10 Sights Visible In The Southern Sky With The Naked Eye

Omega Centauri

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Within Centaurus shines a globular cluster that you can see with the naked eye. While this is rare in itself, Omega Centauri is also the biggest globular cluster in the Milky Way and contains some of the oldest stars you can see in the night sky, at an estimated 12 billion years old. The size of the cluster allows us to see it despite being 17,000 light-years away.

A globular cluster is an immensely dense ball of stars clumped together. They are held together through the forces of their stars’ own gravity. The Milky Way’s globular clusters are thought to have formed before our galaxy flattened out into a spiral disc.

However, Omega Centauri may have a different origin. It may be the remnant of an ancient dwarf galaxy. The theory is that this galaxy once collided with our own, causing the outer arms to be ripped from it and leaving the core behind. At the center of every galaxy is a black hole, and, if the theory is correct, this black hole is still present, with its gravity keeping this ancient cluster intact.

The Magellanic Clouds

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Though these seem to be clouds, they do not move and are never affected by the wind. They are actually two other galaxies in the night sky. They are referred to as the Magellanic Clouds, with their “discovery” accredited to Magellan many centuries after other cultures had incorporated them into their star maps and stories.

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are relatively small dwarf galaxies and are much smaller than our looming neighbor Andromeda. The larger has around 30 billion stars and the smaller three billion. Those numbers seem pretty tiny when you consider that we have at least 200 billion in the Milky Way. The two galaxies are in orbit around ours.

Carina

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You may have noticed that there haven’t been many constellations mentioned in this article. That is because only those constellations right up next to the Southern Celestial Point will get absolutely no decent viewing time north of the Equator. After Crux and Centaurus, the only other constellation that stays mainly down south is Carina. Carina is the Latin name for the keel of a ship. In fact, it was once part of a whole ship under a different and more ancient classification of stars. That ship, called Argo Navis, was eventually broken into three in the modern constellations, with the stern and the sails becoming Puppis and Vela.

Within this constellation, there is a nebula visible to the naked eye. The Carina nebula is four times larger than the well-known Orion Nebula and shines brightly despite being much farther away. It is likely only less famous because it is so far south.

Canopus

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Canopus is the brightest star within the constellation Carina. More than that, it takes the silver medal as the second-brightest star in the entire night sky, losing only to Sirius. Canopus was well-known to Polynesian navigators, who possessed an extensive knowledge of stars and were able to navigate with exceptional accuracy using this knowledge paired with a keen understanding of other environmental factors, such as winds. Canopus, being so visible, was an important navigational marker.

In later years, Canopus was once again important for navigation, this time for spacecraft. Canopus is so bright that NASA sometimes uses it as a reference point for the sensors on their craft to calculate their position. However, because it is so far south, it has not been studied a great detail.

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