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Lettera di Andrea Corsali allo illustrissimo Signore Duco Iuliano de Medici … c 1516
Before Europeans practised astronomy and explored the stars, the First Nations inhabitants of the Pacific region understood the significance of the Southern Cross within the night sky. Their knowledge of the movement of the moon and stars guided travel across the ocean, predicted the weather, and initiated important cultural ceremonies
The five stars of the Southern Cross are the brightest features in the constellation named Crux, Latin for cross. The two brightest stars, Acrux and Gacrux, point the way to the Southern Celestial Pole.
In 1504 Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci wrote the first description of the constellation in a report to his patron, Lorenzo de Medici. In 1515 Italian navigator Andrea Corsali observed the Southern Cross while on a Portuguese expedition to India and sent his observations to his patron, Giuliano de Medici, in Florence:
This cross is so fair and beautiful that none other heavenly sign may be compared to it …
Corsali’s letter was privately published soon after it was received, making it one of the earliest illustrations of the Southern Cross in print. There are only four known copies of this publication, printed for private circulation within the Medici family.