By Deborah Price, IDA Colorado Board, 11/6/2022.
It’s often disorienting to be outside at night, but nature gives us a shining compass to provide direction. If you’re outside in winter and want to know which way is north, look up! On a clear night you can find Polaris, our North Star, and figure out other directions from there.
Polaris just happens to be above Earth’s North Pole. Earth spins once every 24 hours, keeping Polaris to the North. To find this guiding star, look for the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is part of the larger constellation Ursa Major (Big Bear) but the Big Dipper itself is very large in the sky. The cup of the dipper is made up of four visible stars in a square-like pattern. The handle of the dipper extends out with three visible stars. To find Polaris, look for the two stars in the cup that are farthest from the tip of the handle (the outer edge of the cup). Draw an imaginary line from the bottom star through the top star straight out, and you will find Polaris. It’s not a bright star–it just happens to be in the right place!
Another fun fact is that Polaris is the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper, which is much more difficult to see than the Big Dipper. If you keep that imaginary line going past Polaris, you’ll run into the constellation Cassiopeia, which looks like a big “W.”
Not only is it great to have this natural compass in the sky, but what a wonder it is to be able to see the stars! The less light pollution there is, the more you can see.
Turn off your lights, let your eyes adjust, and look up!