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Climbing Dipper

February 11, 2017

The almost-full Moon washes out much of the sky tonight. The fainter stars are overpowered by its light, leaving only the brighter ones to shine through. One example is Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, which is to the upper right of the Moon during the evening hours.

The stars of the Big Dipper are in pretty good view as well. They circle a good distance around the sky during the night as they loop around the North Star, Polaris.

From most of the United States, most of the stars of the Big Dipper are so close to the North Star that they never set — they’re in view every night of the year. At the latitude of Kansas City, for example, only the star at the tip of the dipper’s handle ever dips below the horizon.

As Earth orbits the Sun, though, the dipper appears in different parts of the sky at different times of year. Right now, it’s low in the northeast as night falls, climbs high across the north during the night, and is in the northwest at first light.

As the months roll by, though, so will the dipper. By the start of summer, it’ll stand in the northwest at nightfall — just where it stands at dawn right now. After that, it’ll dip back toward the horizon — skimming just above it for those in the north, and partially dipping below the horizon for those at more southerly latitudes.

It’s all part of the clockwork order of the stars — no matter how much moonlight fills the sky.

We’ll talk about one of the dipper’s stars tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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