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Big Dipper bowl points to star Capella

You've heard of the Big Dipper's "pointer" stars?  You can use them to find the star Capella, too.

Tonight for November 14, 2015

Tonight – or any November evening – if you can see the Big Dipper, use its “pointer stars” to find the brilliant star Capella in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. The top two bowl stars point toward Capella, as we depict on today’s sky chart.

The phrase spring up and fall down gives you some idea of the Big Dipper’s place in the evening sky. On fall evenings for us in the Northern Hemisphere, the Big Dipper sits way down low in the northern sky.

On northern spring evenings, the Big Dipper shines high above Polaris, the North Star.

From the Southern Hemisphere: Sorry, y’all. These are northern constellations and not easily visible to you … unless you come visit our part of the world!

From the far southern U.S. and similar latitudes: You won’t see the Big Dipper on these November evenings, either. From more southerly latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the Big Dipper is below your northern horizon on autumn evenings. Even in the northern states, it’ll be possible to miss the Big Dipper if obstructions block your view of the northern sky. However, the Big Dipper swings full circle around Polaris, the North Star, once a day. Thus, from these latitudes, the Big Dipper will appear fairly high in the northeast sky before morning dawn in November.

It’s a long jump from the Big Dipper bowl stars to Capella. Our chart at top goes all the way from northwest to northeast. That’s about one-fourth the way around the horizon.

And remember, the Big Dipper and Capella move throughout the night, and throughout the year, but – no matter when and where you see them – they are part of the “fixed” star background … and so always maintain this relationship to one another.

Easily locate stars and constellations during any day and time with EarthSky’s Planisphere.

November 2015 guide to the five visible planets

The bright star Capella and its constellation Auriga the Charioteer as seen in the east-northeast sky. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom line: The Big Dipper’s bowl stars always point in the general direction of Capella, the northernmost first-magnitude star in all the heavens. Plus, in late November, you might catch the return of the planet Venus to the west after sunset! It’ll be back in your evening sky for sure by early December.

Astronomy events, star parties, festivals, workshops for September-December, 2015

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