There are up to 400 billion stars in our galaxy, but perhaps the most well-known one is the North Star. It has become a point of cultural significance, and you’ve likely heard many stories surrounding it, but how much do you actually know about the North Star?
In this article, we will discuss the North Stars cultural significance, its location in space, and the best ways to view it.
This brief guide is a great place to begin if you’re just starting in astronomy and looking to better understand the North Star.
How did the North Star Come to be?
We all know the biblical story of the three wise men using the North Star to guide them to baby Jesus, but the star holds a rich astronomical history beyond Christianity.
The star the wise men would have used to guide them may not have been the current North Star as we know it. Polaris, the official name for the North Star, didn’t gain its popular nickname until the middle ages.
This is a result of the sun and moon’s gravitational pull. Over time, the Earth’s axis shifts, causing different stars to align with its poles. Before Polaris, the North Star was Thuban of the Draco constellation.
Polaris may now be in alignment with the Earth’s poles, but in the next 2000 years, this will change. The North Star is likely to become Errai, and then, 11,000 years later, Vega.
This means that the conception of the North Star being a constant anchor in space is incorrect. Whatever star the three wise men used to guide them was entirely dependent on our planets position at the time.
What makes the North Star Significant?
Like the sun, most stars appear to rise and set. Due to the North Stars’ alignment with the Earth’s poles, however, Polaris appears to remain constantly risen.
As a result of its constant visibility, the North Star is the brightest star in our sky. This makes the star significant to us as it’s the easiest to recognize. Yet, Polaris is actually only the 50th brightest star in our galaxy.
Thanks to its visibility and positioning, the North Star can be a great tool in navigation. If you’re lost at night and need a sense of direction, Polaris can be a steady anchor point, helping you determine which direction is north.
If you’re not sure exactly where to look, however, you may need some help in locating this star. The best way to do this is to understand where Polaris sits in relation to other stars and constellations.
Where is it located?
The North Star is part of the Little Dipper, a star pattern in the Ursa Major constellation, and is located in the Northern hemisphere. It sits at the very end of the Little Dipper handle.
Unfortunately, this star pattern can oftentimes appear quite dimply in the sky, making it difficult to spot. However, you can use the Big Dipper, another star pattern in the constellation, to locate Polaris at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle.
By finding the stars at the end of the Big Dippers bowl, you can follow them along to the right of the sky and locate the Little Dipper’s handle. Once you find the Little Dipper, you can easily spot the North Star.
If you want some helpful tricks for finding the North Star, we have a brilliant, more in-depth guide on the topic.
What’s the Best Way to See It?
Whether you’re using the North Star for navigation or just want to appreciate its natural beauty, having the right equipment will make locating the star much easier.
Binoculars can be a great choice if you’re new to astrology. They are incredibly portable, easy to use, and inexpensive compared to telescopes. They also offer a higher level of comfortability than telescopes as you’re able to view the stars with both eyes.
Using binoculars will mean, however, that you are unable to view the stars in as much detail as you could with a telescope.
Binoculars will help to make the stars appear clear and will be great for a general overview of the night sky, but not when focusing on one specific object.
To learn more about whether binoculars are for you, take a look at our run-down of the best binoculars for beginners.
A reflecting telescope is great for enabling users to see bright objects within a relatively close range to our planet, such as the moon or the North Star.
This is usually the best telescope for beginners as they are relatively inexpensive and help users to get a great feel for our immediate solar system and easy to view objects.
A refracting telescope enables users to see deep space objects, such as galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters, beyond our own solar system.
This type of telescope tends to offer more optical clarity and portability than reflecting telescopes. They are a good choice if you’re looking to expand your knowledge of deep space but unnecessary if your main interest is just Polaris.
If you’re unsure where to start when it comes to buying your first telescope, take a look at our run-down of the 10 best telescopes under $200.
If you’re still feeling a little uncertain about the best ways to go out viewing Polaris, our website is full of resources to help guide you.
One way you can further your understanding of telescopes is by looking at our comparison of reflecting and refracting telescopes.
Time to Find the North Star
Now that you’ve read through this article, you should have a better understanding of the North Star and its cultural significance. You should also feel confident in getting out there and finding it for yourself.
There’s always more to learn, however, and with an infinity of stars out there, why stop at the North Star?
You can learn more about astronomy by reading through our planets and stars blog.