Finding Polaris

Alone of all the stars, Polaris is always in the same position in the sky. Ursa Major and/or Cassiopeia always indicate its position. There are no other bright stars near it.

Figure 4.6 shows the northern sky; put the current date at the top to see how it looks at 9 p.m. local time. At latitudes south of New York, part of the bottom of the diagram will be very close to the horizon, probably concealed by trees. Farther north, the whole circle will be high in the sky and a patch of sky will be visible below it.

The key to finding Polaris is to find Ursa Major or Cassiopeia, or both if possible, and let them point the way. Note that Polaris is the only bright star in its neighborhood. Note also that Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper, containing Polaris) is not prominent and does not look like a dipper.

In a 4-inch (10-cm) or larger telescope, you can confirm your identification of Polaris by seeing its 9th-magnitude companion 180" away.

The only other star you are likely to mistake for Polaris is Kochab (ft Ursae Minoris). It is about the same brightness as Polaris but is appreciably yellower and has no close companion.

Figure 4.5. Scales on the wedge or tripod indicate correct inclination for your latitude. Meade Superwedge (top); Meade ETX-90 field tripod (bottom).

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