Let The Big Dipper
Show You The Sights

Once you find and identify the Big Dipper you can use it to find many other stars and constellations.

The form of the “Big Dipper “ constellation is a very recognizable shape. Except, technically the seven stars that make up the dippers, both big and little, are not actually constellations.

Constellations are areas of the sky used by astronomers as a guide to finding objects of interest. They are named for the shapes and pictures they represent but often contain more area than just the stars that form that picture.

The dippers are actually asterisms, pictures within larger constellations. The Big Dipper is formed from stars that are part of the constellation Ursa Major, the great bear, just as the “Little Dipper” is made from stars of the constellation Ursa Minor, the lesser bear.

Just to be clear a constellation is an area of sky. There are 88 of these areas. They are for convenience named for the main asterisms they contain. These may be called constellations as well.

An asterism is a smaller grouping of stars within a constellation forming a separate picture, or a grouping of stars from multiple constellations used to form a picture.

So the “Big Dipper” is an asterism within the constellation Ursa Major, but calling it a constellation is OK.

The “Winter Triangle” formed from Sirius, Procyon and Betelgeuse is an asterism from stars of three separate constellations.

big dipper stars
big dipper outlines

Right Ascension: 11 hours

Declination: 50 degrees

Visible between latitudes +90 and -30 degrees

Best seen in April at 9:00 PM local time

Named Stars: DUBHE (Alpha Ursae Majoris) MERAK (Beta Ursae Majoris) PHAD (Gamma Ursae Majoris) MEGREZ (Delta Ursae Majoris) ALIOTH (Epsilon Ursae Majoris) MIZAR (Zeta Ursae Majoris) ALCOR (80 Ursae Majoris)


Following the curve of the dippers handle and you will “Arc to Arcturus”. This star is the brightest of the Bootes constellation. Continue on following the same curve and you “Speed to Spica”. Spica or Alpha Virginis is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

The two stars at the back of the bowl will lead you “up” to Deneb, which is the tail of Cygnus the swan, and "down" to Regulus in the constellation of Leo the Lion.

From Dubhe and Merak at the front of the dipper heading north about five times the distance between those two will bring you to Polaris the North or Pole star.

Polaris is the last star in the handle of the “Little Dipper”.

From Polaris you can find Cassiopeia and its “W” shape. After that continuing on will find the “Great square of Pegasus” which shares a star with Andromeda.

So finding “The Dipper” will lead you easily to eight other constellations.


Mizar, the middle star in the handle is a double star with Alcor behind it. This can be seen with the naked eye. Mizar though is actually a double binary system so it's comprised of four stars and Alcor is itself a binary. So that “star” in the Dipper's handle is really six stars.

To the northeast of this star is the Pinwheel Galaxy M101.

Other galaxies visible in Ursa Major are M81, M82, M108, and M109.

M97 The Owl Nebula is a bright planetary nebula located near the bottom of the dipper.


To the Greeks in mythology Ursa Major represents the bear that Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, changed Callisto into to keep Zeus away from her.

As a bear she was hunted and almost killed by her son Arcas, but Zeus transformed Arcas into a bear as well to keep him from killing his mother.

They now roam the northern sky as Ursa Major-the great bear, and Ursa Minor- the little bear.

Bordered by:Draco   Camelopardalis   Lynx   Leo minor   Leo  

Coma Berenices   Canes Venatici    Bootes

From Big Dipper To Constellations

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