Polaris Dippers

Asking people to “look at the damn sky” isn’t much good if they don’t know what they’re looking at. It’s easy to assume everyone can find the big dipper or locate the North Star. In the spirit of “baby steps” – everything you ever needed to know about finding the “dippers” and locating Polaris, the North Star.

The Big Dipper is always found in the north sky – in spring and summer, high in the sky – fall and winter, close to the horizon. Made up of seven stars forming a bowl and handle, the two outside stars of the bowl are Dubhe and Marek –   the “pointer stars” leading to Polaris and the Little Dipper.  Follow them in a straight line and Polaris is always there – a cosmic anchor for “dippers”  making a complete circle of the north star every 23 hours and 56 minutes.

No matter what time of year you look, the two outer stars in the Big Dipper’s bowl always point to Polaris.


Polaris may not be the brightest star in the sky – ranking 50th is inconsequential to a stellar constant above the “celestial north pole”. A star of many names; pole, north, steadfast, lodestar, guiding; a fixed point in the sky responsible for navigation of the ancient world. A gift of cosmic confidence powerful enough to sail into the unknown, the only GPS northern hemisphere travellers needed to find their way home. A beacon of hope for American slaves heading north to freedom – and once you know how to find it, a way back to the car when you’re lost in the woods.

6 thoughts on “Polaris Dippers

  1. At last something I can grasp! (Just kidding) I do know a few constellations but I think it’s good that you carry us along in baby steps. Baby steps are good. (and my name isn’t Bill Murray).



      • Many years ago when a bunch of us ex-pats were at a News Years Eve party in Johannesburg someone called everyone to the balcony to see the North Star – there was much “homesickness” at that time and many of the crowd were due to return to Mud-Island in the New Year.

        I was halfway off the couch when the penny dropped so I sat down again again and grinned as the drunken bums headed out to gaze stupidly at the night sky.

  2. From a friend with high regard for the Big Dipper…..

    Re your ponder about the Big Dipper I should tell you that I regard this star cluster as my guiding stars and have been looking up at it ever since I was about seven years old. Of course in England it is almost exclusively known as ‘The Plough’. I did at some point know that it was called ‘Big Dipper’ too and I knew that the outer stars pointed at Polaris but that was known as the Pole star or the North Star in UK. The only other constellations or clusters I can recognise are, the other dipper, Cassiopeia and Orion …. and The Pleiades – although I learned their name as the ‘Seven Sisters.’

    Perhaps you know that a design featuring Ursa Major was chosen as the Alaska State flag in 1927. They held a competition for a design for a new flag and it was won by a thirteen year old Aleut student who was living in an orphanage in Seward. His name was John Bell (Benny) Benson. Alaska did not become a state until 1959 and became the 49th star on the US flag, followed in the same year by Hawaii.

    I became familiar with the flag during the 70s while working on the Alaska cruises. We used to see Alaska State Ferries passing by every day. Their livery was blue hulls with a gold stripe and the flag was displayed on the funnels.

    Sec. 44.09.020. State flag.

    The design of the official flag is eight gold stars in a field of blue, so selected for its simplicity, its originality, and its symbolism. The blue, one of the national colors, typifies the evening sky, the blue of the sea and of mountain lakes, and of wild flowers that grow in Alaskan soil, the gold being significant of the wealth that lies hidden in Alaska’s hills and streams.

    The stars, seven of which form the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, the most conspicuous constellation in the northern sky, contains the stars which form the “Dipper,” including the “Pointers” which point toward the eighth star in the flag, Polaris, the North Star, the ever constant star for the mariner, the explorer, hunter, trapper, prospector, woodsman, and the surveyor. For Alaska the northernmost star in the galaxy of stars and which at some future time will take its place as the forty-ninth star in the national emblem.

    The flag of the Territory of Alaska is the official flag of the state. The standard proportions and size graphically delineated herein shall be used in the manufacture of the official flag of Alaska. The stars shall be the color of natural yellow gold and the field of blue shall be of the same shade of blue used in the official manufacture of the national emblem of the United States.

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