In this article I would like to discuss the star Polaris and how one might go about finding the North Star. Polaris it has been discovered is a system of three stars consisting of one Supergiant and two smaller companions, a very close dwarf star and a more distant main sequence star. Without the aid of a telescope, it appears to be just one bright star. However, it is the star’s position in the night sky, and the fact that the star hardly moves at all relative to the movement of the other stars that has made the star one of the most famous stars in our sky, and an important aid to past and present navigation. I would like to give a brief explanation on how to find Polaris, should you ever become lost yourself.
Finding the North Star is relatively easy. It is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor, or “Little Bear,” being what ancient peoples saw in the figure outlined by the stars that make up the constellation. We know it today by the common name “Little Dipper” because to our eyes we see more of a cup or ladle shape outlined by the constellation. Although it is a circumpolar constellation (a constellation that revolves around Polaris and rarely if ever sets below the horizon), and the star Polaris itself is the very last star on the ladle of the handle, the small size of the constellation sometimes makes it difficult to spot. Instead an easier reference to the North Star comes from Ursa Major or “Larger Bear,” being that the constellation outlines a larger but very similar shape to that of Ursa Minor.
As stated before, Ursa Major also makes the shape of a ladle, but it’s much larger size in comparison to the Little Dipper has earned itself the name “Big Dipper.” The big dipper is itself also a circumpolar constellation, and its larger size makes it a little easier to distinguish in the northern night sky. The big dipper is very important in finding the North Star because it’s two end stars that make up the outside of the “cup” in the constellation. These stars are named Dubhe and Merak, and these stars have been referred to as “The Guardians of the Pole.” It is these two stars that, if a line is drawn between them, and that line is extended outward into space (from the bottom star in the cup to the top star and outward in that direction) the stars point directly towards Polaris. This technique has been used for thousands of years as a navigational aid and now hopefully you can always find your way north using this technique.
Important note: The North Star can only be seen in the northern hemisphere, not the southern hemisphere.