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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Earthsky Tonight—July 1: Big Dipper points to Polaris, helps find Thuban

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

Today our star-hopping adventure begins at the Big Dipper in the constellation Ursa Major. Draw a line through the Big Dipper’s pointer stars – Duhbe and Merak – to locate Polaris the North Star.

Polaris isn’t the brightest star in the sky, as is commonly supposed. It is only the 50th brightest or so. Still, Polaris is bright enough to be seen with relative ease on a dark, clear night. This star is famous not for its brightness but for its location in our sky. It is located above the Earth’s northern axis. Thus, the entire northern sky appears to turn around Polaris.

Polaris is noteworthy for another reason. It marks the end of the handle on the Little Dipper asterism, in the constellation Ursa Minor. The asterism is not the whole constellation, but a noticeable pattern within the constellation Ursa Minor the Smaller Bear.

As night deepens, and the fainter stars of the Little Dipper spring into view, those of you with dark-enough skies can expect to see a winding stream of stars between the Big and Little Dippers. What is this stream of stars between the Dippers? The star Thuban is one of the stars here, part of the Tail of the legendary constellation Draco the Dragon, a fixture of the northern skies. For more about Draco, see our July 4 sky chart

Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA/JPL

CHANDRA Photo Album

U.S. Naval Observator Astronomical Information center

StarDate Online

Sky and Telescope

National Geographic

Space Com

Amazing Space

The York County Astronomical Society

Scope City

James S McDonnell Planetarium

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