How to: Finding North ⬅︎

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Wherever you stargaze, you need to know north. Once you know it, then you will also know the other cardinal directions as well as the meridian. So how do you find north? You could use the compass on a smart phone but there is a faster way...

1) Find the Big Dipper.
2) Find the two end stars, Merak and Dubhe.
3) Use them as pointers to find bright Polaris.

This works because Polaris always points north. In fact, it is known as the North Star. All other stars appear to move around it each day. Tap the toggle button to see how far the stars appear to move in two hours. Now imagine this continuing for a day... it's like a backwards spinning clock with Polaris always at the center pointing North!

Pretty convenient, right? Of course this is all an optical illusion. The stars aren't moving, earth is. Polaris just happens to be the star closest to the point above earth's axis of rotation. The actual point is called the North Celestial Pole (NCP) but Polaris is close enough at less than 1° away to be very useful in finding north.

Here's a cool fact... not only does Polaris reveal north, it also reveals latitude. Here at Starry Hill, Polaris is 46° degrees above the horizon, the same as our latitude. At the north pole it is 90° up (zenith). At the equator, it is 0°. Measure the altitude of Polaris and you'll know your latitude.

Be sure to check out the other topics below.
▶︎ Why Stargaze?  ▶︎ The Night Sky  ▶︎ North  ▶︎ Planets  ▶︎ Brightness  ▶︎ Distance