Following the Star
Several years ago while serving as a Navigator in the Navy I was fortunate enough to stumble across a book entitled “Astronomy Made Simple” which allowed me to take a much greater interest in the Stars. I was able to locate and name several stars no matter where I was as long as I was north of the Equator.
n You see during daylight hours if we know where the Sun is, and assuming we know where it rises and where it sets then we always should know which way we are traveling. At night you must keep in mind that the stars will move across the sky just as the Sun does in the daytime. Because of the various rates of apparent movement this could be a drastic change or a more subtle one.
n In the night sky, in the Northern Hemisphere (North of the Equator) one of the most prominent constellations would be Ursa Major, which is more commonly known as the Big Dipper. One of the other more noticeable constellations would be Orion, But that’s another story. For now we are going to speak on the Big Dipper and more importantly how it points the way to the North Star.
n The current North Star, Polaris, is actually located at the end of the handle of Ursa Minor, or the Little Dipper and appears as the brightest star in that constellation. I say current because the North Star changes every so often because the direction of the earths axis slowly changes over time. But, we don’t have to worry about that for now since it’s not due to change for another 5000 years. But, in case you were curious the next North Star should be Alpha Cephei.
n So let’s locate the North Star. We do that first by locating the Big Dipper and the two “Pointer Stars”. The names of these two stars are Dubhe and Merak. To know which two stars we are talking about let’s break the Big Dipper down into two parts called the handle and the basin. The basin would be the rectangular shape comprised of four stars. The two stars at the opposite end of the handle would be the two “Pointer Stars” with Dubhe being at the top (or the end water would overflow if it were a real dipper) and Merak being at the bottom. Got it?
n Now, if we were to connect Merak to Dubhe (going from the bottom of the basin towards the top)
nwith an imaginary line and extend that line straight out approxiamately six teams the distance between these two stars we will find Polaris, the North Star. That’s it. It’s that easy. You would think that it would be brighter than that wouldn’t you? Now that you’ve got the North Star you’ll always know which way North is and therefor should know which way you’re going.
n So if you’re out camping in the dessert or out on a dark lake in a kayak or boat, or you want to know what you’re looking at in your telescope as long as it’s not cloudy just look up to get your bearings. It should keep you from traveling in circles.
Posted Date: 2010-02-04 15:22:04