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One of the most famous natural symbols of the Southern Hemisphere, is the Southern Cross or Crux. It is the smallest, and one of the brightest, of the 88 constellations we can see from Earth. As a circumpolar constellation it can be seen from the Southern Hemisphere throughout the year, and from areas south of 25 degrees latitude North, at certain times of the year.

The constellation consists of five stars/star clusters called Alpha Crucis (Acrux), Beta Crucis (Mimosa), Gamma Crucis (Gacrux), Delta Crucis and Epsilon Crucis. Trailing below the Southern Cross are two bright stars known as the pointer stars, they are Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri.

Although it is the smallest constellation, the distances between the stars of the Southern Cross are mind boggling for humans. The estimated distance between the top star and the lower star of the constellation is 232.77 light years, or expressed in more familiar terms, if an astronaut travelled between these two stars at a constant speed of 100 km/hour, it would take about 2.5 billion years to complete the journey.

The Southern Cross features in the cultures and legends of many people who inhabited the Southern Hemisphere and was used by seafarers and travellers in celestial navigation. It is a significant symbol for Australia and New Zealand and features in both their flags.

The Ancient Greeks knew of the Southern Cross constellation and considered it to be the hind part of the large constellation called Centaurus, named after the Centaur, a mythical creature that was half man half horse.

It is now impossible to see the Southern Cross from Greece, what has changed? The answer is a process called axial precession, this is a slow, steady, continuos change of Earth’s rotational orientation. The best way to understand it, is to think of the Earth as a spinning top, the angle of axis stays constant but the top of the Earth moves around in an arc like a wobbling top. A complete 360 degree cycle takes 25,765 years, one degree every 71.6 years, and it is this slow alteration in the orientation of the Earth which has caused the Southern Cross to recede below the horizon in Greece. Axial precession was first observed and understood by the great Greek astronomer, Hipparcus, between 127 BC and 147BC.

There are some interesting astronomical features within the Southern Cross, The Coal Sack is a dark nebula visible with the naked eye and The Jewel Box is a beautiful star cluster that can be seen well with binoculars. Unfortunately light pollution is masking our view of the night sky, the smallest Southern Cross star, Epsilon Crucis, has already disappeared from the skies of large Australian cities. Even on Tamborine Mt sky glow and local bright, poorly designed street, commercial and gate lighting are steadily reducing our spectacular view of the starry night sky.

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Why does attentiveness to nature matter? In a very fundamental sense, we are what we pay attention to. Paying heed to beauty, grace, and everyday miracles promotes a sense of possibility and coherence that runs deeper and truer than the often illusory commercial, social "realities" advanced by mainstream contemporary culture. ... Our attention is precious, and what we choose to focus it on has enormous consequences. What we choose to look at, and to listen to--these choices change the world. As Thich Nhat Hanh has pointed out, we become the bad television programs that we watch. A society that expends its energies tracking the latest doings of the celebrity couple is fundamentally distinct from one that watches for the first arriving spring migrant birds, or takes a weekend to check out insects in a mountain stream, or looks inside flowers to admire the marvelous ingenuities involved in pollination. The former tends to drag culture down to its lowest commonalities; the latter can lift us up in a sense of unity with all life. The Way of Natural History, edited by Thomas Lowe Fleischner and published by Trinity University Press (Texas)