April is a great time to start viewing the famous Australian constellation of the Southern Cross. You can track it over mid-autumn and winter evenings.
When to look: 7.30pm, from April
Which direction to look: South east
When you head outside to stargaze, what you will notice first are two bright stars on a diagonal. The brighter of the two, Alpha Centauri, is closer to the horizon. Together, the two stars are commonly known as the “Pointers”. That’s because they seem to point towards the Southern Cross.
The Southern Cross itself is above and a little to the left of the Pointers. It looks like a diamond lying on its side and is actually made up of five stars. Four make up the cross shape and there is one dimmer star between the two stars on the longest edge of the diamond.
For Telescopes and Binoculars
Southern Hemisphere telescope owners are very lucky to have a beautiful open cluster of stars called the Jewel Box to look at. It’s not visible from the Northern Hemisphere, so if you have the chance, take the time to try and find it with your telescope.
The Jewel Box is just below and slightly to the right of the lowest star of the Southern Cross as it appears in the sky at this time. If you have a go-to computerised telescope, its catalogue number is NGC 4755.
See if you can see different coloured stars in the open cluster. That’s why it’s called the Jewel Box! You might see a red-coloured star (a ruby), a yellow/white-coloured star (a diamond) and a green or blue-coloured star which could be an emerald or a sapphire!
If you then head back outside at 9pm or later, you’ll notice that the Southern Cross has moved higher in the sky. However, it’s not the stars that have moved, it’s us here on Earth!
Earth has slowly been turning on its axis making it appear like the stars have moved. The point in the sky that they’re all moving around is called the South Celestial Pole. That’s where Earth’s south axis points to and all stars appear to move around this point.