The stars in the Southern Hemisphere can be an entirely different proposal than in the Northern Hemisphere. The night sky is very different when you go below the equator, and although it might be missing some of the familiar sights from the north, it is filled with stunning objects that can’t be rivalled.
The first thing to consider if you’re used to stargazing above the equator is that down here, to you, the night sky will appear upside down in comparison to what you are used to. Certain familiar sights also won’t be visible at all, or extremely rarely, like Ursa Major. You can still find a couple of points to give you context though. You can see Orion low on the northern horizon and the Summer Triangle (now the Winter Triangle) low in the sky during the winter months.
While you’ll be saying goodbye to some old stalwarts of the sky, you’ll also be greeting lots of new and often spectacular sights.
The most impressive element of the night sky in the southern hemisphere is the visibility of the galactic centre of the Milky Way. While in the northern hemisphere the clearest presentation of the Milky Way is as a cloudy band across the sky, in the southern hemisphere far more is visible, and the light of the galactic centre can be seen. This light can sometimes be bright enough to cast shadows.
Some visiting stargazers from the northern hemisphere might occasionally remark that the sky in the southern hemisphere can appear cloudy, but this is actually because of the greater number of galaxies and nebulae that are visible. The Andromeda Galaxy, our closest galactic neighbour, is clearly visible in the night sky with the naked eye, as are both of the Magellanic Clouds.
There are a few other impressive objects that you can spot in the southern hemisphere, including our brightest closest star, Alpha Centauri and until 2020 you’ll even be able to get clearer views of Saturn as it continues on its solar orbit.
There’s even a constellation that you can only see when you’re in the southern hemisphere, Crux otherwise known as the Southern Cross. This constellation forms a clear cross in the sky, and although it is deceivingly small, it leaves an impression that is impressive for its size.
As a rule, the sky of the southern hemisphere is filled with absolutely beautiful sights to see. Stargazing can be even better when you head south because of the reduced light pollution, making countries like Australia some of the best spots for stargazing on the planet.
Stargazing might seem like an expensive hobby on the face of it, with lots of newcomers assuming that you’ll need to buy an expensive telescope to see anything. However, that really doesn’t have to be the case. Location can play a big part in your stargazing experience, but if you make sure you are in an area with low light pollution you’ll be able to see quite a lot of the sky with just your naked eyes or a pair of binoculars. Visiting a public observatory is also a good alternative to learn more about the stars and see some more detail.
If you’re looking to pick up some gear to get started on your new hobby as a stargazer and enjoy the majesty of the southern hemisphere’s night sky, then I recommend looking online to find deals on telescopes and books about stargazing to get you kickstarted.