I didn’t know – and you might not realize if, like me, you live in the Northern Hemisphere – that you can use the constellation of the Southern Cross (which appears on both the Australian and New Zealand flags) to find the south celestial pole and the direction due south. An EarthSky community member, Steve Brown, pointed this sky trick out to us some years ago, and he also provided many links and references to finding south with the Southern Cross, many of which you’ll find in this post. Thank you, Steve!
Here we go … first, if you don’t know it already, meet the Southern Cross.
You might already know that the south celestial pole is the point in the sky directly above Earth’s southern axis. It’s the point around which the entire southern sky appears to turn.
The height of the south celestial pole in your sky depends on your latitude. The sky’s north pole has a moderately bright star – the North Star, aka Polaris – approximately marking its location. The sky’s south pole has no such bright star. But, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, you can indeed use the Southern Cross – also known as the constellation Crux – to find celestial south. Then you can draw a line downward from celestial south to find the direction due south.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) published the following two illustrations showing how to use the Southern Cross to find the south celestial pole and the direction south:
Prefer to get your information via video? Here are a couple of videos showing the same thing, how to use the Southern Cross to find the south celestial pole and due south:
The Southern Cross isn’t the one route to finding celestial south and the direction due south. There are several others way to find south. If you’re interested, try this Wikipedia page. The illustration below, which I found on Wikimedia Commons, shows how to use the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds to find celestial south.
Happy gazing, southern friends!
Bottom line: Illustrations and videos showing how to use the Southern Cross to find the south celestial pole and the direction due south.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. In 2020, she was the Education Prize from the American Astronomical Society, the largest organization of professional astronomers in North America. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.
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