The North Star for Earth is Polaris. Does our next-door neighbor planet, Mars, have the same North Star as Earth? If not, does Mars have star located more or less above its north pole?
Every planet in our solar system spins on its axis. Earth spins once in about 24 hours. And if you continue the imaginary line of a planet’s axis out into space – in a northern direction as measured from earthly north – it might point to a star that’s visible to the eye. We call such a star a pole star, or North Star. On Earth, that star is Polaris.
Meanwhile, Earth’s Southern Hemisphere doesn’t have a comparable South Star. The nearest visible star to the south celestial pole of Earth is about 9 degrees away.
So, does Mars have a North or South Star?
The answer is no reliable north pole star and only a modestly-bright south pole star. In the northern sky as seen from Mars, the best candidate is a star half a degree off from the north celestial pole – closer than Polaris is to Earth’s north celestial pole. But, while Polaris is pretty bright (50th brightest of all stars in the night sky), Mars’ north pole star is faint. It’s barely within the limit of visibility to the eye alone.
Mars’ north pole points to a spot in the sky that’s about midway between Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus the Swan, and Alderamin, the brightest star in the constellation Cepheus the King. Click here to see the position of Mars’ north celestial pole between the constellations Cygnus and Cepheus.
Meanwhile, in the southern sky as seen from Mars, Kappa Velorum – a fairly bright star in the constellation Vela – is near the martian south celestial pole at about three degrees away.
On the other hand, if you were standing outside at night on the surface of Mars, you’d see some other cool stuff! For example, as seen from Mars, you could see Earth’s moon orbiting around Earth once each month. From Earth, we can’t see any other planets’ satellites with the unaided eye, but this amazing sight on Mars would be visible to the eye alone. Both the Earth and the moon would appear starlike.
In general, the Earth as seen from Mars would somewhat mimic our view of Venus as seen from Earth. By that we mean that – like Venus in relationship to Earth – Earth in relationship to Mars is an inner planet. It orbits closer to the sun. Thus Earth as seen from Mars would be a morning or evening “star” – just as Venus is as seen from our world. And although both the Earth and moon would appear as stars to the unaided eye, observers on Mars with telescopes would sometimes see them as crescent worlds – just as we do Venus.
So … no North Star for Mars. But stargazers wouldn’t lack for things to see!