Astronomy Report

Southern Cross Constellation

PDF version of this report (prints in 10 or less pages).

 


Authors

Felipe Garrido Goicovic

Matias Marchant Taborga

Juan Soto Rosales

Mario Campos Duque (teacher)

 

School

Colegio Cristóbal Colón

Santiago de Chile

Pasaje Berna 1658, Conchalí

colcrico@ctcreuna.cl

 

Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the support provided by the Chilean Astronomy Network (RChA, Red Chilena de Astronomía, http://www.rcha.cl) during the production of this work. The Spanish version of this report has been freed to the public domain under the terms of the License RChA.

 

2003


The Southern Cross

 

One of the constellations more easily seen during the whole year in the South Hemisphere is the Southern Cross (in Spanish “Cruz del Sur”). This is a group of stars readily observable (due to its simple shape) which has been object of veneration in diverse cultures, providing guidance and inspiration for a long time. One of the telescopes at Cerro Paranal [1] has been named after the Southern Cross using the mapudungún name for it, Melipal [2], which means “four tips” (as in the tips of arrows). (N.B.: Mapudungún is the language of the Mapuche, the native people living in central and southern Chile).

 

Our report includes the following aspects:

 

·                     The Southern Cross as lighthouse of literary inspiration.

·                      Knowing the Southern Cross astronomically.

·                     The Southern Cross in comparison to the Northern Cross.

·                     The Southern Cross and the mythology of the original cultures of the Andes.

·                     Classroom activity.

 

I. The Southern Cross as lighthouse of literary inspiration

 

Diverse authors have mentioned the Southern Cross in their works. Dante is one of them. In the Divine Comedy he writes in the first canto of the second part: “I turned right and, directing my attention to the other pole, I distinguished four stars only seen by the first humans. The sky seemed to rejoice in their shine...”. [3]

 

A Chilean author, the Literature Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda, wrote in his book “One hundred love sonets” (poem LXXXVI): “Oh Southern Cross, oh threefold of fragrant phosphorum / with four kisses today it penetrated your beauty / and went through the shadow and my hat: / the moon was round because of the chill. / Then with my love, oh diamonds / of blue frost, serenity of the sky, / mirror, you appeared and all was full of night / with your four depots trembling of wine.” [4]

 

These two examples make us think on how this constellation has inspired different poets which, from different latitudes and from different ways of viewing it, have found themselves captivated by this stellar cross; Dante, in the XIII c., observing from far away, and Neruda, in the XX c., from the austral Temuco [5], observing its whole grandeur.

 

II. Knowing the Southern Cross astronomically

 

This constellation is one of the 88 classified by the International Astronomical Union in 1930. Formerly it was part of Centaur after a classification by Ptolemy. Due to the precession of the Earth the Southern Cross became invisible from the North Hemisphere. It was split from Centaur by A. Royer in 1679. [6]

 

The shape of this constellation is that of a cross. It is formed by 4 outstanding stars and a dark nebula. It can be distinguished from other cross found in the same hemisphere (the False Cross) because it has a fifth star near its centre.

 

Its coordinates are A. R. 12.45 h and  Dec. -59.97 degrees, visible between parallels 20 degrees N to 90 degrees S. Its area is 68 square degrees.

Image by astrophotographer Pedro Aguirre V. (http://astrosurf.com/pedro)

 

In Table 1 we show data for the 11 brightest stars of this constellation. We present data for  position, magnitude and spectral class of each star.

 

Table 1 - Source: Catálogo de Brillos de Estrellas [7].

HR

Common Name

Bayer

VarID

RA
J2000

DEC
J2000

mag

MK Spectral Class

Multiple
Count

4853

Becrux

(Mimosa)

Beta

Bet Cru

12h 47m 43.2s

-59° 41' 19"

1.25

B0.5III

3

4730

Acrux

Alpha [7]

 

12h 26m 35.9s

-63° 5' 57"

1.33

B0.5IV

3

4763

Gacrux

Gamma

5672

12h 31m 9.9s

-57° 6' 48"

1.63

M3.5III

3

4731

 

Alpha [8]

 

12h 26m 36.5s

-63° 5' 58"

1.73

B1V

3

4656

 

Delta

Del Cru

12h 15m 8.7s

-58° 44' 56"

2.8

B2IV

 

4700

 

Epsilon

5568

12h 21m 21.6s

-60° 24' 4"

3.59

K3-4III

 

4898

 

Mu [7]

 

12h 54m 35.6s

-57° 10' 40"

4.03

B2IV-V

 

4679

 

Zeta

 

12h 18m 26.1s

-64° 0' 11"

4.04

B2.5V

 

4616

 

Nu

 

12h 6m 52.9s

-64° 36' 49"

4.15

F2III

 

4599

 

Theta [7]

 

12h 3m 1.5s

-63° 18' 46"

4.33

Am

 

4897

 

Lambda

Lam Cru

12h 54m 39.2s

-59° 8' 48"

4.62

B4Vne

 

 

Acrux is one of the brightest stars in the sky, being the twelfth in bright. Other interesting Southern Cross data are the distances, temperatures, solar radii and absolute magnitudes, as obtained from the software Starry Night. [7]

 

Table 2 -  Source: Software Starry Night, version 3.1.

HR

Bayer

Distance 

Temperature

Solar Radius

Absolute Magnitude

4853

Beta

353

20.695

6,4

-3.92

4730

Alpha [7]

321

21.259

7,1

-4.22

4763

Gamma

88

3.276

269

-0.6

4731

Alpha [8]

 

 

 

 

4656

Delta

364

16.569

4,7

-2.46

4700

Epsilon

226

3.738

129

-0.66

4898

Mu [7]

379

15.620

3

-1.33

4679

Zeta

362

14.819

3,1

 

4616

Nu

64,3

7.144

2,3

 

4599

Theta [7]

231

7.477

6,8

 

4897

Lambda

360

13.904

2,7

 

 

The following images were obtained from Simbad (astronomical database). [9]

 

Acrux

Becrux

Gacrux

Delta crux

Epsilon crux

 

 

Comparing the images with the spectral class of the stars (see Table 2), and using as a reference the classification by Morgan and Keenan, we see that:

 

Table 3

HR

Bayer

Absolute Magnitude

Class of star

4853

Beta

-3.92

Giant, white-blue, cepheid

4730

Alpha [7]

-4.22

Subgiant, white-blue

4763

Gamma

-0.6

Red giant

4731

Alpha [8]

 

Dwarf or from the main sequence

4656

Delta

-2.46

Subgiant

4700

Epsilon

-0.66

Giant

4898

Mu [7]

-1.33

Subgiant

4679

Zeta

 

Dwarf or from the main sequence

 

Nu

 

 

 

Theta [7]

 

 

 

Lambda

 

 

 

Another interesting information we are able to show about this constellation is the location of the stars in relation to the Milky Way.

 

Table 4 - Source: Catálogo de Brillos de Estrellas [7].

Acrux

Member of the Scorpio Centaur cluster.

Betacrux

Probably a member of the cluster Sco-Cen; member of the association Sco-Cen; member of the Pleiades group.

Delta Cru

Probably a member of the Scorpio Centaur cluster.

Epsilon Cru

Hyades group.

 

Other objects we can distinguish in the Southern Cross are the following:

 

Table 5 - Source: Catálogo de Brillos de Estrellas [7].

Name

HR

Object

Magnitude

NGC

4755

Open cluster

4,2

NGC

4609

Open cluster

6,9

Ru

98

Open cluster

7

Harvard 5

 

Open cluster

7,1

NGC

4103

Open cluster

7,4

NGC

4349

Open cluster

7,4

NGC

4439

Open cluster

8,4

NGC

4052

Open cluster

8,8

NGC

4337

Open cluster

8,9

Ru

97

Open cluster

9,1

Hogg

14

Open cluster

9,5

Tr

20

Open cluster

10,1

Hogg

15

Open cluster

10,3

PK

298-0,1

Planetary nebula

11

PK

300-0,1

Planetary nebula

11,7

PK

298-1,2

Planetary nebula

12,4

PK

299+2,1

Planetary nebula

12,7

PK

300+0,1

Planetary nebula

12,9

PK

299-0,1

Planetary nebula

13,6

PK

300-1,1

Planetary nebula

13,8

 

The most interesting cluster in the Southern Cross is the Jewel Box (NGC 4755):

 

Image: Space Telescope Science Institute.

 

Image by astrophotographer Pedro Aguirre V. (http://astrosurf.com/pedro).

Image: http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/sim-fid.pl

 

Some magnitudes in the Jewel Box:

 

Table 6 - Source: http://www.seds.org/messier/xtra/ngc/n4755.html

Right ascension

12h 53.6’

Declination

-60 degrees 20’

Distance

7600 light years

Visual bright

4,2 magnitude

Apparent size

10 arcmin

 

Nicolas Lacaille discovers and then mentions the Jewel Box in Coelum Australe Stelliferum in 1763. This is a young star cluster, approximately 7 million years old. [10]

 

NGC 4755 is made up of diverse stars from which we highlight the following:

 

Table 7 - Source: http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/Simbad

 

Name

Star type

B mag

V mag

Spectral class

1

HD 111990

Star in Double System

7.01

6.77

B1B2Ib

2

SAO 252075

Ellipsoidal variable Star

8.165

7.962

B0.5 Vn

3

HD 111904

Variable Star

6.09

5.80

B9Ia

4

SAO 252073

Variable Star of irregular type

9.82

7.66

M2Iab

5

HD 111934

Variable Star

7.15

6.91

B2Ib

6

HD 111973

Star in Cluster

6.10

5.9

B5Ia

 

The most remarkable dark nebula of the South, located in the Southern Cross, is the Coal Sack. This nebula is on the galactic plane, about 150 pc from the Sun [6]. It is known since prehistory in this hemisphere. It was observed in 1499 by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón [10].

 

Some data about this nebula:

 

Table8 - Source: http://www.seds.org/messier/xtra/ngc/n4755.html

Right ascension

12h 52’

Declination

-63 degrees18’

Distance

2000 light years

Apparent size

420 by 240 arcmin

 

This nebula is composed of stellar dust that blocks the path of light. Here we see the Coal Sack (in Spanish: Saco de Carbón) in sheer splendour:

Image by astrophotographer Pedro Aguirre V. (http://astrosurf.com/pedro)

 

III. The Southern Cross in comparison to the Northern Cross.

 

Image: http://faculty.rmwc.edu/tmichalik/mlkywayc.htm

 

The image shows the two crosses: Cygnus to the left and Crux to the right. Both extend across the galactic equator. The following data illustrates similarities and differences between the crosses of both hemispheres.

 

 

Southern Cross

Cygnus

Icon

 

 

Image

Apparent magnitude

Becrux 1.25

Deneb 1.25

Nebula

Coal Sack (dark nebula)

NGC 7000 (bright nebula)

Cluster

Jewel Box (NGC 4755)

Open cluster, A-shaped.

M29

Open cluster; shaped as a spoon.

Name

Southern Cross

Northern Cross

Stars of apparent magnitude < 3

4

4

Visible in the range of latitudes...

20 to –90 degrees

90 to –40 degrees

Area

68 square degrees

804 square degrees

 

IV. The Southern Cross and the mythology of the original cultures of the Andes.

 

In a legend about the origin of the Mapuche the Southern Cross is mentioned. In the “Book of Mapuche tales”, compiled by Alicia Morel, we read:

 

The children built a ruca (a Mapuche hut) and the Sun entered by the door facing East and left by the one facing West, following the ancient custom of the people of the land, respectful of the cardinal points and regarding the number four as sacred.

 

When at last the Maker of Rain was tired of riding over the clouds and returned to its hiding place behind the hills, water level began to descend and the rivers to follow their normal course. Then the coihue (a native tree) buried itself in the mud as a ship running aground, and when the wind dried the ground the Puma (a native feline) , the Chilla (a native mouse) and the children jumped from the log and looked for a hidden valley to live.

 

The first thing they did, even before building another ruca or looking for a cave to inhabit, was to name their adoptive children. Magical names that would protect them forever. The son was named Manque, the condor that soars in the sky looking after the Earth. The daughter was named Melipal, like the Southern Cross.”

 

There are other known connections to the Southern Cross, which we mention now:

 

  • The ancient indigenous farmers of the Andes observed the occurrence of astronomical phenomena in order to determine the epoch of their agricultural or cattle raising activities. The Southern Cross dictates the calendar in the Andes; it says when it is time to harvest and when it is time to start sowing.
  • The ancient inhabitants of the Andes organised their territory according to the laws of the stars. One of their most important constellations was the Southern Cross. Based on it they found the measures needed to organise their lands. They did it by bringing the constellation down to Earth using “water mirrors” (an amphora with water, which, when a star is on the zenith, reflects the starlight directly on the ground), and obtained the unit called Tupu (distance from end to end in the shortest arm), which corresponds to 20.4 meters.
  • In the medicine wheel of the Quechua, the Mapuche and other native people, the four stars form a “square cross”, which is the axis of the wheel and which can be seen clearly depicted in the drawings of the kultrún, the drum used by the machis (Mapuche healers) during their healing ceremonies. In each of the four parts the kultrun results divided, they paint suns, moons or stars on it.
  • For the old inhabitants of the zone of Esquel, province of Chubut (Argentina), the Southern Cross is represented as “the pawmarks of the Chokie or ñandú (a large bird) escaping from the bolas of the hunters”. This animal was sacred for them.
  • For the Bororó (in Brazil), the Southern Cross was to be found in the paw of a large ñandú (Chokie).
  • The legend of the Mocovies (Chaqueño Wood, between Paraguay and Río de la Plata) tells that the Southern Cross is part of the body of a ñandú. However, this ñandú was not completely free of danger: the stars Alpha and Beta Centauri, and several other stars, depicted two threatening dogs.
  • For the Mapuche and the Tobas, two people far away from each other, the Coal Sack portrayed the body of the ñandú, laying on the ground, and the paw is formed by the four stars of the Southern Cross. There are cultures that saw the ñandú in nearly the whole Milky Way.
  • Farther to the South, the tribes of the Andes tell the legend of Nemec. Nemec was the chief hunter and wanted to capture a choike (ñandú). When the bird was about to be captured he escaped flying to the stars. The chief then threw the bolas using his whole strength. They did not reach the bird but stayed in the sky, near the paw of the choike, as the stars we know as Alpha and Beta Centauri. They are also known as “the buoys of the Southern Cross” because they seem to point to the smaller mast of the cross.
  • The cultures of the Ecuadorian seashore celebrate the feast of the crosses. This consist of adoration of a cross dressed as a woman and watched over during one night. Then the cross is escorted to the church where a priest blesses the “Holy Cross”. This feast is related with archeoastronomy because it is celebrated during the time in which the Southern Cross shines at its most over this zone (likely following a tradition from their ancestors).
  • The Inca also regarded the Southern Cross as very important. There are many imperial buildings related to this constellation. As their stars pointed directly to the Celestial South Pole, they needed to know it in order to determine the different times of the year (seasons, time of sowing/harvest, solstices, equinoxes, etc).
  • The Bolivian people celebrate on May 3 the Cross but, in this case, they talk specifically of the feast of the Southern Cross constellation. Their ancestors venerated this constellation with the name Achakana (Southern Cross). [11]

 

V. Classroom activity: Comparing stars.

 

How does the size of each star of the Southern Cross compare to the Sun? What happens if its spectral class or absolute magnitude changes? We can work these questions with the students in the classroom. In order to do this, we need a computer and the software H-R calc6, about the Hertzprung-Russell diagram.

 

With data taken from the tables presented in this report (absolute magnitude and spectral class) we can approximate the variety of star, size and temperature.

 

Steps:

a)       Download the software from the Internet. Locate it using a search engine with the terms “H-R Calc”.

b)       Once downloaded and installed, we start the program, obtaining this screen:

c)       Enter data for one the stars of the Southern Cross. You will get:

d)       Obtain the position in the diagram and other information you require from the software:

 

 

 

 

e)       Obtain the colour and size of the star.

             

f)         Finally present the results and discuss them in class, repeating for each star in the Southern Cross.

 

Stellar chart for the Southern Cross

 

Image: http://www.hawastsoc.org/deepsky/cru/cru.html

 

Other references and notes

 

[1] Observatory VLT, Paranal. Located in the II Region, Chile.

[2] From a Mapuche Dictionary: Meli (four) Pal (tips).

[ 3 ] La Divina Comedia, Dante Alighieri. Volume 1, part two, first canto. Ed. Ercilla 1995.

[4] Cien Sonetos de Amor, Pablo Neruda  Soneto LXXXVI. Editorial Planeta 1997

[5] Temuco, capital city of the IX Region, Chile.

[6] Diccionario de Astronomía  by Isabel Ferrero, Editorial Fondo de Cultura Económica.

[7] Bright Star Catalogue, 5th Revised Ed. (Preliminary Version) (Hoffleit+, 1991, Yale University Observatory. http://www.alcyone.de/SIT/bsc/cru.html

[8] Software Starry Nigth version  3.1 

[9] http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/sim-fid.pl

[10] Sed Messier. http://www.seds.org/messier/xtra/ngc/n4755.html

[11] http://www.cielosur.com/constela.htm; http://www.circuloastronomico.cl/index.html; http://www.geocities.com/vivianee35/diosa.htm and others.