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Crux is the smallest of the 88 modern constellations, but is one of the most distinctive. Its name is Latin for cross, and it is dominated by a cross-shaped asterism that is commonly known as the Southern Cross. It is easily visible from the southern hemispheremarker at practically any time of year, although it is also visible near the horizon from tropical latitudes of the northern hemispheremarker, for a few hours every night, during the spring months; for instance, from Cancunmarker – or any other place at latitude 25º N or less, with unobstructed view to the South—at around 10 pm, at the end of April.

Crux is bordered by the constellations Centaurus, which surrounds it on three sides, and Musca.

Location and identification

Contrary to popular belief, Crux is not opposite to Ursa Major. In fact, in tropical regions both Crux (low in the south) and Ursa Major (low in the north) can be seen in the sky from April to June. Crux is exactly opposite to Cassiopeia on the celestial sphere, and therefore it cannot be in the sky with the latter at the same time. For locations south of 34°S, Crux is circumpolar and thus always visible in the night sky.

Crux is sometimes confused with the nearby False Cross by stargazers. Crux is somewhat kite-shaped, and it has a fifth star (ε Crucis). The False Cross is diamond-shaped, somewhat dimmer on average, does not have a fifth star and lacks the two prominent "Pointer Stars."

Notable features


Three of the five main Crux stars—–Acrux, Mimosa, and Delta Crucis—–are co-moving B-type members of the Scorpius-Centaurus Association, the nearest OB association to the Sun. They are among the highest-mass stellar members of the Lower Centaurus-Crux subgroup of the association, with ages of roughly 10 to 20 million years.


Since the southern sky lacks an easily visible pole star, Alpha and Gamma (known as Acrux and Gacrux respectively) are commonly used to mark south. Tracing a line from Gacrux to Acrux and extending it for approximately 4.5 times the distance between the 2 stars leads to a point close to the Southern Celestial Pole.

Alternatively, if a line is constructed perpendicularly between Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, the point where the abovementioned line and this line intersect marks the Southern Celestial Pole. The two stars are often referred to as the "Pointer Stars" or "White Pointers", allowing people to easily find the top of Crux.

Named stars

  • α is named Acrux, a concatenation of "Alpha" and "Crux"
  • β is named Becrux a concatenation of "Beta" and "Crux" and is also named after the Mimosa plant
  • γ is named Gacrux, a concatenation of "Gamma" and "Crux"

Deep sky objects

The Coalsack Nebula is the most prominent dark nebula in the skies, easily visible to the naked eye as a big dark patch in the southern Milky Way.

Another deep sky object within Crux is the Open Cluster NGC 4755, better known as the Jewel Box or Kappa Crucis Cluster, that was discovered by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1751–1752. It lies at a distance of about 7,500 light years and consists of approximately 100 stars spread across an area of about 20 light-years square.


Crux was visible to the Ancient Greeks, who regarded it as part of the constellation Centaurus. At the latitude of Athensmarker in 1000 BC, Crux was clearly visible, though low in the sky. However, the precession of the equinoxes gradually lowered its stars below the European horizon, and they were eventually forgotten by the inhabitants of northern latitudes. By AD 400, most of the constellation never rose above the horizon for Athenians.

Crux was rediscovered by Europeans during the Age of Discovery. Amerigo Vespucci mapped Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri as well as the stars of modern Crux on his expedition to South America in 1501.

The separation of Crux from Centaurus is generally attributed to the French astronomer Augustin Royer in 1679. Other historians attribute the invention of Crux to Petrus Plancius in 1613, noting that the constellation was later published by Jakob Bartsch in 1624.

Cultural significance

As a highly distinctive asterism, Crux has great significance in the cultures of the southern hemisphere.

In Australian Aboriginal astronomy, Crux and the Coalsack mark the head of the 'Emu in the Sky' in several Aboriginal cultures, while Crux itself is said to be a possum sitting in a tree.

Also, pretaining to the library of aboriginal star-lore, the southern crux is a representation of the sky deity Mirrabooka. Biami, one of the most important male Spirit Ancestors in south-eastern Australia, was given his spirit form by the Rainbow Serpent during the Dreamtime and is incorporated into male initiation ceremonies. Even though Biami initially roamed the earth and guarded the tribespeople, he is now considered to be a Sky God and watches over the earth from his home in the sky. In this myth about Biami and Mirrabooka, the origin of the Southern Cross constellation is described.

Biami was kept very busy, guarding the tribes as they roamed throughout the earth, and he was very much troubled for them. He found that he could not watch over all of them at once; he knew he must have help to keep them from harm. Among the tribes there was a man called Mirrabooka, who was much loved for his wisdom, and the way in which he looked after the welfare of this people. Biami was well pleased with Mirrabooka, and when he grew old, promised him eternal life. Biami gave Mirrabooka lights for his hands and feet and stretched him across the sky, so that he could watch forever over the tribes he loved. And the tribes could look up to him from the earth and see the stars which were Mirrabooka’s eyes gazing down on them.

When in later times white invaders came from across the sea and stole the tribal lands, they did not know that this group of stars across the sky was Mirrabooka, and they renamed them. They named Mirrabooka the Southern Cross. And the eyes of Mirrabooka they called the Pointers. But it is really Mirrabooka there, stretched across the sky; he will be there forever, for Biami has made it so.

A stone image of the constellation has been found at the archaeological site of Machu Picchu, Perumarker. In Mapudungun, the language of Patagonian Mapuches, the name of Crux is Melipal, which means "four stars". In Quechua, the language of the Inca civilization, Crux is known as "Chakana", which means literally "stair" (chaka, bridge, link; hanan, high, above), but carries a deep symbolism within Quechua mysticism..

The Māori name for Crux is "Te Punga" – "the anchor". It is thought of as the anchor of Tama-rereti's waka (the Milky Way), where the Pointers are its rope. In Tongamarker it is known as Toloa—duck; it is a duck flying over, heading south, and one of his wings (δ) is wounded because Ongo tangata—two men—α and Β Centauri threw a stone at it. The Coalsack is known as Humu—triggerfish, because of its shape.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, it is known as Buruj Pari (The Stingray). In ancient Hindu astrology, the modern Crux is referred to as "Trishanku".

Among Tuaregs, the four most visible stars of Crux are considered iggaren, i.e. four Maerua crassifolia trees.

Argentinemarker Gauchos are well known for using it for night orientation in the vast Pampasmarker and Patagonic regions. It is also of cultural significance, as it is referenced in several songs and literature, including the Martin Fierro

The Southern Cross in popular culture

Melbournemarker's Southern Cross Hotel was built and named in 1962 and was one of the city's foremost hotels during the decade. The hotel was demolished in 2005 and replaced by the similarly named office building known as Southern Cross Tower.

"The Sign of the Southern Cross" is a Song by Black Sabbath written in 1981 which was sung by Ronnie James Dio.

"Southern Cross" is also a 1982 song by the classic rock group Crosby, Stills and Nash, written by Rick Curtis, Michael Curtis, and Stephen Stills.

Melbourne's Spencer Street Stationmarker was rebuilt and renamed "Southern Cross Station" in 2006.

The Argentine Air Force acrobatic display team is called Cruz del Sur, the Spanish for "Southern Cross".

The two main characters from Namco PSP game Ace Combat X gryphus-1 was called "Southern cross" and his symbol was an andean condor with cross on his wing, also Gryphus-1 AWACS was called "Crux".

"Crux" is the title of a 2009 album by instrumental artist Emmalee Crane. The album includes a song called "Stair Asterism" in reference to the Inca name for the constellation.

The manga and anime series Fist of The North Star has one of its major fighting style, Nanto Seiken, with the Crux as its symbol.

Flags and symbols that incorporate Crux

Crux, appearing on a number of flags and insignia
Beginning in the colonial age, Crux became used as a national symbol by several southern nations. The brightest stars of Crux appear on the flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guineamarker, and Samoamarker. They also appear on the Australian states and territories of Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, as well as the flag of Magallanes Region of Chile, and several Argentinemarker provincial flags and emblems (e.g., Tierra del Fuegomarker and Santa Cruzmarker). The flag of the Mercosur trading zone displays the four brightest stars. Crux also appears on the Brazilianmarker coat of arms.

The five stars are also in the logo of the Brazilian soccer team Cruzeiro Esporte Clubemarker. A stylized version of Crux appears on the Eureka Flag. The constellation was also used on the dark blue, shield-like patch worn by personnel of the U.S. Army's Americal Division, which was organized in the Southern Hemisphere, on the island of New Caledoniamarker, and also the blue diamond of the U.S.marker 1st Marine Division, which fought on the Southern Hemisphere islands of Guadalcanalmarker and New Britainmarker.

Cultural References to the flag symbol

The Southern Cross played a crucial role as symbol of the Eureka Stockade. In the Eureka Oath from Peter Lalor's famous speech in 1854 under the flag he proclaimed:
We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truely by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.

In 1893, Australian poet Banjo Paterson wrote:
The English flag may flutter and wave,
where the world wide oceans toss,
but the flag the Australian dies to save,
is the flag of the Southern Cross.

The Southern Cross was written into the lyrics of the Australian National Anthem written in 1984,
Beneath our radiant Southern Cross.

The Southern Cross was written into the lyrics of the Brazilian National Anthem written in 1909,
A imagem do Cruzeiro resplandece.
(the image of the (Southern Cross) shines resplendently.)

The victory song of the Australian national cricket team is entitled "Beneath the southern cross"


  1. Chakana: Inca Cross
  2. Kik Velt; Stars over Tonga

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