Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (2023)

Think you know the night sky? If you've only ever stargazed from the northern hemisphere, you only know half the story.


There's a wealth of amazing astronomical objects and beautiful dark skies visible from the southern hemisphere.

In the southern hemisphere the seasonal constellations are all upside-down, as far as a northerner is concerned, while a slew of bright stars – including the nearest to us – and some of the night sky’s most arresting deep-sky sights are all on show.

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (1)

While the north pole faces outwards to the Universe beyond, the south pole points to the galactic centre of the Milky Way.

This means more bright stars and more constellations containing more stunning objects. Plus, everything in the southern hemisphere sky will look upside down, if you're used to northern skies.

It's a whole new night sky to learn and get familiar with, with incredibly dark skies under which to enjoy your southern astronomy adventure.

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (2)

This is our guide to stargazing and astronomy under the southern hemisphere guide, and a list of the top astronomical phenomena you can see south of the equator.

We've also included a list of the best astro holidays and dark-sky sights from which to explore the southern hemisphere sky.

If you're specifically interested in Aussie stargazing, read our guide to astronomy in Australia.

11 astronomy targets to see in the southern hemisphere


The Milky Way's bright centre

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (3)

Best time to see June - September

With the naked eye, find the Summer (or should that be Winter?) Triangle – which will be upside down compared to the view from the northern hemisphere – and trace the Milky Way from Deneb on the northern horizon up to Altair, across the zenith above you through Sagittarius and its Teapot asterism, and down to Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross above the southern horizon.

(Video) The Insider's Guide to the Galaxy: A Virtual Tour of the Southern Hemisphere

This is the Sagittarius Arm of our galaxy, and it's stunning.


Alpha Centauri

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (4)

Best time to see March - September

To see the nearest star to our Sun is one of the reasons stargazers love to travel south.

Sadly Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star just 4.24 light-years from us, is too small to see, but its much brighter companion Alpha Centauri is the third brightest star in the sky.

Just 4.3 light-years from Earth, this double star (triple if you count Proxima Centauri) is also an anchor for southern stargazers.


The Southern Pointers

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (5)

Best time to see March-September

Alpha Centauri has a close visual neighbour that's almost as bright, though Beta Centauri is 390 light years distant. It's actually two stars orbiting each other, 10,000 times brighter than our Sun.

Together, Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri are called the Southern Pointers because they point straight to Crux, also known as the Southern Cross. Once found, they're never forgotten.


Crux (Southern Cross)

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (6)

Best time to see March-September

Perhaps the most famous southern sight of all, Crux – the Southern Cross – can appear surprisingly small for first-timers. It's also often missed (there's a much bigger False Cross nearby).

To find it, go from Alpha Centauri to Beta Centauri, then go three times the distance between those two stars and you'll arrive at Gacrux at the top of the cross.

Sweep binoculars around here and you'll see numerous stunning star clusters.

(Video) Why does the Southern Hemisphere get the best view of the Milky Way?! | The Galactic Seasons


Jewel Box cluster

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (7)

Best time to see March-September

The Jewel Box cluster is best observed through binoculars or, better still, a small telescope. If you love the Perseus Double Cluster in the north, you'll instantly love the Jewel Box – NGC 4755 – a bright open cluster found close to Gacrux and Becrux in the Southern Cross.

Four stars in binoculars, it's revealed as 100 sparkling red and blue stars in a telescope.


Coalsack Nebula

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (8)

Best time to see March-September

There's nothing to see here, but that's the point. Look just below the Jewel Box Cluster for a dark band across the Milky Way, which will be very obvious if you're under a dark sky.

The Coalsack is an interstellar dust cloud about 600 light years distant that blocks the light of stars behind it from reaching us. It's a type of object known as a dark nebula. The stars you can see 'within' it – visible with binoculars – are in fact closer to us than the Coalsack itself.



Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (9)

Best time to see October-May

Also known as the Great Star of the South, Canopus is a visual big brother to Sirius.

The second brightest star in the sky after Sirius is 40 degrees below its brighter companion, so while rarely visible to stargazers in the northern hemisphere (it can be glimpsed from equatorial latitudes), both stars are often seen together in the southern night sky.

However, these brothers aren't close; Sirius is 8.7 lightyears from us, while Canopus is 313 lightyears distant, and a whopping 65 times larger than the Sun.


(Video) Planetarium at Home (Ep 14): Exploring the Southern Sky

Small & Large Magellanic Clouds

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (10)

Best time to see October-February

Northern newcomers have been heard to utter that the southern hemisphere is too cloudy, until being told that those hazy patches are actually close-by galaxies.

The SMC and the LMC, dwarf galaxies that orbit the Milky Way, are filled with dense star fields and a major reason why the world's biggest telescopes are situated south of the equator.

The LMC contains the Tarantula Nebula, a supermassive version of the Orion Nebula.


Eta Carinae & the Southern Pleiades

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (11)

Best time to see February-July

Forget Betelgeuse; it's Eta Carinae that is more likely to go supernova. This, the most massive star of all, is 9,000 light years away and 100 times bigger than the Sun, but an unfathomable five million times more luminous.

It's at the centre of the Great Nebula in Carina, NGC 3372. Below it, on the opposite side of the plane of the Milky Way, is an open cluster called the Southern Pleiades - as opposed to our own Pleiades in the northern hemisphere - which looks spectacular through binoculars.


Omega Centauri

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (12)

Best time to see March–September

A naked eye globular cluster? The very finest of all globular clusters – and visible from southerly latitudes above the equator – the startlingly bright Omega Centauri globular cluster (NGC 5139) is a bright fuzzy blob even without binoculars.

This 13 billion year old, one million star-strong globular, thought to be the nucleus of a dwarf galaxy that collided with the Milky Way, can be found by making an equilateral triangle using The Pointers and the Southern Cross and Epsilon Centauri, but it's so bright it's hard to miss in clear skies.

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Zeta Reticuli

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (13)
(Video) Astronomical Objects That Are Only Visible From Southern Hemisphere

Best time to see: January

The double star Zeta Reticuli can be separated with the naked eye when viewing under good conditions, and looks even better with binoculars or a telescope.

The two stars are similar to our Sun and have become quite famous for two reasons: firstly, due to research into whether or not an exoplanet is in orbit around Zeta 2, and secondly, due to their mention in the famous UFO abduction story of Betty and Barney Hill that made headlines in the 1960s.

Mashatu, Botswana

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (14)

Africa often gets overlooked by stargazers, but its skies are among the world's darkest. Mashatu in the eastern Kalahari Desert is rain-free 92% of the year and has zero light pollution. Aardvark Safaris can organise seven nights at Mashatu Tent Camp.

Just be careful where you walk if you see a shooting star; locals spit on the floor if they see one to guard against misfortune.

Atacama Desert, Chile

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (15)

Up on a plateau as high as a breathtaking 16,400ft/5,000m, the stars don't twinkle, they glow. RealWorld's 12-day Vines & Volcanoes trip (£2,295 per person) includes visits to the Very Large Telescope, HARPS and ALMA.

It's also possible to visit Elqui Domos, an observatory with two Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, while Rainbow Tours’ Ultimate Stargazing Adventure includes three nights at Alto Atacama, which has its own observatory and stargazing programme.

NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (16)

In one of only three gold-rated International Dark Sky Parks in the world, NamibRand's clear, unpolluted skies are legendary among stargazers and astro-photographers. If you're happy to rough it, Gane and Marshall run a guided desert hike to sleep under the stars. Meanwhile, andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge offers stargazing at an observatory, complete with resident astronomer.

New Zealand

Southern hemisphere sky: an astronomy guide (17)

Near the geothermal wonder that is Rotorua in the North Island, the Skyline Rotorua Stargazing is a trip up Mount Ngongotaha by gondola to a dedicated observing platform. Complete with guide and telescope time, the tour lasts 75 minutes.


Meanwhile, 360-degree glass Pure Pods in River, Canterbury and Kaikoura – both in the South Island – promise stargazing from your bed (from £210 per night).


Why is the southern hemisphere better for astronomy? ›

While the north pole faces outwards to the Universe beyond, the south pole points to the galactic centre of the Milky Way. This means more bright stars and more constellations containing more stunning objects. Plus, everything in the southern hemisphere sky will look upside down, if you're used to northern skies.

What is the guiding star in the southern hemisphere? ›

Crux: Commonly called the Southern Cross, Crux is the most important constellation for navigating in the Southern Hemisphere, as it can be used to find due south. Crux contains five stars that form a slightly irregular cross and is the smallest constellation in the sky.

How do you read the stars in the southern hemisphere? ›

Simple navigation in the southern hemisphere

Instead, the Southern Cross is used to find the South Celestial Pole. The Southern Cross is a compact group of bright stars close together in the sky, with two pointer stars always pointing to them from the lower left.

Does the sky look different in the southern hemisphere? ›

As you go down in latitude from the North Pole to the South Pole, the sky you can see will gradually change. So the sky that someone in Arizona sees has some overlap with the sky that someone in, say, Chile (in the Southern Hemisphere) sees, but it is not the same.

Can the Southern Hemisphere see the Milky Way? ›

Broadly speaking, the best time of year to see the Milky Way in the Southern Hemisphere is from late February to late October, while the Milky Way season goes from late January to late November.

Which hemisphere is best for stargazing? ›

Southern Hemisphere

Southern skies are more popular for their stargazing opportunities because the South Pole faces the center of the Milky Way.

What is the super bright star in the south? ›

Venus can often be seen within a few hours after sunset or before sunrise as the brightest object in the sky (other than the moon). It looks like a very bright star. Venus is the brightest planet in the Solar System.

What is the flickering star in the southern sky? ›

Sirius – The Multicoloured Twinkling Star

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and as a result, it can easily be found in the faint constellation of Canis Major. Left and below Orion. Its name comes from ancient Greek meaning “glowing” or “scorcher.”

What is the southern star called? ›

Southern pole star (South Star)

Polaris Australis (Sigma Octantis) is the closest naked-eye star to the south celestial pole, but at apparent magnitude 5.47 it is barely visible on a clear night, making it unusable for navigational purposes. It is a yellow giant 294 light years from Earth.

What stars are visible in the Southern Hemisphere? ›

Southern circumpolar constellations include Phoenix, Grus, Tucana, Eridanus, Hydrus, Lupus, Cruz, Centaurus and Carina, among others.

Can you see Big Dipper in Southern Hemisphere? ›

For Southern Hemisphere dwellers who want to see the Big Dipper, you must go north of latitude 25 degrees South to see it in its entirety. Across the northern half of Australia, for instance, you can now just see the upside-down Dipper virtually scraping the northern horizon about an hour or two after sundown.

Is Orion's belt visible in the Southern Hemisphere? ›

Orion's Belt is formed by three bright stars; Alnilam, Mintaka and Alnitak. Orion is in the southwestern sky if you are in the Northern Hemisphere or the northwestern sky if you are in the Southern Hemisphere. It is best seen between latitudes 85 and minus 75 degrees.

Do people in the Southern Hemisphere see different constellations? ›

They have different constellations

The constellations located close to the North or South Celestial Pole can only be seen from their respective Hemisphere. Other constellations can be spotted from both Hemispheres, although their exact orientation and how high they appear in the sky depends on the observer's latitude.

Why is the sky bluer in the Southern Hemisphere? ›

What's different is that the Southern Hemisphere has much less land in it than the Northern Hemisphere, and especially no Sahara Desert. Which means there is much less dust at high altitudes, so there is less light scattering, and the blue colour is clearer. The sky is actually quite a bit darker too.

Why does the sky look different in Australia? ›

The reason Australian skies look bluer that the rest of the world is to do with the vegetation. Some parts of Australia have a high density of Eucalyptus trees and Australia's dense eucalyptus forests produce a blue hue in the air , the result of eucalyptus oil mixing with dust particles, water vapor and sunlight.

Can people in the southern hemisphere see the North Star? ›

Currently Polaris is at a declination of a bit over 89 degrees, which means that no one south of 1 degree south latitude can see Polaris. That's almost all of the Southern hemisphere, let alone the South Pole. Polaris won't be the North Star forever, thanks to axial precession.

Why are constellations upside down in southern hemisphere? ›

So why does Orion look "upside down"? - Because YOU have turned over, not because the Earth or the Sky has suddenly "flipped over". AND, since you are now looking North instead of South, you find that East is now on your RIGHT, and West is on your LEFT.

What is the brightest star in the southern hemisphere? ›

In the southern hemisphere shines Sirius, the brightest star of all the sky; flashing and scintillating it glows as a mighty diamond of the winter nights.

Does the southern hemisphere see the moon? ›

The Moon orbits near the equator of the Earth. People in different hemispheres see the moon in a slightly different way. In the Southern Hemisphere, people see the moon 'upside down' so the side which is shining (sunlit) seems the opposite from the Northern Hemisphere.

How many constellations can we see in southern hemisphere? ›

Just as in the Northern Hemisphere, the southern night sky is divided into constellations. There are 88 constellations in all; 32 of them are found in the Southern Hemisphere.

What are the three bright stars in the southern sky? ›

Orion's Belt or the Belt of Orion, also known as the Three Kings or Three Sisters, is an asterism in the constellation Orion. It consists of the three bright stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.

What are the two brightest stars in the southern sky? ›

From latitudes like those in the southern U.S., Canopus – the sky's 2nd-brightest star – appears as a bright light closer to the horizon than Sirius (the sky's brightest star).

What are the 3 bright stars? ›

Brightest Stars.
Common NameApparent Magnitude
4Rigel Kentaurus-0.01
65 more rows

What are the two lights in the southern sky? ›

Auroras in the southern hemisphere are known as the southern lights, or aurora australis. Both the northern lights and the southern lights are polar lights, or aurora polaris, because they occur near Earth's magnetic poles.

What is the name of the current pole star in the southern sky? ›

There is no bright star near the south celestial pole; the present southern polestar, Polaris Australis (also called σ Octantis), is only of the 5th magnitude and is thus barely visible to the naked eye.

What star is blinking blue and red? ›

The star that twinkles in several colours is Sirius. It is the only star that is bright enough that its light gets refracted into a tiny, tiny “rainbow” in a way that we can see. Sometimes your eye is struck by the red part, sometimes by the blue part.

Can you see Sirius in the southern hemisphere? ›

Sirius can be seen in summer in the southern hemisphere, rising early in the morning before the sun, and in the evening when it sets after the sun. At the moment in the northern hemisphere, Sirius will rise above the horizon at about midnight, and …

What are the 3 stars in a line called? ›

One of the most recognizable constellations in the sky is Orion, the Hunter. Among Orion's best-known features is the “belt,” consisting of three bright stars in a line, each of which can be seen without a telescope. The westernmost star in Orion's belt is known officially as Delta Orionis.

Why is the Southern Cross always visible? ›

The constellation Crux (also known as the asterism of the Southern Cross) is easily visible from the southern hemisphere at practically any time of year. For locations south of 34°S, Crux is circumpolar and thus always visible in the night sky.

Why is the Antarctic a perfect place for studying astronomy? ›

Antarctica was already known to be an attractive location for a telescope because it is so far away from the interference of urban light, heat and smog, and it is also one of the least cloudy places on Earth.

Why are there more satellites in the southern hemisphere? ›

There are more than 6,500 satellites orbiting Earth in low-earth-orbit at altitudes ranging from about 200 km up to 1,000 km and the orbital velocities will vary according to altitude; the higher they are, the slower they travel. Therefore, it may only seem to be concentrated in the southern hemisphere.

Why does the southern hemisphere get more solar energy? ›

When the sun is nearer the Earth, the Earth's surface receives a little more solar energy. The Earth is nearer the sun when it is summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the northern hemisphere.

Why is the South Pole ideal for astronomical observations? ›

The bitter cold keeps winter wind to a minimum—and that provides stability for telescope observations as well. Using a telescope at the Pole can reduce noise not only from Earth's atmosphere, but from interstellar radiation and dust, too.

What is NASA doing in Antarctica? ›

Research disciplines at McMurdo include astronomy, atmospheric sciences, biology, Earth science, environmental science, geology, glaciology, marine biology, oceanography, climate studies, and geophysics. Of the three U.S. Antarctic stations, Palmer is the only one that is accessed routinely during the winter.

Can you see the Milky Way in Antarctica? ›

Antarctica offers some pretty spectacular views of the night sky, like this image of the Milky Way taken on the Antarctic Peninsula. Now, researchers have found that a high-altitude site in East Antarctica may offer the world's clearest views of the celestial sphere.

Why do scientists go to Antarctica? ›

The scientific studies in Antarctica are often ones that cannot usually be conducted elsewhere and help our understanding of global environmental issues including climate change, ozone depletion, sea level rise. Antarctica is also a barometer of climate change.

What is unique about the Southern Hemisphere? ›

The Southern Hemisphere has more water mass and fewer land mass compared to the Northern Hemisphere. The continents making up the Southern Hemisphere include around 1/3 of Africa, all of Antarctica, most of South America and all of Australia.

Why will we never see certain constellations in the Southern Hemisphere? ›

People in the Southern Hemisphere cannot see the Little Dipper. But they have a few circumpolar constellations of their own. The constellations are still there during the day. You just can't see them because the Sun is so bright.

Why are constellations upside down in Southern Hemisphere? ›

So why does Orion look "upside down"? - Because YOU have turned over, not because the Earth or the Sky has suddenly "flipped over". AND, since you are now looking North instead of South, you find that East is now on your RIGHT, and West is on your LEFT.

What are stronger in the Southern Hemisphere? ›

Westerlies in the southern hemisphere are stronger and persistent than in the northern hemisphere.

Is solar radiation harmful? ›

Excessive solar radiation can have harmful effects on human health, especially skin and eyes. Without solar radiation, there would be no life on Earth; moreover, it currently allows us to produce photovoltaic energy, which is essential in the fight against climate change.

What is the importance of Southern Hemisphere? ›

The Southern Hemisphere has long been secondary in the global distribution of demographic, economic and political power, as it has less land than the Northern Hemisphere. In recent times however, countries such as Australia have made greater efforts to economically engage with those from their own hemisphere.

Can people in Southern Hemisphere see pole star? ›

Pole Star is not visible from the southern hemisphere as it lies in line with the north pole. Pole star lies exactly above overhead if seen from north pole of the earth. So, we cannot see it from southern hemisphere beacuse of bulge in middle portion of the earth.

Why is it dark for 6 months in the South Pole? ›

According to Nasa, During summer, Antarctica is on the side of Earth tilted toward the sun and is in constant sunlight. In the winter, Antarctica is on the side of Earth tilted away from the sun, causing the continent to be dark.

Why are there no satellite images of the South Pole? ›

The Earth's curvature blocks South Pole from seeing most satellites in what is called geosynchronous orbit - a special orbit 22,236 miles above the equator, traveling in the direction of the Earth's rotation.


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