How to find the North Star

By on September 7, 2013


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.

Step 1: Locate the Big Dipper – (Ursa Major)

step1 ste1

The first step is to find the constellation of Ursa Major, commonly known as the Big Dipper.  It is perhaps the most easily recognizable constellation in the night sky, and looks like a large spoon or perhaps a wheel barrow.


It is composed of seven bright stars – three in the handle and four in the head of the spoon.  If you can find it in the picture above, great.  If not, look at the next photo.

Step 2: Trace a line to the North Star


Next, imagine the line connecting the two front stars of the Big Dipper, which I’ve marked in red.  If you continue this line off to the upper right, the first bright star you come to is Polaris, the North Star.

Step 3: Checking that it really is the North Star


But with the North Star being such an important and useful star, you want to be sure you’ve got the right one.  After all, there are a lot of stars up there, and they do all look pretty similar.

Luckily, not only is Polaris in line with two stars from the Big Dipper, it is in fact a part of the Little Dipper itself, which makes it easy to check if you’re looking at the right star.  Like the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) is composed of seven stars, three in the handle and four in the head of the spoon (marked in red).  The Little Dipper floats above its bigger brother, and is angled as if it were pouring water into the larger spoon.  Polaris is the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper.

If you can recognize and identify the relationships between these 14 stars, you will always be able to find the North Star.  It helps that they are some of the brightest stars in the night sky.

Of course the best way to test your new found star-gazing abilities would be to go outside in the country and take a look at the heavens.

If you’re a person whose known this simple trick for years, then I hope this Article will inspire you to share your knowledge with others.  If you’re a person whose never looked at the stars before, then I hope this piques your interest in the night sky.  And if you’re a person who is inexplicably lost in the wilderness but somehow has a wi-fi connection and decided to check for guidance, than I hope this helps you find your way to civilization.

Happy star gazing!

by ATTILAtheHUNgry


About The Survivalist

Total bacon buff. Explorer. Survivalist Expert. Zombie Fanatic/Hunter. Internet Entrepreneur

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