Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2015 May 8
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

When Vega is North
Image Credit & Copyright: Miguel Claro | Dark Sky Alqueva

Explanation: In only about 12,000 years Vega will be the North Star, the closest bright star to our fair planet's North Celestial Pole. By then, when you fix your camera to a tripod long exposures of the night sky will show the concentric arcs of star trails centered on a point near Vega as Earth rotates on its axis. Of course, presently the bright star conveniently near the North Celestial Pole is Polaris, but that will change as the Earth's axis of rotation precesses, like the wobble of a spinning top with a precession period of about 26,000 years. If your camera is ready now and you don't want to wait 12,000 years for Vega to be the North Star, consider this ingenious demonstration of contemporary star trails (left) versus star trails reminiscent of the year 14000 CE. Both were recorded this April at the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve in Alentejo, Portugal. To produce the more Vega-centric star trails of the distant future, astronomer Miguel Claro combined the rotation of two startracking camera mounts to create the apparent shift in the North Celestial Pole. (Addendum: Thanks to APOD readers who note that when Vega is the North Star it will also appear near the same position that Polaris is now relative to the landscape.)

Tomorrow's picture: cosmic trio

< | Archive | Submissions | Search | Calendar | RSS | Education | About APOD | Discuss | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
NASA Official: Phillip Newman Specific rights apply.
NASA Web Privacy Policy and Important Notices
A service of: ASD at NASA / GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.