Local Heart, Global Soul

April 5, 2018

A Few “Pointers” To Find South…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The last information board I’m looking at in the top station of the Christchurch Gondola is all about the Southern Cross.

It’s a bright group of stars that all Kiwi’s learn to identify at a young age, and it’s important enough to be on both the New Zealand and Australian flags.

I was lucky to have a teacher at school who’s hobby was astronomy. I think that every kid who passed through his classes got, like us, extensive lessons on stars, field trips to local observatories and on occasion when some of the big planets were visible, night classes in the park where he would have his astronomy friends and their huge telescopes in the middle of the field, delighting kids and their parents with amazing real-time images of planets that we had only seen in books previous to that.

I not only remember it fondly, I would go so far as to say it was one of the highlights of my time at school.

Since many Kiwi kids of my era grew up “tramping” (the New Zealand term for “hiking”) in their holidays, this teacher was keen that we should all be able to navigate by the stars, so taught us how to find due South. Here at the Gondola there is also a guide to the same… so a lot of memories came flooding back when I saw this. The information board reads:

The Southern Cross. The Southern Cross is a group of stars always visible in the southern hemisphere. It consists of four bright stars in the shape of a cross and a fainter start located just below the cross bar. Although there are a number of start crosses in the night sky, the Southern Cross is the most prominent. It is able to be identified by two very bight starts called “The Pointers” that point towards the top of the cross.
How to find South. While the position of the Southern Cross changes in the night, there are various ways to use the cross to find South.
One of the more accurate methods is to:

(1) Extend a line joining the pointers. Midway along this line extend another line at a right angle to it.

(2) Extend a further line from the long axis of the Southern Cross.

(3) Where the two lines meet drop a vertical line to the horizon. This is South.

The Southern Cross is a national icon, appearing on the New Zealand flag. The Maori believed it was an anchor of a great sky canoe, while other tribes thought it was an opening in the sky that the wind blew through.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

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