Stargazing with Pat J – Polaris Hasn’t Always Been the North Star

The Earth, like a spinning top, experiences a slight wobble as it rotates on its axis. This phenomenon, known as precession, causes the Earth’s celestial poles to gradually trace a circle over a span of approximately 26,000 years. Consequently, the star closest to true north (or south) undergoes a shift over time.

In the present day, the Southern Hemisphere lacks a prominent star near the celestial pole.

Approximately 4,500 years ago, the Egyptians utilized the star Thuban to align the Khufu pyramid with true north. Thuban remained perpetually above the horizon, while other stars appeared to revolve around it. This led the Egyptians to designate the North Star as the gateway to heaven, playing a crucial role in their belief system regarding the afterlife. Although numerous otherworldly steps were involved when a pharaoh passed away, eventually their soul journeyed to Thuban, where it merged with the Sun god Ra. From this elevated position, the pharaoh ruled over the celestial realm, just as they had on Earth.

Throughout history, various stars have held the title of North Star:

  • Polaris – Present day
  • Gamma Cephei – 4,000 AD
  • Deneb – 10,000 AD
  • Vega – 14,000 AD
  • Thuban – 21,000 AD (reclaiming the North Star crown)

The South Star

Currently, there is no prominent star in close proximity to the South celestial pole. However, for the past 2,000 years, people have relied on the constellation Southern Cross to determine true south. It won’t be until 4,200 AD that Gamma Chamaeleontis assumes this role.

In addition to the Earth’s rotational wobble, it’s fascinating to observe the gradual movement of the celestial poles and the shift in the North Star over thousands of years. The Egyptians’ belief in Thuban as the portal to heaven offers insight into their rich mythology and spiritual practices. Today, we can appreciate the significance of Polaris as our North Star, guiding us in navigation and symbolizing our connection to the celestial realm. Similarly, the Southern Cross serves as a reliable marker for finding true south, reminding us of humanity’s enduring fascination with the night sky.

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