Tonight, or any March evening, look for the Big Dipper in the northeast sky. This star pattern – one of the most noticeable from Northern Hemisphere locations – 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 by the names Chara and Asterion.
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.
And there’s another faint object at the extreme edge of Canes Venatici that your binoculars should pick up. This object is M3, a globular star cluster located some 48,000 light-years away.
Binoculars see M3 as a dim blur of light, best seen with averted vision.
But, in a dark sky, M3 is relatively easy to find. Notice on the chart below 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:
Bottom line: How to use the Big Dipper to find the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs!