Big Dipper Star Clock

In this activity, students will build a star wheel that will allow them to tell the time based on the position of the Big Dipper, Polaris and Cassiopeia in the night sky. After a discussion about the history of celestial navigation, the instructor will bring the focus to how Native Alaskans used the stars to tell time when the sun was below the horizon in the winter.  Similar to a conventional star wheel in design, however the star clock is mainly used to tell the time based on the position the Big Dipper or Cassiopeia relative to Polaris. There is a brief discussion on what causes the stars to change throughout the seasons, how they move throughout the night, and how to use them to determine your location on Earth. The students will be able to take their star clocks with them after this activity.

Topics Covered

  • How to use a star wheel to determine constellations in the night sky
  • Introduction to history of celestial navigation
  • Introduction to motion of stars and planets
  • Seasonal changes in night sky
  • How to read a analog clock
  • Native Alaskan cultural astronomy