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Polaris, The North Star

 

As Earth turns, the entire sky seems to rotate around Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is fixed in the night sky and never sets. Other constellations appear to move in circles around Polaris.

To find Polaris, first find the Big Dipper. If you follow the two stars at the end of the cup upwards (out of the cup of the Big Dipper), the next bright star you will see is Polaris. Since the two stars at the end of the cup of the Big Dipper are so useful for finding the North Star, they are known as the pointer stars. Merak is the one at the bottom of the cup followed by Dubhe.

Polaris is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper. It marks the north celestial pole, the extension of Earth's North Pole in space. Historically, the North Star has been one of the most important stars in the night sky. It has led mariners to land and slaves to freedom. When the casual stargazer looks at Polaris, she is facing north with east to her right, west to her left, and south to her back.

Throughout time Polaris has been called the Lodestar, Star of the Sea, Stella Maris, and Cynosurea, a word meaning "of much interest".

Use the Big Dipper to help locate Polaris. Polaris will guide you to the Little Dipper. The North Star is at the end of the Little Dipper's handle. The Little Dipper is not as bright as the Big Dipper, but its pattern is clear if you are looking in a dark sky place.

Venus continues to be the brightest point of light appearing in the west about an hour after sunset. Enjoy its brilliance as you celebrate America's birthday over Independence Day weekend.

Happy Stargazing!


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