Te Aka (opens in new tab), a Maori language dictionary. 

Incan astronomers related the identical space of the sky with the tinamou, a ground-dwelling, seed-eating fowl. In a 1981 paper within the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (opens in new tab), the writer speculates that whereas the celebs of the Southern Cross rose within the sky annually, tinamous seemingly thrived on the arrival of the wet season. The cycle of these stars corresponded with the time wherein farmers would have been planting their weak seed. 

Extra sources

For extra on the Southern Cross and conventional Polynesian wayfinding, watch this video of navigator Nainoa Thomson speaking about these stars. And to get one other perception into why folks select explicit stars as constellations and asterisms, try this text from Science Information Explores (opens in new tab).  


Annab, R. (2020, Could 28). Stellar navigation and arithmetic. Indigenous Data Institute. (opens in new tab)

Blane, D. (2014, February 24). Alpha crucis — double star of the month. ASSA. (opens in new tab)

Corben, P. M. (1966). Photoelectric magnitudes and hues for brilliant southern stars. Month-to-month Notes of the Astronomical Society of South Africa, 25, 44.…44C (opens in new tab)

Duarte, P. A. (2008, Could 2). Astronomia da bandeira brasileira. Departamento de Geociências da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. (opens in new tab)

Hook, R. (2015, October 14). A cosmic sackful of black coal—A part of the coalsack nebula in close-up. Www.Eso.Org; European Southern Observatory. (opens in new tab)

Lomb, N. (2008, July 21). Discovering south utilizing the Southern Cross — an important talent. Observations. (opens in new tab)

Mannix, L. (2018, January 16). Southern Cross star given new title to recognise Aboriginal astronomy. The Sydney Morning Herald. (opens in new tab)

McClure, B. (2021, April 1). The right way to see the southern cross from the northern hemisphere | favourite star patterns | earthsky. (opens in new tab)

Meridian tips that could south. Hōkūleʻa. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from (opens in new tab)

Sharkey, C. (2009, October 29). Opening up a vibrant cosmic Jewel Field. Www.Spacetelescope.Org; European House Company. (opens in new tab)

Southern cross: Information to south celestial pole — constellation information. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2022, from (opens in new tab)

The Constellations. The Worldwide Astronomical Union; IAU. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from (opens in new tab)

Digital excursions » newbie’s information to the evening sky(Abc science). (2019). Australian Broadcasting Company. (opens in new tab)

Waka o tamarēreti, te—Te aka māori dictionary. Waka o Tamarēreti, Te – Te Aka Māori Dictionary. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from (opens in new tab)

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