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  • Rapt in Awe

    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

Look North: It’s February and the Great Bear is stretching

About one hour after sunset, look north and you should see a sky similar to the one shown in our chart – assuming you live at mid-northern latitudes. The height of Polaris, the North Star, will be the same as your latitude. Polaris stays put.  Everything else appears to rotate about it, so our view of all else changes in the course of the evening – and from night to night. It’s a good idea to check the north sky every time you observe to get a sense of how things are changing and to orient yourself.  As a bonus this month, you might look for the Great Bear. At this time of year I picture him coming out of his cave and stretching  – clawing his way up the sky to the northeast. To see what I mean, look at the classic representation of him below the chart.

Click image for larger view. (Chart derived from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Click here to download a black-on-white (printer-friendly) version of this chart.

Used by permission from the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology found here

This is how Johann Bayer, a lawyer and an amateur astronomer, pictured the Great Bear in his “Uranometria,” a breakthrough star atlas published in 1603.  Notice that the Big Dipper is a relatively small, but bright part of this constellation. Also notice that Bayer’s bear has a long tail – very un-bear-like. Still if you study the northeast sky on a February night, you should be able to make out the bear’s head, and at least one front paw and one back paw. For me it really does feel like a great bear is clawing his way up into our sky.

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