The Evening Star

Being the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor, the North Star, or Polaris, was used throughout history to navigate. It was used to navigate both the seas and land for two primary reasons. Since it is located near the North celestial pole, it hardly moves. The second reason is that is it the brightest star in its constellation. Thus, it makes the perfect pinpoint, guiding sailors and travelers North.


It's located at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper, whose other stars are pretty faint. The Little Dipper is also less commonly called the Little Bear. Polaris is a yellow-white supergiant. It is not however the brightest star in the night sky, but ranks 50th brightest.





Polaris hasn't always been the North Star, and won't be so forever. The ancient Egyptians used the star "Thuban" (located in the constellation Draco the Dragon) to build the pyramids. However, Polaris was the North Star when Europeans first sailed the Atlantic, about 5 centuries ago.


Astronomers estimate that Polaris' distance is about 430 light-years away. It has been estimated that the North Star shines with the luminosity of about 2,500 suns. That's a lot of light! In Greek, the Evening Star is known as the dog's tale, and helped guide the ancient Phoenicians.


On the North Star, Christopher Colombus said, "I have always read that the world, both land and water, was spherical, as the authority and researches of Ptolemy and all the others who have written on this subject demonstrate and prove, as do the eclipses of the moon and other experiments that are made from east to west, and the elevation of the North Star from north to south." William Shakespeare is know to have said, "She speaks poniards, and every word stabs: if her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her; she would infect to the north star. I would not marry her, though she were endowed with all that Adam bad left him before he transgressed."


Sailors actually placed their luck on stars, betting their odds against constellations. I could discuss more about the science behind the North Star, but what seems to humble us as humans is the culture, history and beauty of this ball of burning gas. The North Star guided sailors across sea and time. In a a sky full of clusters of moving stars, she remains a constant. A celebrity of the night.


Jiminy Cricket in Disney's "Pinocchio" sings "When you wish upon a star/as dreamers do." It was the dreamers of yesterday whom followed the bright pinpoint from place to place. The North Star made dreams come true.


She remains with us til dawn, fulfilling our dreams and hopes. Guiding us still, even with modern technology. As J.M. Barrie wrote in his famous novel "Peter Pan," "(The North Star) is the second star to the right, and straight til' morning."


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