Polaris (Alpha [α] Ursa Minoris)
(Σ 93) (H IV 1) HIP: 11767 SAO: 308
RA: 2h 32m Dec: +89° 16′
Magnitudes: 2.1, 9.1
Position Angle: 232° (WDS 2009)
Distance: 431 Light Years
Spectral Type: F7
After two weeks of constant clouds and rain (2.5 inches in the previous twelve hours), I woke up this morning at 3AM and discovered the moon was actually visible. I poked my head outside and IT WAS CLEAR! Now this being the first week of June, that meant I had about an hour before the sun (if it actually dared to come out) began to brighten the sky, so I moved as quickly as I could, and by 3:30, I was set up outside and ready to go with a 76mm refractor. I lined up on Polaris with a 25mm Plössl (48x), and despite the moon-brightened sky, I could clearly see the dim companion at about the eleven o’clock position.
That surprised me! Normally in a 76mm scope it wouldn’t be quite that easy to see. I switched to a 15mm Plössl (80x) for a different view — still there and very distinct — and then tried a couple of orthos I had just bought — a 12.5mm and a 9mm, both sold by University Optics — the “volcano top” variety. That dim companion was still very distinct in both of them — really sharp in the 12.5mm (96x), and just a little bit more difficult to pick out in the 9mm (133x) because of some thin clouds and some moisture in the air. Now normally I prefer the view of Polaris in a larger scope, mainly because the companion can be so difficult to detect. But this morning, I was thrilled with what I could see in the 76mm Tasco.
Polaris has a yellow tint to it, and the companion appears to me to be white. Actually, this is a triple star system, but it takes a hundred or more inches of aperture than I have to see that third star. Polaris is also a variable of the Cepheid variety, but the change in brightness is not noticeable to the naked eye. And although you can’t tell by looking, it’s a supergiant as luminous as 9000 suns, while the eighth magnitude companion has a luminosity of a mere 28 suns. Distance to this system of stars is about 431 light years.
By now the sky was brightening considerably and the clouds were beginning to return across much of the sky. I got a quick look at Mizar in Ursa Major and then a quicker view of Rasalgethi in Hercules, but lost it to the clouds before I could switch to a higher magnification.
Time to pack up and consider myself fortunate to have caught the sky gods napping.