Southern Circumpolar Constellations

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Courtesy of NASA

The circumpolar southern constellations are Carina, Centaurus, and Crux. They can be found circling the south celestial pole and can be seen from southern latitudes at any time of year while remaining invisible for observers in most northern locations.


The Latin of Carina means ‘the hull or keel of a ship,’ and it was the southern foundation of the larger constellation of Argo Navis until it was divided into three pieces. The other two pieces of the larger Argo Navis constellation was broken into Puppis, and Vela. Carina is famous for a nebula named the Carina Nebila, which is NGC 3372. Carina also contains the naked-eye globular cluster NGC 2808. The stars Epsilon Carinae and Upsilon Carinae are double stars and are visible in small telescopes. Carina contains the radiant of the Eta Carinids meteor shower, which peaks around January 21 each year.


One of the largest constellations, Centaurus was included among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. A famous star in this system is Alpha Centauri, which is a triple star system. Alpha Centauri is a binary around which orbits Proxima Centauri, currently the nearest star to the Sun. One other first magnitude star in the Centaurus constellation is Beta Centauri, which is in a position beyond Proxima and toward the narrow axis of Crux.


This constellation is centered on four stars in the southern sky in a bright portion of the Milky Way. It is among the most easily distinguished constellations as its hallmark stars each have an apparent visual magnitude brighter than +2.8. It is worth noting that Crux is the smallest of all 88 modern constellations. The name Crux in Latin means cross, and it is dominated by a cross-shaped or kite-like asterism that is commonly known as the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross asterism is one of the most well known features to amateur astronomers in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere.

Information about circumpolar northern constellations always visible from the Pacific Northwest, check out this article.

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