(1b) Finding the Pole Star
constellations, especially the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia
Part of a high school course on astronomy, Newtonian mechanics and spaceflight
by David P. Stern
This lesson plan supplements:"Finding the Pole Star," section #1a: on disk Spolaris.htm, on the web |
Goals: The student will|
Terms: Big Dipper, guide stars, Cassiopeia.
Possible assignment, given out in the preceding session of the class. Have students look up in a dictionary the word "cynosure" (usually pronounced "sino-sure"), an old word hardly used any more. What does it mean?
Stories and extras: The flag of Alaska, with the Big Dipper and Polaris, and the story of Benny Benson.
Guiding questions and additional tidbits
(Suggested answers in parentheses, brackets for comments by the teacher or "optional")
This is a short lesson. Start by asking the class how to find the Pole Star. Then present the material, and use the questions to solidify the concepts.
After this, present the material. The questions below may be used in the presentation, the review afterwards or both
--Why are hikers (in places like the US and Europe) told to look for the pole star if they are lost at night, and not for any other star?
-- What is the Big Dipper? What other names is it given?
-- What is the state flag of Alaska?
--Why do you think Alaska chose the pole star and the Big Dipper to be on its flag?
If no one suggests a valid answer, give a hint:
--Could you see the Big Dipper (Yes, because it is close to the pole star!). At any time? (Probably!)
--Well.... if Alaska is near the pole, where would the pole star be? (Not be exactly overhead--but close!) Could you see it and the Big Dipper? (Probably, and at any time).
The teacher may add: New Zealand also has a constellation on its flag, but a different one.
But you see from New Zealand other constellations, which are close to the southern pole of the sky, and which are never seen from the continental US. One such constellation is the Southern Cross, framed by 4 bright stars, and that is what you see on the New Zealand Flag.
-- How does the Big Dipper help you find the Pole Star?
There also exists a constellation of "the little dipper" or "the small bear" (Ursa Minor). It has a somewhat similar shape, except the "dipper" looks more like a square. It faces the opposite way from the big dipper, and the pole star is the last star in its "handle." Its other stars are rather dim--you need a clear night to see them all.
-- Can you always see the Big Dipper on a clear night?
Students who want to know more about the Big Dipper may look up two relevant message exchanges with users of "From Stargazers to Starships."
-- What constellation helps you find the pole star when the Big Dipper is not seen? How would you use it?
-- Who was Benny Benson?
Bit of trivia: Seward is at the end point of the Alaska railroad, south of Anchorage, the main city in Alaska. It is a fishing port, one of the more beautiful towns in Alaska, and is named for the person who oversaw the buying of Alaska from Russia. It sits at the tip of a deep bay: in 1964 an earthquake driven ocean wave ("tsunami") raced up that bay, getting higher as the bay became narrower and in the end destroying much of the town. Today signs in the city warn people to run for the hills if they hear the tsunami alarm.
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Author and Curator: Dr. David P. Stern
Mail to Dr.Stern: audavstern("at" symbol)erols.com .
Last updated: 27 August 2004