Navigating with Polaris, The North Star

Stars

Star gazing is an amazing hobby. Knowing about the star map above you is a handy tool you should learn to use. If you ever find yourself lost at night and without a compass, you can find which direction to move in if you can find Polaris, the North Star.

Interesting facts about Polaris

Did you know that Polaris wasn’t always the North Star and it won’t always be? The star Thuban in the constellation Draco the Dragon used to be the North Star when the Egyptians built the pyramids. Polaris will be our North Star for many centuries to come and by the year 14,000 it will likely be the star Vega, one of the brightest stars in the sky.

If you ask people what is the brightest star in the sky their response very well may be “Polaris” or “The North Star.” This actually isn’t true. Polaris is actually a medium bright star. There are approximately 50 stars in the visible sky that are brighter. What is the brightest star? Our Sun of course! But if you only count the night sky it is the star Sirius, which is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star.

Finding the North Star in the sky

Polaris is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor or Little Dipper constellation. You can find it at the end of the tail or pan handle however your mind sees it. You can also find it by locating the larger Ursa Major or Big Dipper constellation which is much brighter in the night sky and easier to find. If you look at the Big Dipper and find its pan, the stars that would be the end of the pan actually point to Polaris. They are Dubhe and Merak and are always roughly five times the distance between the two stars away from Polaris. All you have to do is find the big dipper, focus on the two stars that make the end of the pan, and look about 5 times the distance between the two upwards, or just slightly look above the Big Dipper and you can’t miss it. If you can find Polaris you can always find the direction north.


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