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.
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.
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.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.