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There are nine certified dark sky reserves in the Northern Hemisphere that give stargazers the chance to marvel at constellations like The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, which appear to circle around the North Star and are only visible above the equator.
Ursa Major (The Great Bear)
The ‘Big Dipper’ or ‘Plough’ forms part of Ursa Major and it is one of the most easily recognisable constellations in the sky.
When the great bear nears the horizon, she appears to run along the ground on all fours. Then, in the spring, the bear stands on her hind legs as she begins her ascent back into the sky.
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Ursa Minor (The Little Bear)
Ursa Minor can help mark the location of the North Star – it is the bright star at the end of The Little Bear’s tail.
Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are mother and son, transformed into bears by goddess Juno as a form of punishment. Juno also convinced Neptune to forbid them from bathing in the sea, which is why these two constellations never dip beneath the horizon.
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Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen)
Queen Cassiopeia is the mother of the beautiful Andromeda. Cassiopeia boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than the nymphs who accompanied Neptune, God of the Sea. This did not go down well. In retaliation, Neptune placed Queen Cassiopeia in the heavens with her head pointing towards the North Star. In this position, she spends half of every night upside-down.
Head south of the equator and you will see the biggest and brightest galaxies, as well as clear views of constellations like Centaurus. The south is also home to New Zealand’s Aoraki Mackenzie, the world’s largest dark sky reserve.
Centaurus is a half-man, half-horse creature seen here holding a lance. It is thought that this centaur is Chiron, the mentor for Greek heroes like Hercules and Achilles.
Centaurus is not visible from this viewpoint in June, so look out for Pegasus, The Winged Horse.
Carina (Ship Keel)
Carina originally formed part of a much larger constellation called Argo Navis – a great ship belonging to Jason and the Argonauts in their quest to find the magical Golden Fleece. However, in 1763 French Astronomer Lacaille divided the ship into three constellations Carina (The Ship Keel), Vela (The Sail) and Puppis (The Poop Deck).
Southern Cross (Cross)
The Southern Cross has great significance for many cultures of the southern hemisphere, particularly Australia and New Zealand.
It used to be visible as far north as Britain in the 4000BC. However, the precession of the Earth’s axis gradually lowered the Crux below the European horizon.