Survival Myth: The North Star Is the Brightest

April 20, 2012

Navigation, Survival Myths

A view of the night sky

A friend and I were walking in a field in the early evening. We were camping in a remote area, away from even the smallest of towns. There was almost no light pollution where we were and the stars were brilliant. It’s ¬†amazing just how many celestial bodies can be seen with the naked eye when there’s no man-made light sources around to interfere.

I looked up and noticed that one object was extremely bright, brighter than any other object in the night sky. It was Venus shining brightly above the horizon.

I pointed up and commented on its brightness. My friend said “Wow, the North Star is bright tonight.”

Not the Brightest Star in the Sky

My friend is not alone in misidentifying the Polaris, aka the North Star. Many people falsely believe that it’s the brightest star in the night sky. But that’s not right. Polaris is about average in its brightness; in fact from a backyard in a subdivision, it’s hard to see at all because of the porch and street lights.

What makes Polaris unique is that it’s the only object in the sky that appears to be stationary. It is almost directly in line with the axis around which our planet rotates. Polaris appears not to move during the night while the other stars seems to traverse through the evening sky.

Polaris can be found using several methods. I’ve already mentioned a couple of ways in other posts. Both the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia point to the North Star. Polaris also is part of the constellation known as the Little Dipper as well.

For all its prominence and importance, the North Star’s brightness is only average. So, don’t be fooled when you see a bright object in the sky. It not likely to be North Star.

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9 Comments on “Survival Myth: The North Star Is the Brightest”

  1. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    I’ve been an amateur astronomy buff since I was a kid and have seen people do this before as well. One time in the service this guy from New York City – who I doubt had ever even *seen* the stars before with all the light pollution they get – tried to tell me that Jupiter was the north star. We argued and I finally told him, “Fine, you navigate by yours and I’ll go by mine and we’ll see who gets there first.” He declined.


    • Joe Says:

      Ha! People can be adamant about something until it gets to the point where they have to prove it and there are consequences for being wrong.


  2. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    By the way – I’m glad you liked the BK2 knife. That thing rocks the house doesn’t it??


  3. Stan Morris Says:

    What you should know are your constellations, especially Orion and Scorpio. Orion will appear on the eastern horizon at about 5:00am on July 15. Scorpio will appear about 5:30am on Jan 1. If you live far enough southward, you should also know the Southern Cross. If you are young and hearty, I strongly suggest watching Orion and Scorpio every month on a particular date for at least two years.


    • Joe Says:

      Agreed, Stan! Learning to recognize some of the constellations, and even better learning to know where to look for them at different times of the year, is a good idea.

      It takes a little time. And if you live in a place with a lot of light pollution, it requires a bit more effort.

      Thanks for the reminder.




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