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From Alpha Centaurus through the Southern Cross and Cari

Tags: galaxy, nebula, dust, supernova, Orion

Most of the area of the southern Milky Way covered by this picture never sets for those of us who live at latitudes south of --30 degrees. For a similar reason, most of this spectacular part of the sky is never clearly seen from the most populated parts of the planet. The main constellations here are Centaurus, Crux and Carina, containing some of the most interesting, beautiful and bizzare astronomical objects, including the nearest stars.

The nearest bright star, alpha Centauri is at lower left, and with its bright companion beta, points (more or less) to the Southern Cross, which in turn lies alongside the dark shape of Coalsack, one of the nearest dust clouds. Further along the Milky Way is the astonishing red Carina nebula, which appears to the eye as bright as the Orion nebula, but is five times more distant. It is home to eta Carinae, probably the most massive star known, and a prime candidate for the next Galactic supernova. It is in the constellation of Carina that the Sagittarius arm of our galaxy curves sharply away from us, so in this direction we see deep into a rich star-forming region.

Credit: David Malin

© Australian Astronomical Observatory