Our planet’s rotation makes stars in the sky appear to shift positions. But one of them bright bodies happens to occupy a still position in the northern sky, while all the others revolve around it (yeap, that circular star trails long exposure night sky photos). The “star that does not walk”, the ("surprisingly" named so) Polar star, is the one closest to the Earth’s axis of rotation. Always providing the direction of North, it has guided sailors, travelers on land, armies and lone warriors, slaves escaping to the free lands, shamans, scholars and astronomers since the dawn of history. Located 434 light-years from Earth, our current north polar star Polaris has a luminosity of nearly 4,000 times that of our sun. It contracts and expands, varying its brightness every few days. The single point of light that we see as Polaris is actually a triple star system, or three stars orbiting a common center of mass - Polaris A (the supergiant), Polaris Ab (the "close" companion, orbiting 2 billion miles from Polaris A) and (the much farther away) Polaris B. Also known as the Alpha Ursae Minoris, Polaris is the brightest star in Ursa Minor (“Smaller bear” or “Smaller dipper”) constellation.
In Greek mythology Polaris was identified with Typhon, the “father of all monsters”, with authority over the gods, that battled Zeus. In ancient Egyptian art, the Set animal, or Sha, is a chimerical beast, the totemic animal of the god Set. Sha is depicted as a slender dog, resembling a greyhound or a jackal, with a stiff tail. Set was identified with the Greek Typhon and the animal is also commonly known as the Typhonic beast or even Set-Typhon. The constellation Ursa Minor (“Smaller bear”) is commonly visualized as a baby bear with Polaris at the end of an unusually long tail. In some older traditions it is depicted as a dog though, which sensibly explains both the length of the tail and the obsolete alternate name of Cynosura (“the dog's tail”) for Polaris in ancient times. The North Pole Star is called Dhruva Nakshatra in Sanskrit literature. This identification is said to be coming from Dhruva, devotee of the supreme god Vishnu in Hindu mythology. In Hawaiian mythology, the pole star is called Kiopa'a. In Chinese mythology, Emperor Zhuanxu is mentioned as a god of the Pole Star. Myōken Bodhisattva (or Myōken Bosatsu in Japanese) is a bodhisattva, who is the deification of the North Star. Polaris appears infrequently on the (native american) Lakota artefacts, but always prominently. They call Polaris Wichapi Owanjila, "the Star that always stands in one place." The other stars are said to be moving in a "dance circle" around it, paying homage to it. The Lakota claimed that Polaris was emblematic of the way that all of creation moved around Wakan Tanka, "that-which-moves-moving-things". On objects, it often appears on top of the axis mundi (world-tree), which looks much like the star on the christmas trees people use today...
The wobble, or precession of the Earth's axis will change the position of our planet’s poles over many years. In just a short period of time (of about 500 years or so), Polaris will no longer be our Polar Star.
released February 1, 2015
cover artwork by Angel Draganov, using public domain photography