Three Constellations You Should Know

Being able to determine direction can be critical to finding your way out of a “lost” scenario. The lights of the night can be helpful in your orientation by finding the North Star (or Polaris). As I reside in the Northern Hemisphere, I have come to rely on three constellations to aid me in finding Polaris, they are: the Big Dipper (Ursa Major); Cassiopeia; and Orion. There are certain stars within each constellation that “point” to Polaris.

The Big Dipper and Little Dipper are both shaped like ladles or dipping spoons and are large and small respectively. The Small Dipper (Ursa Minor) actually contains Polaris at the tail of it’s handle, but that constellation is quite dim and in some circumstances is barely visible. The Big Dipper however is brighter and much easier to locate visually. The outer two stars in the “cup” portion of the Big Dipper point upward to Polaris.

When viewing Cassiopeia as the letter “W”, I align an imaginary line from the first star on the left and the fourth star towards the right. Then from the fourth star I imagine a 90 degree line pointing straight upward that reaches Polaris.

When viewing the square outline of Orion, I visually connect the lower two stars to the upper right star. This imaginary triangle points upward to Polaris but you may find that you have to bend backwards a bit to make the connection.

During this late time of year these constellations are positioned for easy viewing overhead. Because of the Earth’s rotation the constellations may be rising or falling from East to West, and because of the Earth’s revolution, they may be high or low on the latitude of the Earth’s axis. Cooler weather often makes clearer skies at night so it is an excellent time to step outdoors and familiarize yourself with these constellations and how they relate to the North Star.

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2 thoughts on “Three Constellations You Should Know

  1. This is a great site. I have just learned about using the constellation Orion to determine north – Ursa Major & Cassiopeia were long known to me.


  2. This is what I will teach my grandchildren when we are looking at the Persies Shower. I learnt the constellations in the southern hemisphere so when I came to the US I had to look at the signs of the zodiac upside down to recognize them. Then learn the northern circum polaris stars, I miss the Southern Cross though.

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