You Need a North Star

Star trails circling Polaris, Big Bend National Park
Photo by Costa1973 on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA-2.0

Many of us have GPS systems in our cars or on our phones. They allow us to pinpoint our locations on a map, letting us know exactly where we are.

But in the days before modern technology, how did people navigate? If they needed to cross an ocean, what told them where they were?

The North Star did.

More formally known as Polaris, the North Star is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation. Because it’s almost in a direct line above the Earth’s north celestial pole, the North Star appears to stand motionless in the sky, with the other stars seeming to rotate around it.

This made it a perfect fixed point by which to draw measurements for celestial navigation. In fact, the Old English word for the North Star meant “ship-star,” reflecting its use in helping to chart a course when sailing.

We still need a north star today.

Not to get from point A to point B in our vehicles, but to navigate the seas of our lives. When our whole world has turned topsy-turvy, we need a fixed point to focus on to keep us on a stable course.

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