On October 8, teams in the World Solar Challenge begin their race from Darwin to Adelaide. Here are 10 things for travellers across Australia to look out for.
1. The Magellanic Clouds
The Magellanic Clouds are two small galaxies – at 160,000 light-years and 200,000 light-years, the nearest visible galactic neighbours of our Milky Way. They can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere, away from towns. The Australian Outback is the perfect place to observe them.
The Magellanic Clouds (photo: ESO/S. Brunier)
2. The Southern Cross
The Southern Cross (Crux) is a constellation appearing on the flags of many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, including Australia. It consists of four bright stars, with a fifth being visible to the naked eye in good conditions. The constellation can be located with the aid of the pointer stars Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. It can also be used to determine the South Celestial Pole. The star at the “top” of the Cross (Gamma Crucis) is a red giant. The fifth star (Epsilon Crucis) is an orange giant.
The Southern Cross, pointers, and Magellanic Clouds (image: Michael Millthorn)
3. The wedge-tailed eagle
The wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax)) is Australia’s largest bird of prey, and a national icon. It can be seen around Australia, either in the sky, or snacking on roadkill.
Wedge-tailed eagle (photo: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)
4. The red kangaroo
The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is the largest living marsupial, and is found throughout central Australia, in areas with less than 500 mm rainfall. It is an Australian national icon, as well as being a major traffic hazard at dawn and dusk.
Red kangaroos (photo: Jenny Smits)
5. The sand goanna
The sand goanna (Varanus gouldii) is a large monitor lizard, growing to about 1.5 metres. It is found across much of Australia.
Sand goanna (photo: Alan Couch)
6. The thorny devil
The thorny devil (Moloch horridus) is found in arid, sandy areas of western and central Australia. It lives mostly on ants.
The thorny devil (photo: Bäras)
7. Magnetic termites
Magnetic termites (Amitermes meridionalis) are one of two Australian termite species building mounds that align north–south. They can be found in the vicinity of Darwin. The mound orientation appears to be a temperature-control mechanism.
A magnetic termite mound (photo: brewbooks)
8. Sturt’s desert pea
Sturt’s desert pea (Swainsona formosa) grows in arid regions of Australia. It is the floral emblem of the state of South Australia.
Sturt’s desert pea (photo: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)
9. The desert grasstree
The desert grasstree (Xanthorrhoea thorntonii) is a grasstree found in arid regions of western and central Australia. Like the other 27 species of grasstree (Xanthorrhoea spp.), it is endemic to Australia, and a symbol of the Australian landscape.
The desert grasstree (photo: Mark Marathon)
Opal is a gemstone form of hydrated silicon dioxide. The town of Coober Pedy in South Australia is a major source.
Opal from Coober Pedy (photo: Dpulitzer)