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The Big Dipper is in the northwest this evening, with its bowl below the handle. Starting with the handle, use one of skywatching’s most famous directions to find one of the sky’s brightest stars: Arc to Arcturus. In other words, follow the curve of the handle away from the dipper until you come to yellow-orange Arcturus, well up in the west.

The dipper’s stars belong to Ursa Major, the great bear. And “Arcturus” means “the bear watcher” or “guardian of the bear” — the star is always keeping an eye on the bear.

Arcturus has been a popular name right here on Earth. Some historians have suggested that the name “Arthur” came from Arcturus, which means the legendary King Arthur was named for the star. Several ships of the United States Navy have carried the name, along with several military and civilian aircraft.

And earlier this year, the name was bestowed on a variant of Covid-19 whose symptoms include pink eye.

Officially, the strain was XBB.1.16. But some scientists have applied nicknames to new variants to make them easier for the public to follow. At first, the names came from mythology. But after a kerfuffle over the name Kraken, the scientists switched to names from astronomy — many of which have their own mythological origins. That includes Arcturus — keeping an eye on the bear in the stars, and causing eye problems here on Earth.

After arcing to Arcturus, it’s time to spike to Spica, which we’ll do tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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