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North Star

January 30, 2006

The North Star is often depicted in folklore and literature as a solitary beacon to lonely sailors. But now astronomers know that the North Star is not alone at all.


The North Star’s ménage a trois. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Like astronomical paparazzi, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have finally captured an image of the North Star’s elusive second companion. Its first companion star has been known for over 200 years and can be seen through a small telescope. But this second companion has proven tricker. Astronomer Gail Schaefer of the Space Telescope Science Institute says they were able to predict its location by the way it affected the motion of the North Star, also called Polaris.

GAIL SCHAEFER (Space Telescope Science Institute):
So we took Hubble images and we actually can see now that there is a very close and faint companion to Polaris—and we saw that for the first time in these images.

Since Polaris is used as an astronomical measuring stick, learning more about it will help astronomers create a better map of the cosmos.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.