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  Image that says Activities: Geography.

Many members of the Corps of Discovery learned to be geographers on the expedition. For instance, they followed very rough maps and the directions of Native Americans as they journeyed westward. Along the way the Corps had to create detailed maps of the lands they explored. These maps would enable future travelers to make the journey west.

In the following activity you are a geographer. You must build an instrument to guide your way as early explorers and frontiersmen once did.

Title

Where is the North Star? Using a Dipper Finder to Locate Polaris

Materials

Procedures

Cut out the preprinted dipper finder patterns. Attach the finder wheel to the rectangular dipper finder with a brass paper fastener. Align the current month on the finder wheel with the time of day on the dipper finder. Practice orienting the dipper finder for various months and times to become familiar with its operation.

On a clear night take your dipper finder outside. Set it to the appropriate month and time. Locate the Big Dipper on the finder wheel. The Big Dipper resembles a pan with a bent handle. Note the orientation of the Big Dipper on the finder with respect to the horizon. The horizon is represented by the outer edge of the finder wheel. Note the star pattern of the Big Dipper. Look around the sky and find seven bright stars resembling the shape of the pattern on the dipper finder.

Once you find the Big Dipper, hold the dipper finder overhead and move it so that the Big Dipper on the finder and the Big Dipper in the sky are oriented the same way. Locate Polaris by using the pointer stars (see the illustration of Polaris and the Pointer Stars below).

Drawing of Big Dipper.
You'll use the Big Dipper to locate Polaris, the North Star.

The two stars opposite the handle of the Big Dipper point the way to Polaris. These stars are known as the pointer stars. Starting with the bottom star, extend an imaginary line through the upper star a length equal to five times the distance between those two stars. Polaris will be the brightest star at the end of the imaginary line. Polaris is the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper.

Once you locate Polaris, you can locate the four cardinal points of reference using a simple rule of thumb. While facing north (Polaris), south will be to your back, east to your right, and west to your left. Knowing these four cardinal points of reference, you can use the dipper finder to locate the Big Dipper during any month at any time.


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