The most famous constellation of the south is the smallest at the same time.
It only covers an area of 68 square-degrees. The »Southern Cross« is situated
right inside the Milky Way, surrounded by the constellations »Fly«
and »Centaur« in which it originally was included. Only in the 16th
century the cross became an independent constellation, when Christian sailors
recognised a symbol of their religion in it.
Due to the fact that there is no star like the polar star in the southern sky,
that marks the South Pole, the »Southern Cross« is of great importance for
orientation: If the longitudinal axis is extended by four times its length and
a perpendicular line is dropped from there to the horizon, south can be marked
rather precisely. To find the cross itself the so called »Pointers« in the
constellation »Centaur« (Alpha
and Beta Centauri
) can help. A connection line through these two very bright
and eye-catching stars directly points to the upper end of the cross.
The visible shape of the cross consists of 5 stars that are situated in very
different distances to our planet: Alpha-, Beta-, Gamma-, Delta- and Epsilon
Crucis, like in all constellations sorted by their brightness. The star closest
to earth, is only 88 light-years away, whilst the distance to Delta Crucis is
estimated to 370 light-years. Many stars of the »Southern Cross« in addition
are multiple stars, i.e. the light of several stars in a row adds to one single
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