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Star Gazing: The Search for the North Star

Learn about Polaris, the North Star and how to see it in the sky
The Great Orbax.

Each month, we share a Star Gazing Guide presented and organized by The Great Orbax, a science communicator from the University of Guelph's Department of Physics and local science education advocate. 

Greetings star gazers!

Orbax here.

I'm a science communicator from the department of physics at the University of Guelph and I'm here to fill you in on what our June night skies hold for the astro-curious out there, young and old.

By now you may have realized that the heralded 'Parade of Planets' was a little less exciting than the media made it out to be. While truly an interesting array of our solar system neighbours, without a telescope at least three of the six planets in that parade were basically invisible and the window to see the remaining three was only for a few minutes around sunrise.

This month I want to talk to you about a good friend in our skies that is almost always visible, and that friend is Polaris, the North Star.

How do you find Polaris? Well, a good start is by looking North! If you can spot the asterism of the Big Dipper, you'll notice that there are four stars that make up 'the cup.' Use the two stars in the end of the cup, the furthest from the handle, to draw a line. If you use that lines as a pointer, following it to the East will lead you to Polaris, the North Star.

Why is the North Star always is in the North when other stars appear to move in the night sky? Polaris happens to lie along the Earth's axis of rotation, directly in line with all the other stars in the sky appear to rotate around it. As a matter of face, Polaris never sets below the horizon and, depending on where you are on the surface of the Earth, you'll notice that a few constellations near Polaris also never set. These are called circumpolar constellations and are one of the topics we cover in this month's video Star Gazing Guide.

Another fun fact is that Polaris is only our North Star for now! The Earth's axis of rotation wobbles over time, following a 26,000 year cycle. Fourteen thousand years ago Vega was our North Star, and it will be again in another 12,000 years!

I hope you enjoy this month's Star Gazing Guide. If you want to learn more, check out the June Star Gazing Guide video on the Guelph Physics YouTube channel. Not only is star gazing a great way to learn about space, planets and the stars but it's also a great way to spend time with other curious minds.

Until next month I wish you clear skies and I hope you take some time ... to look up.


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