10 Sights Visible In The Southern Sky With The Naked Eye

Centaurus

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The constellation Sagittarius depicts a skilled archer who also happens to be a centaur—half-human and half-horse. However, he is not the only one. Alpha Centauri is the brightest star and the left foot in Centaurus. The specific mythological centaur this constellation is meant to represent is unknown, but many suggest Chiron (the guy who trained Hercules).

This constellation is now quite hard to spot from the Northern Hemisphere, and in most places, you cannot see it at all. But to the Ancient Greeks naming it, Centaurus would have been far more prominent, until the Earth’s movement placed it farther below the horizon. The Earth’s axis wobbles, causing a slow shift in the visibility of the constellations from different points on the planet over time. This is known as the precession of the equinoxes. The change is minuscule enough that it will take over a millennium to notice a difference. But that was more than enough for the night sky to appear different to the Babylonians than it did to the ancient Greeks and different again for us.

The Southern Celestial Pole

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Everything we can see prominently in the Southern Hemisphere is close to the Southern Celestial Pole, the imaginary point you would reach in the sky were you to draw a straight line up from the South Pole. The entire night sky appears to move around that point with the spin of the Earth.

From the Northern Hemisphere, the Northern Celestial Pole is pretty easy to find, marked by the bright star Polaris. To navigate by the stars, locating the Northern or Southern Celestial Pole is essential. In the Southern Hemisphere, you need to get a little more creative, as there is no distinct star marking the Southern Celestial Pole.

The easiest way is to begin by going back to the Southern Cross. Draw an imaginary line from the head to the foot of the cross and extend it outward into the night sky. Then create another line from the center of the two pointer stars and extend it to meet the first. Where your two imaginary lines meet is approximately the Southern Celestial Pole. From this, navigators can determine the four compass points using the stars.

The Emu In The Sky

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Just next to the Southern Cross, a clear night can reveal the Emu in the Sky, one of the few night sky features made up of darker patches of sky rather than the stars themselves.These patches are created by the dust of the Coalsack Nebula obscuring the light of stars that exist behind them. These dust lanes stretch into a long, thin shape that resembles an emu, starting with the shape of the head right at the Southern Cross and stretching out into the entire body.

Some Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime stories consider emus to be creator spirits that would fly over the land, and this same creature was represented in the night sky above. The Incas also used the Coalsack Nebula to create many sky features. They saw a river full of animals in their sky, including a partridge and a llama.

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