Identifying and Understanding the North Star

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"Identifying and Understanding the North Star"
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Once you are able to identify the North Star, you will be able to find North. Simply trace a line from the star to the horizon, and that is North. To your right is East, straight behind you is South, and to your left is West.

You will also be able to figure out at what latitude you are on Earth, because Polaris' altitude, or height above the horizon, is equal to an observer's latitude.

If you measure up to Polaris with your fists and find that it is 45' above the horizon, you now know that your latitude is 45' north of the equator. If you were standing at the equator (0' latitude) looking north, the North Star would be right on the horizon, or 0' altitude. As you move north and your latitude increases, Polaris' altitude also increases. But if you pass south of the equator, the North Star will no longer be visible and you'll need to check a map to find your latitude!

If you are north of the equator and you observe the stars for a few hours at night, you will notice that they all don't rise and set. The North Star, in fact, doesn't seem to move at all! Many stars near the North Star seem to circle around it all night long, never setting below the horizon. These stars are called circumpolar stars, and the farther north you go, the more stars stay above the horizon. If you were at the North Pole, Polaris would be straight over your head, and all the other stars would spin around you throughout the night! This is because the Earth's axis points nearly directly at Polaris, and as we spin about the axis, everything seems to move except for that point straight over the North Pole. There is no "South Star" but the stars in the southern sky also seem to circle around a fixed point in space. If you leave open a camera's shutter for a few hours, you will capture beautiful star trails showing their circular paths.

In the ancient times the World refers this as to the most recognized star.From the Egyptians to the Norsemen in the far north.

It was known as the Star of Arcady, a title referring to Arcas, son of Callisto, transferred to the skies, now Ursa Minor, by his father Jove (Jupiter), when ignorantly about to slay his mother (Ursa Major).

Polaris has long been an important star to sailors, caravans of old winding their way over the desert by night and others who navigated their way by the stars. Located almost directly overhead as seen from the North Pole, it is situated at the tip of the tail of the Little Bear, Ursa Minor and the Lucida of that constellation. Perhaps more than any star other than the Sun; Polaris has been regarded as the most important star in the heavens. It has been known by many names in the past; "the Pathway"; "the Pointer" - indicating the way; "Navel of the World", "Gate of Heaven", "Hub of the Cosmos", "the Highest Peak of the World Mountain", "Lodestar"; "the Steering Star"; "the Ship Star"; and Stella Maris "Star of the Sea".

Greek navigators of old called Polaris; Kynosoura, which means "the Dog's Tail". The name came into our English language as Cynosure, which means "an object that serves as a focal point of attention and admiration" or "Something that serves to guide".

The Arabs of old regarded Polaris as a hole in the sky in which the Earth's axis found its bearing. The Norsemen saw Polaris as holding the Universe together, Moguls calling it "the Golden Peg". In Damascus it is called Mismar, a "Needle" or "Nail" and Al Kutb al Shamaliyy, "the Northern Axle", or "Spindle", the Pin fixed in the under stone of a mill around which the upper stone turns.

Indians called it Grahadhara "the Pivot of the Planets" representing the great god Dhruva.

The Turks know it as Yilduz, the Star par excellence; and have a story that its light was concealed for a time after their capture of Constantinople.

The proximity of the stars of the two bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) to the North Celestial Pole gave the impression that they were wheeling around this point, pulling perhaps a plough behind them, tilling the heavenly fields and driven on by Bootes the Bear Driver who chases or herds the Bears around Polaris. Another version of this story has it that the oxen were tied to the polar axis and were driven on by Bootes, assisted by his two dogs Canes Venatici, in order that the rotations of the heavens should never cease.

In spite of Polaris's usefulness in navigation, the Arabs looked on the star as an evil star, calling it Al Kiblah, because it was the star "least distant from the pole". To them it was also Giedi or Al Jadi, Al Jadi, or Juddah, "the Young He Goat", "the slayer of the man" who had slain the Great Warrior of the Sky; who forever lies in the huge coffin outlined by the stars marking the big dipper (Ursa Major), all the other stars mourn for their lost hero and each night march around the sky in a never-ending funeral procession. The villain, Polaris, alone is kept motionless, an outcast forever fixed to the coldest part of the northern sky. Muslims used this star to orient themselves toward Mecca, the place Muslims must face during worship.

To our eyes Polaris appears to be motionless at the center of the field of circumpolar stars, a "still point in the turning world". All the other stars appear to circle around Polaris. But as early as 320 BCE the Greeks has realized that Polaris did not mark the pole exactly. Until then many people had believed that the heavenly Pole was absolutely and eternally fixed. Polaris has long been moving nearer the North Celestial Pole as it is still doing now. It will be closest to that position around 2100 AD. Because the earth wobbles on its axis like a slowly spinning top, the Pole Star once was Thuban, the third star from the end of the tail of Draco. And in a little more that 5000 years from now, Alderamin, the brightest star in the constellation Cepheus, the King, will be the Pole Star.

In past ages, whichever star held the position of Pole Star was worshipped as the star of that age and temples were built to them in ancient Egypt. Polaris is now the star of our own age. The planet, Uranus, was discovered one degree longitude away from this star.

The astrological influences of the constellation: It is said to give indifference and improvidence of spirit and to lead to many troubles. By the Kabalists it is associated with the Hebrew letter Tau and the 21st Tarot Trump

"Now where heaven reaches its culmination in the shining Bears, which from the summit of the sky look down on all the stars and know no setting and, shifting their opposed stations about the same high point, set sky and stars in rotation, from there an insubstantial axis runs down through the wintry air and controls the universe, keeping it pivoted at opposite poles: it forms the middle about which the starry sphere revolves and wheels its heavenly flight, but is itself without motion and, drawn straight through the empty spaces of the great sky to the two Bears and through the very globe of the Earth, stands fixed, since the entire atmosphere ever revolves in a circle, and every part of the whole rotates to the place from which it once began, that which is in the middle, about which all moves, so insubstantial that it cannot turn round upon itself or even submit to motion or spin in circular fashion, this men have called the axis, since, motionless itself, it yet sees everything spinning about it.

"The top of the axis is occupied by constellations well known to hapless mariners, guiding them over the measureless deep in their search for gain. Helice (Ursa Major), the greater, describes the greater arc; it is marked by seven stars which vie with each other under its guidance the ships of Greece set sail to cross the seas.

"Cynosura [Ursa Minor] is small and wheels round in a narrow circle, less in brightness as it is in size, but in the judgement of the Tyrians it excels the larger bear.

"Carthaginians count it the surer-guide when at sea they make for unseen shores. They are not set face to face: each with its muzzle points at the other's tail and follows one that follows it. Sprawling between them and embracing each the Dragon (Draco) separates and surrounds them with its glowing stars lest they ever meet or leave their stations."

Today though we thankfully know more about this star with our advanced technology , this mystery has been solved over time.If we were still in the primitive ages we would have worshipped this as God of the Night or something similar to the Greeks.

More about this author: Sandeep Hegde

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