Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

123,394 subscribers and counting ...

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 is Nov 23, 2014

Moon Phase Courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory

On sale! 25% off EarthSky lunar calendars. We’re giving thanks for all of you.

Tonight, 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. Also, look toward the bottom of this post for a photo of Venus returning to the western sky after sunset!

The phrase spring up and fall down gives you some idea of the Big Dipper’s place in the evening sky. On fall evenings, the Big Dipper sits way down low in the northern sky. On spring evenings, the Big Dipper shines high above Polaris, the North Star.

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

In the far southern U.S., you won’t see the Big Dipper on these November evenings, because it’ll be beneath your northern horizon. 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. The Big Dipper will appear fairly high in the northeast sky before dawn.

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.

By the way, the photo below gives you a preview of something you might or might not have to wait until early December to see. It’s the planet Venus now returning to the evening sky!

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

View larger.| See the little white dot of the planet Venus in the upper right of this photo?  It'll be back to your evening sky in early December.  Helio de Carvalho Vital captured this image on November 18, 2014 from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He wrote,

View larger.| See the little white dot of the planet Venus in the upper center of this photo? It’ll be back in your evening sky in early December. Helio de Carvalho Vital captured this image on November 18, 2014 from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He wrote, “I managed to capture Venus as it is starting its return to dusk, despite the fact that it is still at a mere 6.2° distance from the sun. The photos show it a few minutes before setting behind the northern side of the 1,021-meter high Tijuca Peak, located some 6.5 km away. It was deeply immersed in the intense glare of the sun, that would set some 13 minutes later.”

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.

November 2014 guide to the five visible planets