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Early spring’s Southern Cross in Kenting, Taiwan

It takes experience to see this constellation clearly in Taiwan’s sky

The Southern Cross travelling across the sky. (P.K. Chen GIF)

The Southern Cross travelling across the sky. (P.K. Chen GIF)

In Taiwan, the Southern Cross is viewable every spring from February to May. The constellation is best viewed south of the Tropic of Cancer, and the farther south the better. Penghu, Green Island, Orchid Island, Yushan National Park… there are so many places to choose from.

Due to Taiwan’s latitude, the constellation appears in the far southern part of the sky, meaning it appears above the horizon for only very short periods of time, averaging just three hours. It is visible between 1 and 4 a.m. in February, between midnight and 3 a.m. in March, between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. in April, and between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. in May.

The position of the Southern Cross so close to the horizon makes weather a key factor in whether or not it is clearly visible. Imagine how clear the sky must be for there to be no clouds whatsoever, even near the horizon.

In February of this year, the sunny to rainy day ratio in northern Taiwan was 1:14. Taipei residents barely saw the sky in the first quarter of 2022. Meanwhile, the farther south you went, the better the weather was!

Hence, I chose to pursue the Southern Cross at Taiwan’s southernmost point, Kenting National Park. At 1 a.m. on Feb. 3 I departed Taipei, which was drenched in a cold shower. It was 7 a.m. when I arrived in Kenting, and the sun shone brightly in a spotless sky.

Early spring’s Southern Cross in Kenting, Taiwan
The Southern Cross. (P.K. Chen photo)

Since the Southern Cross does not make an appearance until early morning in February, you can take a nap in the evening, get up after midnight, and proceed to a spot away from light pollution.

As you feel the cool sea breeze and downhill winds unique to the Hengchun Peninsula, look to the south to find Spica in Virgo and Corvus to the west (or right) of it. Corvus, Latin for “crow,” is an oddly shaped constellation made up of four stars. According to Greek mythology, the crow was originally pure white and served as Apollo’s messenger, but the god turned the bird black and cursed it with a parched throat for lying to him.

Early spring’s Southern Cross in Kenting, Taiwan
Corvus hangs right above the Southern Cross. (P.K. Chen photo)

Right beneath Corvus, near the horizon, you will find the Southern Cross rising in the moonless night sky. One by one, the stars of the constellation appear above the ocean.

However, the Southern Cross really is hard to see in Taiwan and not easily captured on camera. It takes years of experience of weather conditions, careful timing, and knowledge of constellations to find the right spot and the right time.

To the east (or left) of the Southern Cross, there are two bright stars. The one on the right is Beta Cen of Centaurus, while the one on the left is called Rigil Kent, the third-brightest star in the sky and the one closest to our solar system. At lightspeed (300,000 kilometers, or 7.5 trips around Earth, per second), it would take 4.3 years to arrive at Rigil Kent.

Before dawn, Venus rises above the ocean as the Eluanbi Lighthouse blinks again and again. One cannot help but feel glad to be graced with the sight of the Southern Cross.

Early spring’s Southern Cross in Kenting, Taiwan
Beta Cen and Rigil Kent can be seen east of the Southern Cross. (P.K. Chen photo)

Early spring’s Southern Cross in Kenting, Taiwan
Venus shining above Kenting's bay at the crack of dawn. (P.K. Chen photo)

(Translation by Stephanie Chiang)

Chen Pei-kung (陳培堃), known among amateur astronomers as P.K. and children as Star Peter Pan, is a renowned photojournalist and astrophotographer. His writing and photography have been frequently featured in the American Sky & Telescope Magazine, the Japanese Tenmon Guide, and major Taiwanese newspapers and magazines. In 1985, atop Jade Mountain, he became the first person in Taiwan to photograph Halley’s Comet.