Story: Night sky
Page 1 – Southern skies
Southern hemisphere skies offer dazzling spectacles for night viewing, some of which cannot be seen from the northern hemisphere. Clear skies are usual over much of New Zealand, and it is possible to get fine views of the Milky Way and its neighbouring galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. The most recognisable constellation (pattern of stars) in the sky is the Southern Cross, along with its associated features, the Jewel Box and Coal Sack.
Many of the sights that are visible from the northern hemisphere can also be seen from New Zealand. The constellations of Orion and Scorpius are prominent at certain times of the year. However, New Zealand is too far south to see Polaris, the pole star, or the Great Bear (Ursa Major).
The changing night sky
As the sun sets and darkness descends, a number of different features become visible in the sky: the moon, thousands of stars, sometimes one or more planets, faint hazy patches of light and dusty dark regions. Our view of the sky changes over the course of a single night. Some stars appear to rise in the east and set in the west, while others are visible throughout the evening, but seem to circle clockwise around a common point. It is not the stars that are moving during the night, but the viewer: as the earth spins on its axis, different parts of the sky come into view.
Our view of the sky also changes during the course of a year. As the earth orbits the sun, new regions of the sky become visible from one season to the next.
An upside-down view
Northern hemisphere observers consider New Zealanders to have an upside-down view of the sky. People standing in each hemisphere are upside down in respect to each other, and have an inverted view of the same object out in space. For this reason it is difficult for southern hemisphere viewers to pick out the shapes for which many constellations were named.