The Perpetual Race

Date: April 1-15
Time: 7:45 pm, one hour after sunset
Place: the northern sky

There was a time in the early history of our species when understanding the patterns in the sky was a matter of survival. Celestial cycles were related to seasons, tides, and the migration and growth of what we ate.

Not surprisingly, all cultures developed mythologies related to these cycles. In each culture, the stars had different names. Likewise for the constellations (shapes) the stars formed. According to Navajo legend:

Revolving Male (Ursa Major) and Revolving Female (Ursa Minor), run in endless circles around North Fire (Polaris) with the woman in pursuit. Black God was assisted by First Man and First Woman in his task of building the sky. He rewarded them by giving them permanent places in the heavens.

If you watch these two constellations over time, you’ll see them moving in circular paths around Polaris, the North Star. This is a motion shared by all stars — it’s just more obvious for those closer to Polaris. By the way “North Fire” in the legend means “star that never moves.” It was a special crystal put there by Black God to aid travelers at night.

Jumping forward to modern astronomy, it’s obviously Earth’s rotation that causes this apparent stellar motion. The stars don’t really move. Well … actually they do, but so slowly you’d need a powerful telescope, and lots of time, to even detect it. In these modern times, Black God is resting.

Q&A: New Astronomy Club in North Phoenix
Q&A: Problems with a New Telescope