Instructables
Do you live in a big city permeated with light pollution?  Never been camping?  Or has just no one ever pointed it out to you?

Polaris, the North Star, is an important navigational star because its position in the sky is almost exactly (within a few degrees) lined up with the rotational axis of the Earth. This means that no matter where you are on the Earth (so long as you're in the Northern Hemisphere) if you face toward Polaris you are facing North. Finding Polaris is an incredibly useful night time navigation technique that's helped everyone from the Egyptians to the Vikings find there way on the open seas. But it also is one of the easiest stars to find - something my Dad taught us as kids - and can serve as a great entryway into the world of star gazing and constellations. In fact, locating it involves two of perhaps the three most recognizable constellations in the northern hemisphere (two of which we'll mention in a second; the third being Orion, the hunter).

Let's get started.


**Note**  All photos in this instructable were found on the internet, and are the property of their respective owners.  I will cite as much information about original sources as I can find.  [I wanted to take the photos myself, but unfortunately the rainy season in Japan could just as well be named the cloudy season.  (;_;)    ]

**Apology**  Sorry for the poor quality of some of these photos.  It turns out star fields don't hold up well under the Instructables.com image compression.  Feel free to click the [ î ] in the upper left corner to view the full size images if you're having trouble.

 
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schristenson6 months ago

Unfortunately, knowing how to find the Big Dipper will only work about 60% of the time. That's because half of the night only the "bowl" of the Big Dipper (part of the constellation Ursa Major) will be visible to most observers in the Northern Hemisphere. The constellation "Cassiopeia" looks like a broken 3 when rising, a broken M when overhead, and a backward 3 when setting. Cassiopeia is on the *opposite side* of Polaris from the Big Dipper. When the Big Dipper is too low to find reliably, Cassiopeia is usually findable. There is a bonus to finding Cassiopeia, too. a faint hint of the Milky Way is there, Perseus (where the Perseid Meteor streams from) and the Andromeda Galaxy can all be found by first finding Cassiopeia. In the photo below, Cassiopeia is in the upper left and all you see of the Big Dipper (lower right) are two of the stars.

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Reiff11 months ago
Hey, even if you didn't take the pictures, Thanks for putting that together, I finally leaned how to find the North star.
flio1912 years ago
This only works if you live north of the equator btw. Polaris at the equator is located at 0 degrees, or basically at the horizon.

Therefore, a good way to figure out where Polaris is is to figure out how north you are from the equator – the more north, the higher up from the horizon it's gonna be.

For example, in Hawaii, you can measure up about 20 degrees from the horizon and you know if you're facing north, you can find it that way. A local trick is to hold up a shaka hand with your pinky at the horizon, and your thumb facing upward, and holding your arm straight forward, your thumb should just be on or right below Polaris.

I learned using the big dipper though.  You can further find Arcturus and Spica by following the arch of the dipper handle.  Arc to Arcturus, spike to Spica.

Also note that Polaris is the handle end of Ursa Minor, or the little dipper.
flio191 flio1912 years ago
Nevermind that last bit, you've got that covered ;D
Polarize3 years ago
Thanks, simple but helpful :)
doublequick3 years ago
to a newbie, too many star arrangements look like the Big Dipper. I suggest, for teaching purposes, going out with someone who knows how to use a compass (declination and all that). Determine North. From that, determine the North Star. From that, determine the actual Big & Little Dippers.
After that lesson, it should vecome easy to locate the Dippers and the pole star whenever afield
paganwonder3 years ago
You mean there's another way besides using 'Sky-view' on a smart phone?!? Who'd of thought... ;)