Constellations/Sky

Find the Big Dipper, Little Dipper and North Star

We don’t get to do a lot of camping this year because of our baby due on June 29th. One of our favorite things to do on a good camping trip is stargaze. We’ve learned to identify several constellations and stars that are simple and easy to find. Over the next month or two, we’ll take you on a simple journey to find some very basic constellations, stars, and other sky phenomena that we enjoy seeing.

Most everyone can identify the Big Dipper. In fact, it is the probably the most known constellation. If you can locate the Big Dipper, you can find several other cool constellations, too.

In this picture from Dictionary.com, the Big Dipper is upside down.

In this picture from Dictionary.com, the Big Dipper is upside down.

Remember, this constellation can be upside down, standing on its handle, or pointed in any direction because it rotates around the sky. It depends on the day and time what direction it will face. It looks exactly like a big dipper. One hint if you can’t find it: It will always be in the north “half” of the sky. Face directly north. Any part of the sky you can see by rotating your head may contain the Big Dipper, but it won’t ever be behind you. (Note: sometimes the Big Dipper is below the horizon, too.)
To find the north star, known as Polaris, follow the two end stars on the dipper to the north. The bright star you find there is Polaris. The cool thing about Polaris is that it barely moves in the night sky. It stays fairly constant in its position. You can see the north star on the flag of Alaska.
This is the flag of Alaska showing how the Big Dipper points to Polaris. (Image from Wikipedia.)
You can easily find north if you can find Polaris. Simply look straight up, follow that line to the north star, and the line points directly north. That’s exactly how sea captains have found north for hundreds of years.
Once you find Polaris, you’ve already begun to find the Little Dipper. Polaris is the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper. Where we live in Utah Valley, you can’t always see this constellation due to light pollution. You can usually see the north star and the two farthest stars from it on the cup. It takes a pretty clear night, and being away from the city lights to see the entire thing. It’s easy to spot when you are camping.071012_dippers_vmed_10a.grid-4x2
Some people say the Little Dipper pours into the Big Dipper.
Maybe in this picture, but not always. They will always be the same in
relation to one another, but not in the same positions. (Image from NBC News.)

Here’s how to find PegasusCassiopeia, Andromeda, DracoOrionGemini, PleiadesCygnus, and Taurus. We also find stars like BetelgeuseRigelPolarisBellatrixVega, Castor, Pollux, and Sirius.