One of the first stars an astronomer learns about is the North star, named Polaris.
It’s the one star that appears not to move in the night sky. The star all other stars revolve around.
If you stand and face Polaris, you know you are facing true North.
If you are going to be using a telescope with the EQ type of mount, then you will need to know how to find Polaris for your setup procedure.
The easiest way to find Polaris is by the tried and trusted method of ‘Star Hopping’. No, really it is. A complete novice can be pointing at Polaris before you’ve even opened you’re smartphone app!
Let’s suppose you’ve gone to a remote location with a nice dark sky to do some observing. There’s no 4G! No wifi!! Besides, ‘star hopping’ can be a very rewarding way of finding targets in the night sky. I find it adds a little more sparkle when you first find that globular star cluster you’ve been searching for.
So here’s a brief guide on how to find Polaris. Hopefully giving you an idea of the basics of ‘star hopping’ in the process.
First you need to locate the Plough. The Plough is not a constellation itself, but what is called an asterism. An asterism is the bright prominent part of a constellation. The Plough is part of the Great Bear constellation also known as Ursa Major. Sometimes the Plough is referred to has the big dipper, saucepan or big question mark, to name but a few.
For this guide were going to think of it as a saucepan.
Follow the curved handle along to the pan head.
From the two stars in the pan head that are furthest from the handle, start at the bottom star (Merak) and draw an imaginary straight line up to the next star (Dubhe).
Now just keep that imaginary line going straight to the next bright star you come to and you have just ‘star hopped’ to Polaris the North star.
Hopefully this little guide makes it easier for some beginners to find the North star. Whilst showing how simple it can be to have a go at star hopping and finding targets in the night sky.
Give it a try and see how satisfying star hopping your way around the cosmos can be! Good luck.
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