Among the multitude of stars in the universe, there are a couple that are of great importance to people on Earth. The sun, of course, is one of them. The other is known as Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is special because it is the only star that always appears to be in the same place in the sky. Therefore, Polaris is a great compass. When people in the northern hemisphere of Earth look toward Polaris, they can be certain that they are facing north. The permanence of Polaris in the north sky has helped countless people find their destinations.
Before the invention of modern navigation tools, mariners relied on Polaris. From the top of their hulls, sailors would look for Polaris to figure out their place at sea. They figured out the angle between the star and the horizon to determine their latitude. As long as the equations weren’t erroneous, the results were very reliable. Polaris also let sailors determine North, South, East, and West. By knowing directions and their location, mariners could easily navigate their ships.
To those who sail at night, volatile storms and dark clouds were more than nuisances. They could disrupt entire journeys by blocking the view of Polaris. A captain could err and make an inadvertent wrong turn. The ship could become stranded at sea, and the frantic captain would have no way to improvise to get the ship back on the right course. The mariner’s fears wouldn’t be soothed until the clouds cleared and Polaris came back into view. Even today, sailors sometimes opt to navigate by using Polaris on clear nights.
It’s not difficult to differentiate Polaris from other stars. The Big Dipper, a constellation that is well known in astrology, appears to revolve around Polaris. The handle of the Big Dipper always points to the North Star. When people get lost, it’s comforting to know that their problems can be alleviated by looking at the sky.