North vs. South

North vs. South

Most of the action in the evening sky right now is in the south. The four brightest lights in the entire night sky are there — the Moon and the planets Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. So are the planet Saturn, and the bright stars Antares and Spica. As the Moon slides past them, it creates a beautiful new configuration every night.

But if you turn around, there’s plenty to see in the northern precincts of the sky as well.

The most obvious example is the Big Dipper — the brightest stars of Ursa Major, the great bear. August nights are especially good for viewing the dipper. That’s because it looks like it’s just about to dip into a well for a cool drink. It’s in the northwest at nightfall, with the handle to the upper left and the bowl to the lower right.

At the same time, another easy-to-see star pattern is low in the northeast: Cassiopeia the queen. Its stars form a distinctive letter W. It rotates high across the north later on.

And between the W and the dipper, look for perhaps the most famous individual star in all the night sky: the North Star, Polaris. It’s about the same brightness as the leading lights of the dipper. Because there are no other bright stars around it, though, it looks a bit weak and forlorn.

To find Polaris, line up the stars at the outer edge of the dipper’s bowl. Then follow that line to the upper right until you come to the first moderately bright star: the North Star — the hub of the night sky.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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