Polaris (pōlârˈĭs) [key] or North Star, star nearest the north celestial pole (see equatorial coordinate system). It is in the constellation Ursa Minor (see Ursa Major and Ursa Minor; Bayer designation Alpha Ursae Minoris) and marks the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. Polaris's location less than 1° from the pole (1992 position R.A. 2h23.3m, Dec. +89°14−) makes it a very important navigational star even though it is only of second magnitude; it always marks due north from an observer. Polaris can be located by following the line upward from the two stars (the Pointers) at the right end of the bowl of the Big Dipper or, if the Big Dipper is not visible, by following the line through the left side of the square in Pegasus through the end star in Cassiopeia. The star is a Cepheid variable and oscillates in brightness roughly every four days. Because of the precession of the equinoxes, Polaris will not remain the polestar indefinitely; in 2300 B.C. the polestar was in the constellation Draco, and by A.D. 12,000 the star Vega in the constellation Lyra will be the polestar.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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