Since it’s the summer now, many of you might be traveling. When we are in a different part of the world, the sky is also different. I was inspired to write this article because of a conversation I had with one of my astrology students. She is taking her family on a holiday to Sweden and Norway. They live in Florida. I’m teaching her about the Ecliptic in our class and now she can get a chance to see the Ecliptic from a new location on the Earth. I gave her homework while she was in these countries and I decided to give you all the same homework.
Let’s start with the North Star. When you have no clouds and a dark sky, you can spot the North Star fairly easily. The very recognizable constellation of the Big Dipper is the marker to help you find it. The bucket of the Big Dipper points to the North Star. Even though the North Star isn’t the brightest star in the sky, there aren’t any other stars close by, so you can’t miss it. The entire sky rotates around the North Star once each day as you can see in this time lapsed shot of the night sky.
Here's the fun part. The North Star is above the horizon the number of degrees of your latitude. Tucson is 32 degrees north. So, when it’s dark, I can see the North Star 32 degrees above the northern horizon. The latitude of New York City is 40 degrees north. So, you would look 40 degrees above the northern horizon to find the North Star. Easy. Find out the latitude of your location, so you can find the North Star where you live.
Oslo, Norway is approximately 60 degrees north latitude, which is where my astrology student is now. She will have to look 60 degrees above the northern horizon to see the North Star. Why is this relevant?
Depending on the time of the year, the Ecliptic is 90 degrees from the North Star. Remember the definition of the Ecliptic is: The Apparent Path of the Sun. Why is it apparent? Because the Sun is not the one traveling but is due to the rotation of the Earth. It only appears, from our perspective on Earth, that the Sun rises and sets. The rotation of the Earth is really causing the Sun to rise and set.
All the other planets are always located along the Ecliptic too. (Your birth chart is a picture of the planets in the Solar System along the Ecliptic at your moment and location of birth).
To get to know the Ecliptic, this is what to do. Watch the path of the Sun from sunrise to noonday to sunset. If you draw an imaginary arch in the sky in your mind, defined by the path of the Sun, that is the Ecliptic. The Sun always rises in the East and sets in the West. Always.
This is the tricky part. If you travel far north, like to Oslo, Norway, the North Star is much higher in the sky, which means that the Ecliptic will be much farther south. This is the homework I gave to my student that I’m giving to each of you, too. I had her get to know the path of the Sun in Florida and then notice where the path of the Sun will be in Oslo. The Sun is high in the sky in Florida and will be very low in the southern sky in Oslo. If you travel east and west, (longitude) this doesn’t apply. You have to travel north and south (latitude) for this to be in effect. Is everyone with me?
But it gets even better! My student was in Oslo, Norway very close to the Summer Solstice, on June 21st. The latitude of Oslo is approximately 60 degrees north. The latitude of the Arctic Circle is 66 degrees north. If you are above the Arctic Circle on the Summer Solstice, the Sun never sets. It’s called the Midnight Sun. In Reykjavik, Iceland, with a latitude of approximately 64 degrees north, the Sun sets on the Summer Solstice at 11 pm and rises again at 3 am. Oslo will be similar. Celebrations and music festivals abound at this time of the year. Conversely, during the Winter Solstice, there will only be about 4 hours of semi-daylight, with 20 hours of darkness. You might not be traveling this far north, but even traveling from Florida to New York City, you will see the Ecliptic in a lower position.
The main thing I want to get across to everyone is to pay attention to the sky, no matter where you are on Earth. If you can recognize the Ecliptic, I did my job here. Of course, knowing the Ecliptic is necessary to spot planets in the evening sky. And yes, Eclipses occur on the Ecliptic too! Enjoy sky viewing and have happy travels!