SD logo
Ancient Roots An Astronomical Wonder
The Undying Stars Family Affair
The First Year Chaos and Order
The Undying Stars
In ancient Egypt, the stars of modern-day Orion represented Osiris, god of the dead. Thuban was the star that marked the celestial north pole. (UT Center for Middle Eastern Studies)
Khufu's burial chamber was fashioned deep inside the Great Pyramid. Two skinny shafts bore outward from the chamber. For decades, scholars thought they were airshafts. But in the 1960s, astronomers found that they have an astronomical purpose.

At the time the pyramid was built, one of the shafts aimed toward the star that was then closest to the north celestial pole. The other aimed at the belt of Orion, one of the brightest and most impressive constellations.

The north celestial pole is the "hub" of the northern sky. All the stars appear to rotate around this hub.

Today, the star Polaris marks the north pole. But Earth wobbles on its axis. It takes about 26,000 years to make one full wobble, and in that time, the north pole points to different stars. When the pyramids were built, the star closest to the pole was Thuban, in Draco, the dragon.

The stars close to the pole never set. The Egyptians described these stars as "imperishable" or "undying." Khufu expected that when he died, he would join not only with the Sun, but with Thuban as well — maintaining order in the celestial realm, just as he had on Earth.

Pharaoh also expected to join with Osiris, the god of the dead, who was represented by the stars that we know today as Orion.

en español

Family Affair »