The Big Dipper navigates star gazers through spring
by Ted Pedas
The Cosmos
The Vindicator

[Article - The Cosmos]The spring season is in full bloom. With the return of warm Sun and blue skies, each of us may have our own special way to celebrate nature reborn.

Some celebrate by walking through flowering fields or visiting with wildlife newly returned to their homes. Others revel in a contest with the wind to launch kites against the sky.

These spring evenings also present a celebration of sights in the form of familiar constellations that are nature's signpost of the revolving seasons.

Big Dipper: The best known of all sky groups surely must be the Big Dipper. Its prominent seven-star outline is familiar to nearly everyone who has ever gazed skyward.

Facing north during these early spring evenings, the Big Dipper is found almost directly overhead. By extending a line from the two pointer stars in the end of the Dipper's bowl, we can pinpoint Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is the end star in the handle of the Little Dippers.

In addition to finding the Little Dipper and the North Star, the Big Dipper serves as a terrific guidepost to other seasonal sky sights.

A most useful guide is the Big Dipper's three-star handle. This arc begins a curving line that pinpoints the sky's fourth brightest star. Know as Arcturus, it has a sparkling orange color.

Of all the stars in the sky, Acturus has, perhaps, the most direct link to Earth, thanks to its distance from us and to human ingenuity.

The World Columbian Exposition, held 100 years ago in Chicago, started the link. Forty years later, in 1933, Chicago was the site of another fair called ‘Century of Progress.’For the fair's opening a unique experiment was performed.

Promoters decided to tie the Columbian Exposition to the Century of Progress fair by the light of a star— light that left a star when the Columbian Exposition closed and was just reaching Earth at the start of the Century of Progress 40 years later.

A star about 40 light years distant was needeed and Arcturus won.

The light of Arcturus was gathered by four telescopes — each with a photo-electric cell at the eyepiece. The combined star light provided a trigger to turn on the light to begin the fair.

Arcturus appears to anchor the tail of a great kite-shaped pattern of stars. The kite is actually a part of the more ancient stellar outline of Bootes, the herdsman, watching over his stellar flock.

Continuing the arc from the Big Dipper's handle and past Arcturus we arrive at another of the sky's brightest stars — blue-white Spica.It's the principal star in Virgo, the maiden, one of the longest of all constellations.

Harbinger of rebirth, Virgo is shown on star charts bearing a sheaf of new wheat. Welcoming a new year of planting, growth and harvest, she represents the age-old symbol of fertility.

Early these evenings, look to the west of Spica to find the planet Jupiter. Far bolder than any other point of light visible in the evening sky, Jupiter appears as a bold, bright cream colored celestial beacon.

Take the back two stars of the four-star bowl and stretch a line downward and you come to diamond-white Regulus — the heart of Leo the Lion.

Above Regulus is a semicircle of stars forming the lion's majestic head and to the east is a small triangle marking his hindquarters and tail.

The Dipper guidepost is useful at any time of the night and for any season. It is especially useful on those nights when only the brightest stars are visible in the sky.

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