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Use Big Dipper to locate Hunting Dogs

10mar13_430

Tonight for March 13, 2015

2015 has three Friday the 13ths. What are the odds?

The Huntings Dogs by Richard Bloxam. Credit: Old Book Art Image Gallery

You can easily locate the Big Dipper in the northeast sky on these March evenings. The Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major, the Greater Bear. And, if you can find the Big Dipper, you can also find two Hunting Dogs seen by the ancient stargazers to be nipping at the Bear’s heels. The Hunting Dogs are a separate constellation: tiny Canes Venatici.

You’ll need a dark sky to see these two little stars snuggled in the arc of the Big Dipper. Originally, they were called Asterion and Chara. But the eastern star is now called Cor Caroli, or Heart of Charles, named for the patron king of the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius, who devised this constellation in 1690.

The most famous object in this region of the sky is M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. It is beautiful when seen through telescopes and appears dramatic in photographs. Unfortunately, this galaxy is difficult or impossible to glimpse with binoculars.

Sky chart of the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs

But there’s another faint object at the extreme edge of Canes Venatici that your binoculars should pick up over the coming week, while the moon is out of the evening sky. This object is M3, a globular star cluster located some 48,000 light-years away. Binoculars see it as a dim blur of light, best seen with averted vision. Notice that it lies almost midway between the bright star Arcturus and Cor Caroli.

Not sure how to find Arcturus? Remember to follow the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle in order to locate this star, as shown on the chart below:

2015-march-12-text-arcturus-big-dipper-night-sky-chart

Bottom line: How to use the Big Dipper to find the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs!

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