You need to crane your neck up high the next clear evening, to see the Giraffe.
Not unlike what you may have done at the zoo or game park, this celestial counterpart looks down at us in this position, meaning we have to look up to see its face.
Yes, there is a constellation called the Giraffe, otherwise known by its Latin name, Camelopardalis. You might never have seen it let alone heard of it, but for people living in mid-northern latitudes, the Giraffe is always there. The Giraffe never sets. It’s one of the "circumpolar" constellations of the northern sky, circling an imaginary point next to the North Star like every other star as the Earth spins, but constantly missing the horizon.
As seen from Pennsylvania and similar mid-northern states, other circumpolar groups include the famous Big Dipper, which is part of Ursa Major the Big Bear; the Little Dipper, part of Ursa Minor the Little Bear and including the North Star; Cassiopeia — the famed "W" or "M"; Cepheus the King and Draco the Dragon.
All of these other star groups are relatively easy to find because they have fairly bright stars among them.
The poor Giraffe, however, is dim, completely dim. Moonlight or excessive light pollution (all light pollution is excessive in my view) will practically wipe it out. What we need is a new nova or supernova to flare up in Camelopardalis, but alas, these erupting or exploding stars are both (very to extremely) rare and temporary.
Nevertheless I bring up the Giraffe to give honor to even the least of our starry groups, all of which should elicit our wonder and admiration. There are numerous faint constellations, many added late, to "fill in" between brighter groups on star maps. Once you master the brighter and more well known groups, wait for a fairly dark sky and look for some of the others.
The very bright yellow star Capella shines almost straight overhead at around 8 p.m. in early February as seen from the mid-north. This is a good guide to the Giraffe. This group lies between Capella and the North Star in one direction and between Capella and the five stars making the "M" of Cassiopeia, just to the left and high in the north at this time.
A star map and a pair of binoculars will aid you in tracing the Giraffe, although it may take some imagination to visualize the African animal.
Some neat facts:
• Camelopardalis was introduced around 1613 by Petrus Planicus, a Dutch-Flemish astronomer.
• Its brightest star is magnitude +4.03 (Beta Cam). The North Star and most stars of the Big Dipper as well as Orion’s "Belt" are +2nd magnitude. The faintest star you can usually see in a dark, rural location (with no Moon) is +6.
• At least four stars in the Giraffe are known to have planets.
• The star Alpha Cam is a blue-shaded +4.3 magnitude star. Measured to be about 5,000 light years from Earth, it is one of the most distant stars you can easily see without optical aid.
• Guess what. We even have a spacecraft heading to the Giraffe. Voyager I, launched by NASA in 1977, visited Jupiter and Saturn, and entered interstellar space in 2012. The most distant spacecraft launched from Earth, Voyager I is headed right towards the stars of the Giraffe.
First quarter Moon is on February 7.
Keep looking up!
— Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.