Big Dipper

By Anirban Nandi (Own work) [<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0">CC BY 3.0</a>], <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOrion_constellation_with_star_labels.jpg">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

The first constellation most of us are able to find in the night sky is Ursa Major, the Great Bear . Most people know the brighter stars as the Big Dipper asterism. For many of us, the next constellation we discover is Orion, the Hunter . At this time of year you can see it in the southern sky shortly after sunset. The brighter stars include Betelgeuse, Rigel, and the easy-to-identify three stars of the belt.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park , near Montrose, CO, is an excellent place to observe night skies free from light pollution. When it comes to constellations, one of the most famous is Ursa Major, meaning “The Big Bear,” which includes “The Big Dipper.”

Binary Stars Next time you see the Big Dipper out of the corner of your eye, take a look at the star in the middle of the handle. If you have decent eyesight, you may see not one, but two stars: a brighter star known as Mizar, and a fainter star called Alcor.

Navigating the Night Sky The Big Dipper is a great starting point for learning the night sky. Located near the pole of the sky, it never completely sets or dips below the horizon—it’s visible in the night sky year-round from the Western Slope! The Big Dipper itself is not a constellation, but it resides in one called Ursa Major, the Great Bear, third largest of the 88 constellations. The name originates from the dipper-shaped pattern formed by the seven main stars in the...