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Use Big Dipper to find Polaris and Little Dipper

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Tonight for April 9, 2015

So you say you can find the Big Dipper, but not the Little Dipper? This post is for you. Here’s the view northward on April evenings. At present the Big Dipper is high in the north during the evening hours. Notice the two outer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper. These two stars – called Duhbe and Merak – always point to Polaris, the North Star. Find Polaris, and you can find the Little Dipper.

Polaris is special because it always stays in the same spot in the northern sky. It’s the star around which the entire northern sky appears to turn. That’s because Polaris is located more or less above the northern axis of the Earth, and the wheeling of the stars across the dome of night is really due to Earth’s turning, after all.

Polaris is also fun to locate for another reason. It’s part of a famous – though elusive – star pattern, known as the Little Dipper.

So here it is! The Little Dipper! The North Star, Polaris, marks the end of its handle.

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View larger. | You can use the Big Dipper to identify lots of other sky favorites, too.  In this shot, taken around 3:30 a.m. in July 2013, Tom Wildoner shows how you can use the two outer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper to find the North Star, Polaris.  Thanks, Tom!

View larger. | No matter where you see the Big Dipper, the two outer stars in its bowl point to Polaris. In this shot, Tom Wildoner caught the Big Dipper and Polaris at around 3:30 a.m. in July 2013. Thanks, Tom!

Bottom line: If you’ve ever looked for the Dippers, you know that the Big Dipper is usually pretty easy to find. But the Little Dipper is much tougher, partly because it’s fainter, and partly because its shape is not nearly as dipper-like as its larger counterpart. This post tells you how to use the Big Dipper to find the Little Dipper.

Thuban: Past North Star

Star Errai: Future North Star

Get your kids interested in astronomy and the sky! Use EarthSky’s lunar calendar as a fun way to enjoy the moon phases throughout the year.