Tonight, if you can find the Big Dipper in the northern sky, you can find the North Star, Polaris. The Big Dipper is low in the northeast sky at nightfall, but it’ll climb upward during the evening hours, to reach its high point for the night in the wee hours after midnight. A well-known trick for finding Polaris, the legendary North Star, is that the two outermost stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper point to it. Those stars are Dubhe and Merak. They are well known among amateur astronomers as The Pointers.
Can’t find the Big Dipper? Yes, you can!
It really does look like a dipper, and it’s pretty bright. You just have to look for it at a time when it’s visible. And that’ll be tonight, and for many nights to come over the coming weeks and months … in the north in mid-evening. Once you find the Big Dipper, use the pointer stars to find Polaris, the North Star.
The Big Dipper isn’t a constellation, by the way. Instead, it’s an asterism, just a recognizable pattern of stars on the sky’s dome. It’s part of the constellation Ursa Major, the Greater Bear.
Bottom line: Use the Big Dipper to find Polaris, the North Star.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.