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The Southern Cross, also known as the Crux, is the smallest known constellation. Thanks to its small area and bright stars the Southern Cross is one of the brightest constellations in the sky.
The Southern Cross lies in the southern hemisphere of the sky. Its stars have been used for navigation for ages, but due to the precessional motion of the Earth this constellation is invisible to Europeans. The characteristic feature of this smallest constellation is its striking resemblance to the Latin cross. The brightest stars in this constellation are Acrux and Alpha Crucis.
The Southern Cross is a special and exceptional constellation. It became a national symbol of countries like Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Papua New Guinea or Samoa. The Southern Cross even appears on national flags! The Aboriginal tribes living in Australia considered the Southern Cross as a symbol of animistic ghosts which played a crucial role in their local beliefs. For the Aborigines the Southern Cross was the embodiment of an opossum sitting on the tree.
Thanks to Ptolemy’s records the Southern Cross is known to have been perfectly known in the ancient times. The ancient Greeks considered it as part of the constellation Centaurus. Unfortunately, about 500 AD the constellation Crux became invisible to Southern Europeans.
This famous constellation which was forgotten for centuries returned to grace over one thousand years later in the age of great geographical discoveries. Andrea Corsali, an Italian navigator and spy, marked the Southern Cross on the map during his voyage around Africa. In subsequent years this exceptionally beautiful and bright constellation was commonly marked on astronomical maps and through subsequent centuries it inspired talented painters and artists.