The Distance to Polaris

Anyone who is in the northern hemisphere can observe the star Polaris, located very close to the north celestial pole. As a result, when observed casually, Polaris appears practically stationary in the same position.

Flat-Earthers claim that the fact Polaris appears stationary as ‘evidence’ that the Earth is stationary: if the Earth is in motion, then Polaris should appear in motion too. They are wrong. Polaris appears stationary because it is very far and its motion can’t be visually observed in the scale of a human life.

Polaris is 433.8 light years away from us. This is a very huge distance compared to the Earth’s orbital diameter, or even the distance the Sun travels through the Milky Way in a century. To illustrate the fact, let’s apply the same scale to everyday distances.

The distance from the city of Lyon, France to Mont Blanc on the Alps is about 160 km (100 miles). If the distance to Polaris is assumed the same as the distance from Lyon to Mont Blanc, then using the same scale, the Earth’s orbital diameter is less than the diameter of a Euro cent coin. And the distance the Sun traveled in a century is the same as the length of a basketball court.

That’s why Polaris appears stationary to our naked eye during the course of our lives. Polaris appears stationary the same way a mountain in the distance appear stationary if we move ourselves less than an inch.

Polaris appears stationary only because its motion is too small to be observed visually during the course of our lifetime. Far more precise instruments are able to detect its apparent motions.

Calculations

  • Earth’s orbit diameter = 2 AU = 2.992e+8 km
  • Sun’s speed around the galactic center = 230 km/s
  • Traveling distance of the Sun in 100 years = 230 km/s × 1 century = 7.25809297 × 1011 km = 4.50996988 × 1011 miles
  • Distance from Lyon, France to Mont Blanc: about  160 km or 100 miles.
  • If Polaris is in the same distance as Lyon to Mont Blanc, then Earth’s orbit diameter is 1.166 cm
  • If Polaris is in the same distance as Lyon to Mont Blanc, then the distance the Sun traversed in a century is 28.2964533 meters

References