8 Ways to Find the North Star

Find the North Star

You can use these 8 ways to find the North Star (Polaris). These are all fun ways to find the North Star.

Can you find the North Star in this image? It is the star that is closest to the middle of the concentric rings of star trails. This is a long exposure photograph of real stars as seen over the course of several hours during the night.
A long exposure photograph showing all of the other northern sky stars circling around the North Star. Image provided by ESO.

8 ways to find the North Star

  1. Look north and guess – you can find the North Star in a relatively dark region of the sky and there are not many other bright stars around it. If you are south of the equator, head north before you try to look for the North Star because you won’t be able to see it until you get the Earth out of the way.
  2. Use the Big Dipper cup stars as pointers. This is the classic way to find the North Star. The two stars of the Big Dipper cup are known as the “pointer stars” and they show you which star is the North Star. The North Star is about 5 lengths of the pointer stars away.
  3. Camera timelapse – ooh! I love timelapse. A great timelapse of the night sky is an unbeatable way to relax. By taking a timelapse of the starry sky you can detect the apparent motion of the stars. If your timelapse covers enough of the sky  (with a wide angle view) chances are that you will be able to identify the North Star because it is the star that moves the least.
  4. Phone app – grab a planetarium app like SkySafari. Almost every star app these days has a “Augmented Reality” view that you can use to find Polaris. Just use the AR method of holding the phoone up above your head and searching around or you can type the name of a star into the search box in the app.
  5. Observe the sky, patiently measuring the movement of every star. The one that moves the least is Polaris. This might take a long time because the stars move pretty slowly.
  6. Mark a known spot as your North Star viewing spot. This is easy to do with a product like the Star Spot. You can return to that spot any time of day or night  to sight the star – the North Star is always in the same place in the sky.
  7. The North Star is located in between the two easy-to-identify constellations The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia – the Queen.
  8. Memorize its color and the stars around it – this is easier than it sounds! Polaris is a yellow supergiant and has a faint yellow tint. Also, the North Star is located in a region of the Milky Way that has fewer stars so it is surrounded by dark areas of the night sky.

Here is the classic way to find the North Star! Use the pointer stars of the Big Dipper. This is a reliable method for finding the North Star that has been taught to generations.

Find the Big Dipper to find the North Star

Look at the two stars in the picture below. One is Dubhe – which is labeled a for alpha, and the other Merak – which is labeled b for beta. These form the outer lip of the Big Dipper’s cup. These two stars can be used to create an imaginary line to “point” at the North Star.

The distance from the pointer stars to the North Star is about 5 times the distance between Dubhe and Merak.

The North Star is shown in this image as a red dot labeled “Polaris.”

You can find the North Star using the two pointer stars of the Big Dipper (Dubhe and Merak) The North Star is also called Polaris and is part of the constellation Ursa Minor.
Use the two pointer stars of the Big Dipper to find the North Star (Polaris). Picture credit user Bonĉ source Wikipedia

These instructions work for the 80% of people who live in the northern hemisphere – anywhere north of the equator. For the 20% of people who live in the southern hemisphere the North Star is not visible because it is blocked by the Earth. As you move south toward the equator (and eventually move past the equator), the North Star gradually sinks lower in the sky until it stays completely below the northern horizon.

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Where is the Sun?

Where is the Sun right now?

Can’t see the Sun? Maybe there is something blocking it. Here is a list of 10 surprising things that can block the Sun.

IMAGE of floating/flying things overhead (in roughly size order) that can block all or part of the SUN: Flying animals (Bugs, Birds/Flying Mammals), Flying objects (Drones/Balloons/Airplanes/Helicopters/Rockets/Bombs/Blimps), Smoke/Clouds, Spacecraft (Satellites/Space Stations/UFOs), Asteroids, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Earth.
Things that block the Sun.

Where is the Sun during the day? On a clear day, this is a very simple question. The Sun is “up there” in the sky – it’s a big, bright, fiery ball and it’s generally a yellowish orange color. You just point to it – there it is, up in the sky, the Sun.

However, many things can block the Sun. Usually, it is clouds that block the Sun, but not always. Let’s take a tour of the astonishing number of things that can block the Sun.

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Animal constellations in the night sky. How many are there?

There are 42 animal constellations in the night sky.

That is almost half of the official 88 constellations!

Here are the other types of constellations you will find in the celestial sphere. This is a fun activity for kids astronomy!

There are 42 animal constellations, 28 objects, 14 humans, 2 chimeras (a mix of human and animal), and 2 natural features (a river and a mesa).

Constellations are of many types. There are 42 animal constellations, 28 objects, 14 human constellations, 2 chimeras, and 2 natural features
88 official constellations broken down into 5 groups: 42 animals, 28 objects, 14 humans, 2 chimeras, and 2 natural features.

The 88 constellations listed by type:Click here to continue reading…

Blue Moon, Dark Moon, Nose Moon, Tail Moon

What is a Blue Moon?

The year 2018 is a Blue Moon bonanza! There was one in January and one on March 31st. The next one won’t arrive until October 2020. But, don’t worry… we’ve got 3 other types of moons lined up for you.

A blue moon tinted blue to make it look like the moon is actually blue. A blue moon means 2 full moons in a calendar month.
A Blue Moon. (This image was tinted to make it blue. No, a Blue Moon is not blue.)

The Basics

A Blue Moon happens when there is a Full Moon on the 1st* day of the month and a Full Moon on the last* day of the month. Two full moons in one month!

In other words, a Blue Moon is when there is a full moon twice in the same month. These two full moons always happen on the 1st or 2nd and the 30th and 31st of a month. “Blue Moon” is just a name for the second moon in that month – the moon does not turn the color blue.

Read on to learn about how the Blue Moon came to be and some suggestions for giving the other moon phases “Blue Moon” style names when they appear twice in a month. Suggestions are: Dark Moon, Nose Moon, and Tail Moon.Click here to continue reading…

Astronomy Koan

Astronomy Koan – Definition

A family views the visible orbit path of the earth.
A family views the visible orbit path of the earth.

An astronomy koan is a short, easy-to-memorize phrase that distills a key teaching about astronomy (especially physical astronomy).

The words are simple enough for a child to learn, but they carry complex insights about scientific observations.

The astronomy koan is a mnemonic that has layers of meaning or presents an ambiguous or challenging observation in a pithy phrase.

Try memorizing one of these – you can bring these with you everywhere.

Four Physical Astronomy Koans


That star rose earlier today.

The moon moves toward the dawn.

Night is where you are.

Same Sun all night. Dusk to the left, dawn to the right.


What do you think about these?

Do you know any astronomy koans?

Share your ideas in the comments section.

Merry-Go-Round Earth shows Seasonal Constellations

The Earth is like a Merry-Go-Round

Merry-Go-Round Earth model demonstrating how the seasonal constellations work
A Merry-Go-Round is a good model of daily Earth rotation.

The Earth is like a merry-go-round showing us seasonal constellations

That iconic childhood ride. Round and round each day we go, round and round each year we go, where we stop nobody knows! When we look out from the edge of the ride we can see the space beyond. Sometimes the Sun occupies that space, and sometimes that space is the night sky filled with stars.Click here to continue reading…

Physical Astronomy – Definition of a New Way of Teaching

Definition of Physical Astronomy

Physical astronomy definition using Leonardo DaVinci's Vitruvian Man drawing surrounded by moon phase images
Vitruvian Man with Moon Phases

Physical Astronomy is a new way of teaching astronomy that emphasizes the human body and its relationship to other moving objects in space. The goal is to bring geometric and scientific awareness to a child’s everyday sky observations. Kids learn easily visible sky motions at a “kid’s eye level.”

The Sun does not move… we move

One of the first steps in Physical Astronomy is to forget you ever heard the words “Sunset” or “Sunrise.”  These words (while rife with history, beautiful in their own right, and descriptive) are scientifically wrong. These words obscure the truth of our trip around the Sun. We are on the Earth, the Earth is spinning; the Sun appears to be moving, but it is us moving. Click here to continue reading…

Moon Phase Emojis – A Review

Moon Emojis – and other space emojis

Emoji designers created a nice range of moon emoji, astronomy emojis and space emojis.  My favorite emojis are the Moon Phase Emojis. Space emojis to copy and paste (these look different on each browser)

Here are the moon emojis, astronomy emojis and space emojis as real emojis that can be selected individually (or in groups) and copied. The moon emoji is my personal favorite.

New for 2019! Saturn emoji

🪐

Astronaut emojis

👩‍🚀 👨‍🚀

Earth globe emojis

🌎 🌍 🌏

Moon phases emojis in order from full moon to new moon to full moon

🌕 🌖 🌗 🌘 🌑 🌒 🌓 🌔 🌕

Moon emoji, Sun emoji, and Star emoji

🌚 🌝 🌞 🌛 🌜 🌙 💫 ⭐ 🌟 ✨

Explosion emoji, Comet emoji, Sun emoji, Rainbow emoji

💥 ☄ ☀ 🌈

Spaceship emoji, Satellite emoji

🚀 🛰

Alien emoji, Space invader emoji

👽👾

Map of earth emoji, moon viewing ceremony emoji (Otsukimi – in Japanese: お月見), sunrise emoji, sunset emoji, shooting star emoji, city skyline with sun emoji, city skyline with moon emoji, and milky way emoji

🗺 🎑 🌅 🌄 🌠 🌇 🌃 🌌

Astronomy tools emoji, Telescope emoji

📡 🔭

Religions with moon and stars emoji

☪ ✡ 🔯

Abstract sun, earth, galaxy, star, and full moon emojis

🔅 🔆 🌐 🌀 *️⃣ 🎴

Horoscope emojis, Zodiac emojis, Astrology emoji, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Ophiuchus.

♈ ♉ ♊ ♋ ♌ ♍ ♎ ♏ ♐ ♑ ♒ ♓ ⛎

Miscellaneous space symbol emojis

✳ ✴ ☾ 〰 ➰ ➿

Note: there is currently no official lunar eclipse emoji, nor is there a solar eclipse emoji. Until the emoji designers create real eclipse emojis, I suggest using the black versions of the Moon and Sun.

Use this emoji  for a lunar eclipse (it doesn’t look like any Moon phase – it actually somewhat resembles an eclipse) and this emoji  for a solar eclipse emoji – because the black spot with lines looks like a total solar eclipse showing the Sun’s corona.

Here is a screenshot of all of the moon emoji and space emojis as seen on Apple’s Mac “High Sierra” OS.

Bonus: this list shows the moon phase emojis in order – the correct order of the phases of the moon.

All of the astronomy and space themed emojis in one image
All of the astronomy and space themed emojis in one image

Emoji Variations

Did you know that Emojis look different depending on which type of device you are seeing them on?

Here is what the Full Moon Emoji looks like on Apple Macs

The Full Moon emoji as seen on Mac Computers - 3d, yellow, cratered, and glowing
The Full Moon emoji as seen on Mac Computers.

And here is what it looks like on Microsoft PCs

The Full Moon emoji as seen on Mac Computers - flat, orange, spotted, cartoon.
The Full Moon emoji as seen on Windows PCs.

References

Emojipedia has a catalog of all the variations of emojis including the Full Moon Emoji

Galaxy Rise

Physical Astronomy by Daniel Cummings

A still more glorious dawn awaits Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise A morning filled with 400 billion suns The rising of the milky way.

The Sun rises. The Moon rises. Stars rise. The Galaxy rises – twice.

Each day the Earth rotates and sky objects (seem to) rise in the Eastern sky. The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, and the Galaxy rise at various times.

The Sun “rises” once-a-day at the start of the day.

The Moon “rises” once-a-day at different times of the day and night depending on the moon’s orbit around the Earth (its phase).

The Stars “rise” once-a-day – all night long, one after another and in groups.

The Milky Way Galaxy “rises” twice a day – once on its bright (center) side and then 12 hours later on its dim (outer arm) side.

We can orient our bodies to the rising of the Milky Way. And we can experience our daily movement as “plunging through” this flat disk of stars.

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Super Moon December 3rd, 2017

Super Moon

The closest approach that the moon will make on its monthly orbit around the Earth coupled with a Full Moon. The December 3rd Super Moon is here!

Here is an image showing how the arrangement of the Moon’s “Perigee” with the Full Moon results in the Super Moon.

Supermoon arrangement of moon's orbit around the Earth
Schematic showing how the “Super Moon” happens and the change in apparent size of the moon. The Moon appears about 14% larger during a Super Moon event.

The Full Moon + Orbit at Perigee = Super Moon.