Vega: The North Star of the Past and the Future

To find the star Vega in the constellation Lyra, look directly overhead. North lies at the top of the sky map. Credit: Starry Night Software
Vega is a bright star located just 25 light-years from Earth, visible in the summer sky of the Northern Hemisphere. The star is part of the constellation Lyra and, with the stars Deneb and Altair, forms an asterism known as the Summer Triangle.

By Elizabeth Howell |

The star is only about 450 million years old, which makes it a youngster compared to our own solar system (which is 4.6 billion years old). Studies of Vega help astronomers learn more about solar systems that are in the early stages of their formation.

Because the Earth’s axis wobbles, our perception of north gradually shifts to different stars over a 26,000-year cycle. Vega was the North Star several thousand years ago, and it will regain that status in about 12,000 years.

Vega is almost directly overhead at midnorthern latitudes on midsummer nights. Vega sinks below the horizon for only 7 hours a day and can be seen on any night of the year.

Farther south, Vega lies below the horizon for a longer period, but in Alaska, northern Canada and much of Europe, Vega never sets. The star’s location is:

  • Right ascension: 18h 36m 56.3s.
  • Declination: 38 degrees 47 minutes 01 second.

Because Vega’s blue-white light is so bright — the star has an apparent magnitude of 0.03 — it features prominently in ancient cultures, ranging from the Chinese to the Polynesians to the Hindus. Vega’s name comes from the Arabic word „waqi,“ which means „falling“ or „swooping.“

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