If you’ve never seen the Little Dipper, this is a good time of year to look for it. And if you have seen it, you might want to look again, because you might not have seen what you thought you saw.
This is a good time to find it because it stands almost directly above the Big Dipper, which is low in the northwest at nightfall. The Little Dipper’s bowl hangs upside down, like it’s pouring its water into the other dipper.
The Little Dipper’s brightest star marks the end of its handle. And it’s one of the most famous stars of all: Polaris, the North Star. It serves as the hub of the northern sky — all the other stars appear to wheel around it.
Overall, though, the Little Dipper is faint and obscure. You need pretty dark skies to see most of its stars. That means you can’t make out the pattern of the dipper at all unless you have dark skies, away from city lights.
Quite a few people who think they’ve seen the Little Dipper have really seen the Pleiades — the star cluster that’s known as the Seven Sisters. Its stars do form a dipper. But it’s tiny. If you hold your hand out at arm’s length, you can cover the whole thing with the tip of your little finger. The Little Dipper is much bigger — you’d need your entire outstretched hand to cover it up.
So if you can escape the glow of city lights, look above the Big Dipper for its fainter and lesser-known relative: the Little Dipper.
We’ll talk about one of the stars in the dipper tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield