When we are lucky, the skies are clear and if light pollution is low then the sky above is filled with stars. It is a spectacular view to see and if you look close you can see some important starts that have been used for navigation for a very long time.
The Big Dipper
The Big Dipper is an asterism, or a group of notable stars that form a pattern, in the constellation Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear. Due to it’s prominent shape and brightness, it is one of the most familiar star shapes in the northern sky. It contains eight stars where seven are usually visible to most. The Big Dipper is named for the shape the stars appear in, a handle and a bowl. Each of these stars have a name. Starting from the handle and going around to the bottom of the bowl they are known as: Alkaid, Mizar-Alcor (the first double star to be discovered through a telescope), Aloith, Megrex, Phecda, Merak and Dubhe.
Another important star to know is the North Star, Polaris. This star is very easy to find if you know where the Big Dipper is. If you draw a line through the two outer stars of the bowl it points right to it! Many sailors’ depended on this star to navigate because it points the direction of north.