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How to See the North Star (Polaris) With A Telescope?

Polaris, the North star is located in the constellation named Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole of the earth. It is very easy to identify from the northern horizon using the little dipper as a reference. It seems like all the stars and constellation orbits Polaris throughout the year. But it is not the brightest star in the sky.

What is a North Star?

The North Star, also known as Polaris star, is a significant celestial object in the night sky. Its cultural, scientific, and navigational importance is undeniable. Polaris is a variable star, specifically a Cepheid variable, which means it pulsates and changes in brightness over a period of about four days. Despite being commonly referred to as a single star, Polaris star is a system of three stars. The brightest is Polaris A, which is often what people are referring to when they mention the North Star. Polaris star is located in the constellation Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Dipper. It is the brightest star in this constellation. The star’s position is less than 1° away from the north celestial pole, making it the current northern pole star. This stable position makes it a valuable reference point for navigation and telescope alignment. The distance to Polaris, as measured by the revised Hipparcos stellar parallax, is about 433 light-years (133 parsecs). The successor mission Gaia gives a distance of about 448 light-years (137 parsecs). As the closest Cepheid variable, the distance to Polaris is used as part of the cosmic distance ladder, a method used by astronomers to determine distances in the universe.

Can you see North Star with a telescope?

Yes, you can see the North Star, also known as Polaris star, with a telescope. The North Star is located in the constellation Ursa Minor and is near the north celestial pole of the Earth. It can be easily identified using the Little Dipper as a reference. A 6-inch telescope can show the North Star very clearly, but it’s visible with unaided eyes as well. For the best performance, a magnification of 112x is recommended, although 50x magnification is enough to spot it. The specific focal length needed to see the North Star may vary depending on the desired level of detail and magnification. The recommended magnification for viewing the North Star with a telescope is around 50x per inch of aperture, with a maximum usable magnification of 200x. The North Star serves as a stable reference point for navigation and alignment, helping determine latitude and aiding in polar alignment. Refractor, reflector, and catadioptric telescopes can be used to view the North Star. Some recommended telescopes for viewing the North Star include the Celestron NexStar 8 SE, Orion Skyquest XT8, and Zhumell Z100 Altazimuth Reflector Telescope.

Quick Guide to Observe the North Star

If you live in the northern hemisphere, try to observe it. Polaris can be found near the north pole. Either the Big Dipper or the Little Dipper can be used to locate it in Ursa Minor. Low magnification and a long focal length object should be used to center the North star on the finderscope.

How to find the North Star?

There are two options to find the North Star:

Option 1: Find the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor. Polaris is located at the end of the handle in the Little Dipper.

Option 2: By finding the Big Dipper. Find the pointer stars Dubhe and Merak. They are located in the outer part of the bowl of the Big Dipper. Draw a line from Merak to Dubhe and extend it straight to Polaris.

What is the best time to observe the North Star?

The North Star can be seen only in the northern hemisphere. Polaris star is located closely in line with the north pole. If you go ahead south towards the equator, Polaris will get lower gradually in the northern sky and finally disappear when you enter the southern hemisphere. Most of the stars of the northern hemisphere are circumpolar i.e. they do not rise or set and they do not come and go like other stars with the seasons. In fact, they never set and you can see them every night of the year.

The Specifications of the North Star: Polaris

  • Star Type: F-Class Supergiant
  • Constellation: Ursa Minor
  • Luminosity: 2,500 times brighter than the Sun
  • Mass:4.5 times the mass· of the Sun
  • Temperature: 5,700 Celcius
  • Diameter: 70 million km (50 x the Sun)
  • Rotation Period: 119 days
  • Distance From Earth: 430 light-years
  • Alternate Names: Polaris A, Alpha Ursae Minoris, Pole Star, North Star

North star is very easy to find using the Big Dipper even with the unaided eyes. However, if you are a beginner, a star map can help you to identify a specific star. Stellarium, SkySafari, Google Sky, etc. are great apps to find North Star.

What can you find out while observing the North Star through a telescope?

  • To find out the mass of a star is not an easy task. Astronomers observe the motion of Polaris Ab (the companion star of Polaris A) to learn about the orbit of the stars and their masses. 
  • Polaris is the nearest Cepheid variable star (a star that pulsates radially and the pulses varies in both diameter and temperature that results in changes in brightness with a definite period and amplitude). That increases the intention of astronomers to determine its mass.
  • Cepheid variable stars like Polaris are used to find out the distance of the galaxies from the earth and their expansion rate.
  • In the early years of the 20th century, the brightness of Polaris fluctuated by 10% every four days. The variability of the star declined steadily to 2% just 10 years ago. Astronomers then thought that this variability of the star is about to end. But recently Polaris increased in variability to 4%.

5 Interesting Facts About Polaris Star:

  • Polaris is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor
  • Polaris has been used as a visual aid by astronomers and stargazers for years.
  • Polaris is only visible in the northern hemisphere·
  • Polaris is a three-star system with a Supergiant Polaris A and two· smaller companions named Polaris Ab and Polaris B which are mainly yellow-white dwarfs
  • Polaris is the only stationary star in the night sky that does not change its position.

What telescope to see the North Star?

 Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector, and  Meade 6″ f/4.1 LX85 Reflector are great telescopes to see the North Star. A list of telescopes has more telescope options that can see the North Star very clearly.

What size telescope to see the North Star?

The North star is viewable with unaided eyes. However, a 6-inch telescope can show it very clearly.

What magnification is required to see the North Star?

50x magnification is enough to spot the North Star. However, 112x magnification provides the best performance.

Enjoying the North Star? Here are other things to see with your telescope.

Observing Polaris is always charming to astronomers. With the same telescope, you can observe the Big Dipper too. Viewing The Big Dipper Through A Telescope can guide you to find it easily. However, Polaris can be seen only on the northern horizon. If you are from the southern part of the earth, don’t worry. You can see all the planets and their moons from anywhere with a small telescope. Myriads of galaxies, nebulae, and other sky objects are there to observe.

You can go through ‘List of things to see with a telescope’ which provides a shortlist of several night sky objects you can observe with different telescopes.