International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What is the North Star?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: North Star

Mains level: Features of parliamentary democracy

north star

Vice President said Parliament is the “North Star” of democracy, “a place of discussion and deliberation to realize the aspirations and dreams of the people”.

What is North Star?

  • North Star is a metaphor to refer to something constant/permanent that leads and provides direction.
  • Polaris, also known as the North Star or the Pole Star, is a very bright star (around 2500 times more luminous than our sun) placed less than 1° away from the north celestial pole.
  • Its position and brightness have made humans use it for navigation since late antiquity.
  • It is a part of the constellation Ursa Minor and is around 323 light-years away from Earth.

How it helps navigation?

  • It stands almost motionless in the night sky, with all the stars of the northern sky appearing to rotate around it.
  • This makes it an excellent fixed point from which to draw measurements for celestial navigation.
  • Simply the elevation of the star above the horizon gives the approximate latitude of the observer and in the northern hemisphere, if you can see Polaris you can always tell which way is north.
  • Upon crossing the equator to the South, the North Star is lost over the horizon and hence stops being a useful navigational aid.

When the North Star was first used to navigate?

  • Polaris seems to have been first charted by the Roman mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy, who lived from about 85 to 165 B.C.
  • While there does exist some evidence pointing at how the star was used for navigation in late antiquity, it is during the ‘Age of Exploration’ that it becomes such a central part of human history.
  • Christopher Columbus, on his first trans-Atlantic voyage of 1492, “had to correct (his ship’s bearings) for the circle described by the pole star about the pole”, wrote his son in his biography.
  • As European colonizers set sail for exotic locations across the world, the North Star became an ever-so-important feature.


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