Use Big Dipper to find bright star Capella in fall

You can use the Big Dipper to find the bright star Capella in the constellation Auriga. The top two bowl stars point toward Capella. Chart here.

The phrase spring up and fall down gives you some idea of the Big Dipper’s place in the evening sky throughout the year. On fall evenings in the Northern Hemisphere, the Big Dipper sits low in the northern sky. Still, if you’re at a high-enough latitude to see the Big Dipper in fall, you can use the this famous star pattern to find the bright star Capella in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. The top two bowl stars point toward Capella, as we depict on the sky chart below.

10nov13_430

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

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, where the Big Dipper is in the sky, it’s very possible to miss the this star pattern if obstructions block your view of the northern sky. The Big Dipper swings full circle around Polaris, the North Star, once a day, however. That means that, for everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, the Big Dipper will appear fairly high in the northeast sky before dawn.

By the way, that predawn position of the Big Dipper in fall corresponds to its position on spring evenings. On Northern Hemisphere spring evenings, the Big Dipper shines high above Polaris, the North Star.

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

The bright star Capella and its constellation Auriga the Charioteer as seen in the east-northeast sky at around 7 to 8 p.m. from mid-northern latitudes. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The good news is that, although the Big Dipper and Capella move throughout the night, the Big Dipper bowl stars always point in the general direction of Capella, which is the northernmost first-magnitude star in all the heavens. So, no matter what time of night you look, you can always use the Big Dipper to find Capella.

EarthSky guide to the five visible planets

Bruce McClure