Polaris (Alpha Ursae Minoris) -- Double Star in Ursa Minor
The North Star
Without a doubt the most famous star in the night sky is Polaris (North Star). Its fame is not
in its brightness (it is the 49th brightest star), but in the fact that it is located within a degree
of the north celestial pole. It marks north. All the stars in the heavens obediently rotate
around it. When at the north pole Polaris is straight over head. When at the equator it is at
the horizon. Its use in navigation for thousands of years of travel over both land and sea has
earned it the fame it deserves.
Polaris is a supergiant star that shines at the equivalent of 9,000 suns. Through the
telescope it appears slightly yellow to my eyes. Its much dimmer companion star seems
white. Polaris is also part of an asterism called the Engagement Ring. Polaris is the yellow
diamond and a 35 arcminute-sized series of 7th and 8th magnitude stars forms the ring. I
have outlined it in green in the drawing.
I, like hundreds of amateur astronomers who use portable equatorial mounts, use the North
Star each time we setup our telescopes for observing. Those that call themselves
“Naturalists” or “Outdoor Enthusiasts” know how to find the North Star and show off their
knowledge with pride. The North Star is always correct and unlike GPS units or smart
phones, it does not require batteries.
I find it a bit sad that few currently living in urban and suburban locations can find the North
Star in the night sky. I cannot help but think that they have in a small way become lost.