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‘Minor’ Constellations

March 30, 2014

Eighty-eight constellations blanket the sky, and three of them have the word “minor” in their names. But don’t let that fool you. Two of these constellations contain some major sights indeed, which are visible tonight.

The best-known “minor” constellation is Ursa Minor, the little bear. Some of its brightest stars form a star pattern that’s in a minor category of its own: the Little Dipper. It rotates across the northern sky every night of the year. That’s because the tip of the dipper’s handle is the North Star, Polaris — a major distinction for Ursa Minor.

Another minor constellation is high in the south as darkness falls: Canis Minor, the little dog. Although most of its stars are quite faint, it does boast one bright beacon: Procyon, the eighth-brightest star in the night sky. It’s sometimes called the Little Dog Star to distinguish it from the Dog Star, Sirius, which is in — you guessed it — Canis Major, the Big Dog.

Only one minor constellation fully lives down to its name. Leo Minor, the little lion, is between Leo and the Big Dipper. It’s so dim that you need a good star map and a dark sky, far away from city lights, to see it.

But if you’re willing to settle for two out of three, you should have little trouble finding Ursa Minor in the north and Canis Minor in the west — constellations that surpass their diminutive names.


Script by Ken Croswell, Copyright 2013

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