By: Blonde Two
“I look up and I see those southern lights shining down on me. Those good old southern lights are shining, join them and be free.”
Thus starts a song that I can remember singing on a rather beer ridden, summer New Zealand night back when I was younger than all three of my children are now. I can still remember all of the words and it is kind of a tradition of mine to sing it on first spotting the Southern Cross in the rather overwhelming New Zealand sky.
When I first investigated the sky-scape down here in the southern hemisphere, I, in a rather Blonde way, expected to see a completely new set of stars but, of course, many of the constellations are visible in both hemispheres. In fact, the only places on the earth where you can only see either the southern or northern set of stars are the two poles. This is to do with the way that the earth tilts – any stars or constellations that sit near to the celestial equator are more easily spotted in both hemispheres. Orion is my favourite example of this and the first “recognised” constellation that I spotted down here despite him being rather oddly upside down.
One of the best things about the night sky here in New Zealand is the Milky Way. It can be clearly seen directly overhead and stretches right across the sky from southwest to northwest. It is impossible to see that it is made up of thousands of stars with the naked eye, but as Galileo found out, you only need a pair of decent binoculars to sort this out.
The Southern Cross is the down under equivalent of our Plough and North Pole Star. It is easy to find (although not as big as you might expect) and the same shape as it appears on the New Zealand flag. Most of us know how to find the North Pole Star from the Plough – follow the side of the saucepan up and across a bit. It is not quite as easy to find the South Celestial Pole from the Southern Cross – you have to draw two lines in the sky for a start but I did it right first try tonight.
The Southern Cross is a bright constellation but my efforts to take some NZ night sky photos for you came to nothing. My Grandad (the one who didn’t live here) was good at night sky photos and would have loved it here under a similar but different sky.