Stargazing: Locating the North Star


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Contrary to popular belief, Polaris, the North Star, is not the brightest star in the night sky. There are 47 other stars brighter than second-magnitude Polaris. Stargazers should use the Big Dipper as a guidepost when they try to locate our pole star.

The Big Dipper is a pattern of stars in Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Ursa Major is a circumpolar constellation, which means it is always in the sky rotating around Polaris. Spring is the easiest time of year to locate the Big Dipper. At 10 p.m., the Dipper is high in the northern sky, directly over Polaris.

The two "pointer" stars at the front of the bowl of the Dipper, Merak and Dubhe, can guide stargazers to Polaris. Make a line connecting Merak to Dubhe and extend it out of the "bowl." Continue along this line five times the width of the "pointers," and you will arrive at a relatively isolated star slightly fainter than Merak. This is Polaris, the North Star.

-- By Dan Malerbo, Buhl Planetarium and Observatory

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