The Crux of It

Today's photo challenge topic is "Upside-Down." Discarded ideas include a display of ingredients for pineapple upside-down cake and the underside of my foot (does Downside-Up qualify?).

What I really wanted, though, was to convey the idea of being physically upside-down because I'm in Australia. However, since Australia isn't actually upside-down (at least no more so than any other speck in the universe), this seemed to be one of those cute notions, too belabored to put into practice.

Last night I went to bed early but then woke early to break my med-free streak (over four days, darn it!). Stepping out onto the night balcony, I saw the answer: the Southern Cross.

The Southern Cross, the smallest of constellations, is represented in the stars of the Australian flag.

(Ignore the huge star in the lower left corner. It's symbolic.)

Although a bright and guiding constellation for the southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross - or Crux - is as unknown to us in America as our North Star is to the Aussies here. Since we can never see it from the United States, we miss out on viewing Gacrux, our closest red giant star.

Now, what would've been nice and satisfying for a photo challenge would have been to set up the tripod and take a long exposure of the Southern Cross, perhaps revealing the Milky Way behind it. I could've then pointed out the dark patch in the Milky Way that is next to the Crux, aka the Coalsack Nebula, and the namesake for our hamster Coal.

<em></em>Spirit Fingers, Everyone!

(Pictured at right, with sister Milkdrop, who was named for the Milky Way. Both are missed.)

I then could've also talked about how the Aboriginal people give meaning to what we would consider the negative space in the Milky Way: the Coalsack Nebula forms the head of the Emu in the Sky. This would've fit the "Upside-Down" theme nicely, and the names and stories that other cultures assign to the heavens is always fascinating (to me). It's easy to forget that our labels for stars are only official to us.

I did, in fact, set up my cheap tripod. The current camera is far too heavy for it, though, so I switched to the old Canon Rebel. I ignored the fact that I couldn't find the remote.

But even though the Tylenol was kicking in, I just couldn't bend enough to properly position the camera, since the tripod is only waist height.

So I switched back to the usual camera (surprised by how much I've come to prefer it) and decided to be crazy and take a hand-held photo of the constellation.


I'm reminded of this pin:

And I only wish my photo could be that clear. Just try holding the camera aloft, still as a gargoyle, for up to a minute.


Knowing I couldn't capture the beauty of the night sky, I nevertheless embraced my good intentions and soldiered on. I would deliberately move. I would bounce the camera up and down with my breath and make an EKG of the stars.

Which sounds grander than the result:


More like a ride of the inchworms. And now with labels:

Crux Labeled

It always bothers me when celestial objects don't have poetic names. Sure, "Acrux" and "Gacrux" really just mean "Alpha Crux" and "Gamma Crux," names assigned based on their order of brightness, but you could easily pretend that "Acrux" was a pensive warrior of yore and "Gacrux" was, I don't know, a beloved woodcarver with a spaniel. Poor "Delta Crucis." Brazilians sometimes call her Pálida, but it seemed like cheating to switch selectively to another naming system.

When I took Astronomy in college through distance ed, we used software called "Redshift," specifically an education edition with tutorials and lab work. (Making Physics 1411 and 1412 the best two classes I took in the whole of my university education.) Mike ended up becoming a fan, and years later the app version of Redshift was one of his first purchases for the iPad. It's pretty cool to just point the phone or tablet at the sky and see what's what. (We live in interesting times.)

Anyway, I used Mike's iPad to make certain I wasn't just snapping bobble-pics of other rectangular configurations of stars. (Not to be racist, but so many of them really do look just alike.)

Crux - Redshift

Resolved: As soon as my back heals, some night I will find the camera's remote, go to the beach, plunk the camera on top of a fence post, point it somewhere above the Indian Ocean, and see what happens.

07 January 2014 |






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Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)