Posts Tagged ‘Pole Star’

07/08/2022 – Ephemeris – Polaris the North Star

July 8, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Friday, July 8th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 24 minutes, setting at 9:29, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:06. The Moon, 2 days past first quarter, will set at 2:17 tomorrow morning.

The bright star Polaris is a very important star. It is also known as the North Star and the Pole Star. Its unique position is nearly directly at the zenith at the Earth’s North Pole, making it a very important navigational star. It’s about 40 minutes of arc, or about one and a third Moon diameters away from the extension of the Earth’s axis into the sky. As a rule of thumb, its angular altitude above the northern horizon is approximately one’s latitude, and it stands about at the due north compass point. Polaris is found using the Big Dipper, using the two stars at the front of the dipper bowl to point to it. It’s located at the tip of the handle of the very dim Little Dipper which, this time of year in the evening, appears to be standing on its handle.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hours). They may be different for your location.


Polaris finder and location animation. Three frames: visual appearance in the sky, lines of the asterisms of the Big and Little Dippers, addition of the equatorial grid of celestial coordinates analogous to longitude and latitude on the Earth. The right ascension (like longitude) lines converge over the Earth’s North Pole, with Polaris close by. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

The two stars at the front of the Big Dipper’s bowl, at the bottom of the dipper as it appears now in the evening, point to Polaris near the 11-hour right ascension line. Right ascension, though the same as earthly longitude, is measured in hours, rather than degrees. An hour equals 15 degrees, making 24 hours equal 360 degrees.

04/08/2019 – Ephemeris – How to find Polaris, the North Star

April 8, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, April 8th. Today the Sun will be up for 13 hours and 7 minutes, setting at 8:18, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:09. The Moon, 3 days past new, will set at 11:54 this evening.

The most useful of the navigation stars for the average person is Polaris, the North Star or Pole Star. It is very close to the point in the sky that the Earth’s axis points to in the north. Currently it is about three-quarters of a degree from the pole, about one and a half moon diameters. In 2110 or thereabouts it will approach to slightly less than a moon diameter from the pole before slowly heading away. Polaris is always closer to true north than a magnetic compass in Michigan. To find it use the two stars in front of the Big Dipper’s bowl to point to it. This time of year the Big Dipper is above Polaris, so the pointer stars, that’s what they are called, point down to it. Polaris is at the end of the handle of the faint Little Dipper.  The reason for Polaris’ motion is the slow 26,000 year wobbling of the Earth’s axis, called precession.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


Pointing to Polaris

Ursa Major and Minor, the Big and Little Dippers. See how the two stars at the front of the bowl point to Polaris. It happens that the pointer stars are close to the 11th hour of right ascension (longitude in the sky). The right ascension lines converge at the north celestial pole, just as the longitude lines converge at the Earth’s north pole. Created using Stellarium.

The year I was born, 1941, Polaris was a whole degree from the celestial north pole.

If you’ve ever wondered why right ascension is in hours instead of degrees it’s because the Earth rotates within the celestial sphere, so it’s easier to keep track of the east-west position in the sky by using a clock that set to gain 3 minutes and 56 seconds a day.  Such a clock keeps sidereal (star) time rather than solar (sun) time.  One hour equals 15 angular degrees or 4 minutes a degree.