North Star – One of the first things to find when you start out Stargazing is find the North Star.
The North Star is literally the star that indicates north. When you are looking at it you are facing north. This makes it probably one of the most important stars to learn and find in the night sky.
When you have found the North Star, you can get your bearings and find all other directions to look in.
Contrary to popular belief, the North Star, otherwise known as Polaris, isn’t the brightest star in the night sky. That title goes to Sirius – The Dog Star in the constellation of Canis Major. We will find that one another time.
Polaris – the North Star is around 50th in brightness in the night sky.
Finding Polaris – The North Star
We need to find the most well known constellation or collection of stars. (Also known as an asterism) Ursa Major- The Great bear, better known in the US as the Big Dipper and UK as the Plough. It literally looks like a giant saucepan in the sky.
Find the Plough/ Saucepan by scanning the night sky. You should quickly find it as it is so striking. Once you have found it, look for the two stars in the edge of the pan. Not the handle. These are known as the pointers.
Draw an imaginary line joining these two stars together. keep drawing this line for about 5 times the same distance again until you come to a faint star which is kind of on its own. This is Polaris – The North Star.
Polaris sits on Earth’s axis of rotation which means it basically stays in the same position all night long. It doesn’t move unlike all other stars that spin around it. Because of this lack of movement, it’s ideal for use in navigation and for starting your journey discovering the night sky.
Polaris – The North Star is in the constellation of Ursa Minor – The Little Bear. A smaller and similar looking constellation to the GreatBear/ The Plough. One of the circumpolar constellations that never set. Ursa Minor and Ursa Major – The constellation we use to find the North Star have many stories in myth and folklore. Such as the Greek Myth of Arcas and Callisto.
A Greek Myth – The Two Bears.
Callisto was a water nymph in the service of and companion to the God Artemis.
One day when Callisto was bathing in a river, she was spotted by the God Zeus who became infatuated with her. He swooped down from mount Olympus and tricked Callisto into believing he was someone else and they had a brief romantic meeting.
The result of this was a child called Arcas. Zeus was married to The Goddess Hera who knew very well what her husband had been up to. In spite, she turned Callisto into a bear and took Arcas away from Callisto and placed him in the care of Artemis. Callisto’s companion and master.
The years went by and Arcas grew into a mighty hunter. One day he was hunting in the woods and was spotted by his mother who was still in the form of a Great Bear. She rushed toward him to greet him unaware that the young man din’t realise it was his mother. All he saw was a bear rushing toward him, so he drew his bow and loosed an arrow to kill the beast!
Zeus had been watching the pair closely from Mount Olympus and swooped down knocking the arrow away from Callisto at the last second, thus saving Arcas from killing his own mother which would have been sacrilege.
Hera was furious with Zeus for ruining her twisted plans and turned Arcas into a bear also. Zeus then to protect them from his wife Hera, placed them both as the Great and Little Bear in the night sky. Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.