The Southern Cross (lat: Crux), although being the smallest, is one of the most prominent constellations in the southern hemisphere and can be seen all year.
How to spot Crux
The Crux is located in the brightest section of the Milky Way, right under the back legs of the much larger constellation of Centaurus. The four stars form a typical cross which is known from the catholic and protestant religions. It consists of four stars, three of which are first size and also binary stars. The northern end of the cross occupies Gacrux, a star at 90 light-years distance. The other three stars, Acrux, Becrux and Decrux are about 30 million years old. In Australia, New Zealand, South America or South Africa the Crux is circumpolar.
Unlike many constellations, the Southern Cross does not have its origins in mythology but rather in the more recent history. Although it was known to the ancient Greeks, it featured more prominently with European navigators who set sail during the Age of Discovery in the 15th and early 16th centuries. The Cross was previously combined as part of Centaurus and was first mentioned as a single constellation in 1516 by the Italian explorer Andreas Corsali. The Portuguese sailors who rounded the southern tip of Africa also mapped it and discovered its great value in nautical navigation.
Crux is pictured on the flags, coins and stamps of a large number of southern hemisphere countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Papua New Guinea.
The Southern Cross features in a number of song lyrics and is also part of the national anthem of Australia and Brazil and is mentioned in the victory song of the Australian national cricket team.
One of the brightest stars in Crux is not a star at all, but a beautiful cluster of stars named the Jewel Box.