Those of us who are living in the northern hemisphere, the Polaris (also known as the North Star) has a very important impact on our lives. In the northern hemisphere, no matter where you are, the Polaris is always aligned with the direction of the Earth’s rotational axis. That’s why, when we face towards the Polaris, we always face towards the North.
As you can guess, from the medieval time, people have been using Polaris as a navigational guide. Even today, Polaris is used for many navigational purposes. If you want to be an astronomer, or even an amateur stargazer, finding the Polaris should be a ‘must-do’ project for you.
In this article, I am going to share some of the methods through which you can find Polaris. All of these methods work, have been tested by hundreds of astronomers.
So, read the article, choose your favorite method and try to find the Polaris.
How To Find Polaris Using Big Dipper?
In this method, we are going to try to find the Polaris using Big Dipper, a very common constellation.
Step 1: Location The Big Dipper
At first, we need to locate the Big Dipper. One interesting fact, Big Dipper is also known as the Ursa Major.
Big Dipper is very easy to identify. It just looks like a spoon. If the sky is clear and there is little light pollution, you should be able to find the Big Dipper within minutes.
In the above picture, you can see, the Big Dipper consists of 7 stars. 4 of them are in the spoon head whereas the rest make the handle of the spoon.
Step 2: Tracing
Now that we’ve found the Big Dipper, it is time to look at the 2 front stars of the Big Dipper. I have marked them in the above picture. Just connect these 2 stars and trace a line towards upper right.
The first bright star you’ll face is the Polaris.
Step 3: How To Be Sure It Is The Polaris?
Though the north star is extremely important for us, with the naked eye, it just looks like any other normal star in the night sky. So, even if you find the Polaris, how to be sure that it is in fact the Polaris?
Well, it is very easy. Fortunately, not only the Polaris coincides directly in line with the 2 front stars of the Big Dipper, it is also a part of another well-known constellation, the Little Dipper.
Like the big brother, Little Dipper is also made of 7 stars. 3 are in the handle and the rest makes the head. Polaris is the last star in the handle.
The Little Dipper floats just above the Big Dipper and it looks like the Little Dipper is pouring water to the Big Dipper.
How To Find Polaris Using Cassiopeia?
There is another way to find the Polaris using another constellation, Cassiopeia. You can opt for this method if the Big Dipper is not visible or below the horizon.
However, let me tell you, this method doesn’t provide as accurate result as the previous one. It is somewhat okay. I’ll always urge you to follow the first one for finding Polaris.
Step 1: Loot At The Cassiopeia
The first step is to locate the Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia constellation looks more like a ‘W’ or ‘M’. This unique formation makes it easy to spot the constellation.
When the night just begins, the Cassiopeia looks more like an ’M’. With time, in the later hours of the night, it looks like a ‘W’. Cassiopeia generally appears as a “W” in between February and March.
Step 2: Find the Polaris
Look at the above image closely, especially at the 3 stars in the middle of the Cassiopeia. Just these 3 stars make the formation of an arrow, right? Look ahead towards the direction of the arrow and you should see a bright star somewhat around. This is the North star.
As you can see, this method is not that much easy and reliable.
Finding The North Star With Software
1. Using A Website
This is the easiest way to know the position of the Polaris in your night sky. There is a web-based software called the Stellarium. Stellarium let you see the night sky from your geographical location.
With Stellarium, you’ll just have to enter the name of the object you want to observe, and it will show everything including the position in the night sky, the direction, as well as other details.
Here’s how you can use Stellarium:
First, go to this site. At the lower-left corner, you’ll see an option to choose your location. So, select your location as accurately as you can. Look at the above picture for clarification.
After that, you’ll have to write the name of the object you want to see. There is a search box at the top-middle partion of the site. Write there the name of the target object and the software will show where it is currently based on your geographical location and time.
2. With Your Smartphone
These days there are many apps that turn your smartphone into a telescope. Just install such an app, and point your smartphone towards the sky. The phone should identify each of the stars and present you with a star map.
For iOS, Sky Guide is such an app. Sky Guide takes into account your geographical location as well as the time and then presents the sky map, specifically geared for you.
Stellarium Mobile will be the #1 choice for Android users. This app produces a better resolution image than the Sky Guide.
Tips To Find The Polaris
- Take a compass and look towards the northern portion of the sky. The north star will be in a somewhat darker region of the sky where there are hardly any bright stars around it. This is a quick way to find the Polaris.
- I’ll advise you to remember the color of the Polaris and some of the stars around it. This way, you’ll train your eyes to locate the North star easily from anywhere. Our North Star is a Yellow Supergiant. So, there is a faint yellow tint to Polaris.
Here is a test for you. Let’s see if you can identify the North Star in the below image. Chop Chop!
[Hint: go through the first method if you are facing a hard time]
So, this is my detailed guide on how to find the Polaris. I have shown you 3 methods to do it. Hopefully, the guide will come in handy to you. Finding Polaris is not only fun, it is also important for anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere.