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Go galactic, turn left

I’m a very lazy and hugely uninformed star gazer. My meticulous stellar observations involve little more than stepping outside slightly drunk and peering at the sky in an effort to find the Plough, known in the States as the Big Dipper, but more properly as Ursa Major, the Great Bear.

It’s not always in the same place, of course, thanks to us being on a spinning planet hurtling around the Sun, but it took a smartphone app to bring home what to many people is probably dead obvious.

This app, I think it was called Planetarium, not only mapped the night sky but could be set to show an animation of the stars’ movement over any set period, such as 24 hours. Watching this, I had an astronomical epiphany. There at the centre of the movement was a single star around which everything seemed to pivot. Ah! So that’s why it’s called the Pole Star (Polaris, the North Star – this is a Northern Hemisphere thing). I took another slug of beer and cursed my fading brain cells.

Not only that, but I noticed that if you trace a line through two of Ursa Major’s stars and follow it, you’ll skim by Polaris, making it easier to find, as it’s not the brightest thing out there.

Fine, so now I knew that when looking for the Plough, it would be circulating around the Pole Star, but those blasted fading brain cells could never remember which direction the whole set-up moved. I looked again at that animation and there it was, proof that from the dawn of time the only sensible thing has been to go fast and turn left.

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