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Star Light, Star Bright. First Star I See Tonight...


For our first star to kick off the series of updates on this adventure, let’s give dap to Polaris. As I look left and a bit behind the boat, out to the north, I can see the North Star as the very end of the handle of the Little Dipper constellation. It can sometime be hard to find, with neighboring stars being brighter and on light pollution creating a challenge. A trick to find Polaris is to find the Big Dipper, then following a line from the two stars the end of its “Cup” to then find the end of the handle of the Little Dipper like is shown with the red line on the picture.

Polaris is 433 light years from earth, or 133 parsecs which is 11 times further than Han Solo covered in his legendary Kessel Run. It is actually a double star which has a dwarf star orbiting a larger yellow super giant star.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it is the only star that comes close to maintaining its location in the sky through the night because of its alignment with the earth’s axis, directly above the north pole from which it gets it name of the North Star. It is also commonly known as Polaris from the Latin name of Stella Polaris as it was known in the Renaissance. Others still refer to it as the Lode Star, or “guiding star”.

Visible from across the northern hemisphere, its navigational importance was recognized in many languages across time. In Hindu is was Dhruva (“immovable, fixed”). In the medieval period it was referred to as Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”). In the Berber language of North Africa it is still known as Tatrit tan Tamasna (“star of the desert”) as a recognition that a guiding star is as important in the trackless desert as it is in on the open sea. In Inuit astronomy it is known as Niqirtsuituq and in early Arabic astronomy it was known as Al-Judeyy. In Old English it was known as Scip-Steorra.

All other stars in the sky appear to revolve around Polaris through the course of a night, a perception created by the earth’s rotation, and as I sail through the night other than the boat under my feet it is the only fixed constant in my life.


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