On the Southern Hemisphere Wheel of the Year Calendar the compass points are placed as seen on a geographic map, as opposed to a sky map. Sky maps show the sky as you look away from Earth, whilst geographic maps show the Earth from above looking down. Positions of the cardinal points on the compass never change, regardless of which hemisphere you are in.
Due to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, the constellations seen in the night sky change throughout the year. In the southern hemisphere the constellation of Orion, the great hunter from Greek mythology, can be seen during summer evenings. Reversed to the northern hemisphere, Orion appears upside down in our skies. Found early in the night sky low in the north east from November, sitting overhead throughout February, and sinking low in the north western sky come April. The constellation of Scorpius is in the sky during winter evenings. There is a myth that says Orion keeps far away from Scorpius because he was killed by the poisonous sting in the scorpion’s tail.
Following the line from Orion’s Belt westward will bring you to the Pleiades. They can best be found with your peripheral vision, appearing as a small cluster of faint light. The heliacal rising (a star's first emergence and annual rise immediately before dawn) of the Pleiades heralded the start of the ancient Mediterranean seafaring season in the northern hemisphere, signalling the time of fairer weather. Its dawn setting marked the season’s end. In the southern hemisphere, the Pleiades appear before dawn around the winter solstice. They are a significant indicator of weather change for Indigenous cultures, signalling the onset of colder nights.
Following the line of Orion’s belt in the other direction leads to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky and found in the constellation Canis Major. Canis Major is known as the Big Dog and the hunting companion of Orion. Like Orion, Sirius is easily seen throughout summer, and is high in the southern sky at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The Southern Cross is a collection of stars within the Crux constellation. As the Earth rotates, it appears to move in the sky around the South Celestial Pole. During the night it may appear the right way up, lying on its side or upside down depending on the time of night and time of year.
As a calendrical marker, The Southern Cross can be easily seen in the evenings from March to August in Australia, being low in the sky for the remaining months. In April it is on its left-hand side in the early evening and becomes more upright towards midnight. Early in the evening in June the Southern Cross can be found high in the sky in an upright orientation that is seen on the Australian flag. A few months later it will be lying on its right-hand side early evening in the south-west and late in the year it will be upside-down and low in the sky.
On the Southern Hemisphere Wheel of the Year Calendar the Orion constellation can be seen in the north west early evening in March. The red supergiant, Betelgeuse is bottom right and is Orion’s right shoulder. The bright blue star top left is Rigel, his left foot. The three middle stars form Orion’s belt or as we know well here in Australia, the base of the saucepan. High in the sky in July is the Kappa Crucis Cluster, or the Jewel Box. It is a beautiful little cluster of more than 100 orange, yellow and blue stars. You can find it just off to the left and slightly below Beta Crucis, the left star of the Southern Cross.
Kosciuszko National Park
Snowy Mountains, New South Wales, Australia
Image credit: Heiko Otto