Wednesday, August 05, 2009

When You See the Southern Cross for the First Time…

…You inevitably hum that song to yourself.

This particular night in Alice Springs wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen the Southern Cross. The very first time was several years ago in New Zealand, and yes, the Kiwi friends who showed it to me did serenade me with a chorus of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song.

On this trip, I saw the Southern Cross dimly from an observatory in Sydney, and spectacularly late one night going through the outback on the Indian Pacific train. Alice Springs, though, was the first place I’d ever had the chance to take its picture.

Here’s how you find the Southern Cross: There are two bright stars on the far left of this photo. If you draw a line through them and extend it, it bumps into the constellation, which is fairly close to being upright. There are five stars, but I can only see four in the photo, and the one on the far right is dim. The cross is proportioned like a kite.

The Southern Cross is no Scorpio, or Orion (who is sometimes visible in the Southern Hemisphere, but he stands on his head—it gives me vertigo to even think about why that is). The Southern Cross is not very dramatic. But it’s elegant, it’s iconic, and it is off-limits to us northerners. Catching a glimpse of it really did make me feel just a little bit more like I understood why I came this way.

(See, actually if you’re from the Northern Hemisphere, you hum the song to yourself pretty much every time you see the Southern Cross.)

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