Stargazing tips – The Pole Star and The Plough

And all I need is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”
(John Masefield)

Stargazing is a cheap pastime made easier by the clear air and long nights of winter, away from street- lamp pollution.

A diagram of The Plough constellation pointing to the Pole Star. Stargazing tips.
A diagram of The Plough constellation pointing to the Pole Star. Stargazing tips.

Stargazing tips: In years gone by, stars were the only means of path-finding at night; no hobby – a necessity.
The most useful star in the Northern Hemisphere is No.8 on the diagram, Polaris – the Pole Star; always at the same position in the sky, exactly North and constant. (Ed. constant for about 26,000 years, see near bottom of this page).
It is not a bright star but easily found by reference to the PLOUGH nearby, which is Nos 1 to 7 on the diagram and also known as the DIPPER or CHARLES WAIN.

A starry, cold night. Stargazing tips.

Whereas the Pole Star remains constant, when viewed at night the PLOUGH and all the other constellations appear to rotate around it.
The position of a star at any hour also varies throughout the year – not so easy!

Cut out the diagram and fix it on a flat surface with a pin through No.8, The POLE STAR.
Rotate the disc until Nos. 1 to 7 resemble your observation, looking roughly to the north.
Now extend a line from No.6 to No.7 and beyond (four times the space between them).
This should find the POLE STAR and North.

‘Global Position Indicators’? – Batteries can fail.
‘Solar Powered’? – not at night.
WW2 aircraft had quite sophisticated navigation equipment, that is if it wasn’t shot to pieces, and it could also reveal your position to the enemy – big deal!
But the navigator had star maps, and through an ASTRO DOME, got a ‘fix’ from the POLE STAR.
It was always there, CONSTANT, DEPENDABLE AND CHEAP, (one for the price of nothing).

There are quite a few stars in the Bible.
The most familiar is the Star of Bethlehem, leading the wise men to the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:2).

ASTRONOMY is a scientific study of the stars.
ASTROLOGY allows certain people to make fast bucks from the gullible and vulnerable.
Try the Bible first!

So you know where you are going?
Are you sure?
You need a good, dependable guide.

Joe Lucas March 2005

Additional information about the North Star

Owing to the precession of the equinoxes, the position of each pole describes a small circle in the sky over a period of 25,772 years.
Each of a succession of stars has thus passed near enough to the north celestial pole to serve as the polestar.
At present the polestar is Polaris (α Ursae Minoris); Thuban (α Draconis) was closest to the North Pole about 2700 BCE, and the bright star Vega (α Lyrae) will be the star closest to the pole in 14,000 CE.”

‘Polestar – astronomy’ Britannica [i]
North Star - The precession of the equinoxes
North Star – The precession of the equinoxes.

It’s amazing to think of something so far away is able to give us the right direction on the Earth.
Actually scientists now believe that the Polaris star is 30 percent closer to our solar system than previously thought, at about 323 light-years away.
The previously accepted value in the 1990’s was put at 434 light-years. [iii]
Scientists get things wrong and who knows that figure may change again.
You may think that scientists are nearly all atheists, but see this article for the scientists who believe in God, and many in the Genesis account.

[i] ‘Polestar – astronomy’ Britannica
[ii] Image credit: ‘North Star The precession of the equinoxes’
[iii] ‘North Star Closer to Earth Than Thought’ – Famous star’s distance was overestimated in previous studies, astronomers say. By Andrew Fazekas

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