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March 17, 2009

Orion and the Southern Cross from Downunder

The Southern Cross from Southland, New ZealandI just got back from a 3-week trip "home" to New Zealand and of course took a lot of photos while I was there which I look forward to sharing with you over the next few weeks; but first, that small matter of taxes! Yes, I have to complete my damn tax return by April 15 and want to get that out of the way first before playing with my latest photos.

But I did want to share some night sky photos I took while down in the south eastern corner of the South Island of New Zealand in the coastal region of the Southland area known as the Catlins. For those of you who follow my posts, you will know that I have recently posted some photos of the Orion constellation taken first from the Anza Borrego Desert in San Diego County, and then from atop the San Gabriel Mountains in San Bernadino County. So it was a thrill to take some shots of Orion from the southern hemisphere while staying at Waikawa, a tiny town on the "Catlins" coast.

When you take a look at the photos of "Orion's belt" and compare them to the ones from the northern hemisphere, you will notice that its orientation is turned upside down! What is referred to as Orion's belt in the U.S. is commonly referred to as "the Pot" in New Zealand. And you'll see why when you look at the photos from Downunder in the far southern reaches of New Zealand as Orion's belt appears as the handle of a pot from south of the equator: Orion's Belt from New Zealand.

Turning to the south from Orion you encounter the Southern Cross (Crux) formation in the night sky of New Zealand, a formation that is not visible from the northern hemisphere at any time of the year. The Southern Cross appears in many flags of the South Pacific, including those of Australia and New Zealand. The Southern Cross can be seen at about the dead center of this photo: Southern Cross.

Another interesting observation I made while taking these photos was how low the moon was in the sky that far south. When I first started taking the photos at twilight the moon was low so I thought it was near to setting, however, it turned out not to be the case at all and didn't set till about 3 hours later. You can see a photo of how low the moon was in the sky soon after twilight here: Orion and Moon.

None of these photos are what you would call "sharp" shots as they require long exposures of typically 30 seconds. In that time it is hard to believe just how much the stars actually move, but nonetheless, they give you an idea of the star-filled southern night sky.

Links: Night Sky Slideshow Gallery and Night Sky Static Gallery

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