The Pole Star

Of all the stars, the Pole Star or Polaris is the most stable in our sky.  If you were standing on the North Pole, it would be almost directly overhead.  Therefore, a sailor in the Northern Hemisphere who can locate the Pole Star will always know which direction is north even though he has no compass.  The Pole Star is about 430 light years away and about two thousand times brighter than our sun.

How do we locate the Pole Star?
First find the Big Dipper. Then draw an imaginary line between the two stars at the end of the bowl farthest from the handle.  Extend that line up away from the bowl about five times its original length.  There, shining brightly at the end of the line, is the Pole Star.

Why does the Pole Star never move?
Remember that the other stars rise and set because we see them when we are standing on a spinning Earth.  The Pole Star is located in the part of the sky that is directly over the North Pole, and the North Pole does not spin.  One way to visualize this phenomenon is to think of a merry-go-round.  When you are riding around on a horse, all the things outside the merry-go-round appear and disappear—they “rise and set.”  But the center of the roof of the merry-go-round always stays in the same place—just like the Pole Star.

Is the Pole Star a single star?
To call Polaris the Pole Star is not quite accurate.  It is actually a three-star system.  The second star, Polaris B, was first located in the eighteenth century.  The Hubble telescope has now located and photographed Polaris AB, a star so close to the largest Polaris that it could never be visible to the naked eye.

For an excellent explanation of why the Pole Star never moves and how to find it at different latitudes, visit this website:  http://www.satsig.net/maps/how-to-find-north-pole-star.htm.

For more information on Pole Star myths and legends, visit http://www.coldwater.k12.mi.us/lms/planetarium/myth/polaris.html.