Used for navigation and even implemented when building the Pyramids, the North Star is something of a celebrity in the night sky. Sure a compass, iPhone, or even a magnetized pine needle in a puddle of water (Man vs. Wild) will quickly point you in the right direction, but what about those nights when its 34°, the bedtime routine is nearly finished and you’ve stepped outside to quickly verify the planets are where they should be? In this case, and you can be anywhere to use this trick, Ursa Minor will be our aid in illuminating the earth’s cardinal directions.
Saturn and the Little Dipper:
Through the rest of the week you can practice finding Saturn in the night sky by using the North Star. Easiest way to do this is to find the Little Dipper and its encompassing, brighter-than-the-rest friends; Kocab, Pherkad, Yildun, Pherkad Minor and Polaris. Polaris, the North Star, will be located at the top of the handle of the Dipper. The video on this page will help you locate the North Star if you are having problems “seeing” the constellation shape.
Simply put, if you see Polaris, you will then be facing north. Accordingly, directly behind you is south, to the right is east and to your left is west. When finding Saturn (in the SE sky), we will look at Polaris then turn to the right, turning towards the Atlantic, until we are nearly 135° from the North Star (if you find yourself facing the opposite direction you’ve turned too much). In the SSE sky Saturn will begin rising over the horizon starting around 8pm. By 10pm the moon will be in the southern sky and about equal in height to Saturn in the SE. As the night progresses, Saturn will traverse the night sky and eventually set in the west by 6am. Hope this helps and happy gazing!
Like all stargazing adventures, clear skies will be needed :)