If you’re in the southern half of the United States, look for something a bit unusual in the early evening sky over the next few weeks: the Big Dipper rising.
Like all the stars in the northern sky, those of the Big Dipper constantly wheel around the North Star, Polaris, as Earth spins on its axis. The stars of the Dipper are closer to the North Star than most, though, so they make a tight loop around it.
From the northern U.S. — cities like Boise and Syracuse — Polaris is so high in the sky that the Dipper never sets. It scoots low above the northern horizon, but never quite dips below it.
As you head south, though, the North Star drops lower and lower in the sky — and so does the Dipper. From the latitude of Denver, the star at the tip of the Dipper’s handle disappears. And by the time you get as far south as Dallas, almost the entire Dipper scoops below the horizon.
Even so, it doesn’t remain out of sight for long. From Dallas, most of the Dipper is below the horizon as night falls this evening. But the bowl climbs into view low in the north-northeast by about 10 o’clock. And the handle clears the horizon by about midnight — returning the entire Dipper to view.
The Dipper rotates up the sky during the rest of the night, and stands high in the north at dawn. Its bowl is upside down, so it looks like it’s pouring its contents down on the North Star — the constant hub of the northern sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield