How to Find the North Star Using the Big Dipper

How to Find the North Star Using the Big Dipper

To find the North Star, the quickest and easiest way is to first locate the Big Dipper (see main image).

This is also known as Ursa Major (forms part of Ursa Major), The Plough or Great Bear.

Once found, follow the “handle” of the Big Dipper along to the “bowl” section, which consists of four stars.

Locate the two outermost stars of the bowl (lower right and upper right) and extend an imaginary line between the two stars, upwards, for approximately 5 times the distance between them.

You will come to another star.

This is the North Star.

Is the North Star the brightest?

No, contrary to common belief, the North Star is not the brightest star in the night sky, it is actually not that bright at all.

The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius, which is also known as the ‘Dog Star’.

Is the North Star in the Little Dipper?

Yes, the North Star is in the Little Dipper, which forms part of the constellation Ursa Minor.

The North Star’s correct name is Polaris.

To the naked eye, Polaris is not as bright as you would imagine the North Star to be. It glows at a similar level to its surrounding stars, albeit a little brighter than most.

Polaris actually forms part of the constellation called Ursa Minor, also known as Little Bear or Little Dipper.

How is the North Star used for navigation?

The North Star has been used by man for navigation for thousands of years.

As mentioned above, it holds a constant position in the sky and for this fact can be relied upon for accurate navigation.

At this point in time, if you transfer its position in the sky, straight down to a point on the Earth’s horizon, you will have found Earth’s True North.

Once you have pinpointed this, you have a reference on Earth to base your navigation on.

This is the easiest way to find North via the stars.

As you will see from the diagram, it forms the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper and is the brightest of this constellation.

You will notice if you observe the North Star for an extended period of time, that it appears to remain in the same place, while all other stars rotate around it.

This is, of course, the Earth rotating, but it is worth knowing.

The direction of travel of the Big Dipper and other stars around Polaris is clockwise.

The video below from AlfieAesthetics gives a good video explanation:

Is the Big Dipper a bear?

Not exactly…The Big Dipper forms part of the constellation known as Ursa Major.

Ursa Major itself is known as The Great Bear.

So the Big Dipper forms part of the Great Bear, but not all of it.

Why is it called Big Dipper?

The Big Dipper gets its name from the fact that it looks like a large ladle, which has a long handle and a large bowl.

The Big Dipper is the common name in North America.

Elsewhere it is known as the Plough (UK), the Northern Dipper (China), the Ladle (Malaysia) as well as other cultures knowing it as a salmon net or butcher’s cleaver. 

Which star is the North Star in the Big Dipper?

As mentioned above, the North Star is not in the Big Dipper, it is actually in the Little Dipper, which forms part of the constellation Ursa Minor. 

You do/can use the Big Dipper to find the North Star on the Little Dipper though.

If you find the Big Dipper, then you should be able to find the Little Dipper.

How far away are the stars in the Big Dipper?

The closest star to Earth in the Big Dipper is Megrez, which is 58 light years away. 

Therefore, the light has taken 58 earth years to reach your eye.

Equally, if the star were to stop shining, or implode today, then you wouldn’t see evidence of this until 58 years later.

That’s pretty impressive and not easy to comprehend!

In miles, this equates to approx 470.5 trillion miles. Now that’s a long way!

How do you find the North Star in the Southern Hemisphere?

The short answer is that you can’t find the North Star in the Southern hemisphere.

At the equator, the North Star sits right on the Earths horizon.

Once you go below this, into the Southern hemisphere, the North Star disappears from view.

Therefore, you cannot view the North Star while you are in the Southern Hemisphere.


I hope you found ‘How to Find the North Star Using the Big Dipper’ useful.

If you want more great info, I invite you to take a look at our navigation section here which discusses many useful subjects.