Astronomy

The Big Dipper

The big dipper is the most recognized constellation in the Northern hemisphere. It can be seen on any clear night, Summer and Winter. If you put your mouse cursor over any star in the Big Dipper on the diagram below it will show you the name of that star.


The Big Dipper



Can you find the Big Dipper in the diagram below? Put your mouse cursor over one of the stars in the Big Dipper to reveal its location.

Find the Big Dipper



Sometimes the Big Dipper isn't facing the way you expect. In the Winter it will be upside down and it may be standing on end in the Fall and Spring. See if you can identify the Big Dipper in the diagram below:

Find the Big Dipper

Once you find Polaris you will see two other bright stars nearby. These form the spoon part of the little dipper as shown in the diagram above. Can you find the Little Dipper? Put your mouse cursor over any star in the little dipper to reveal it location.



The Little Dipper

The Little Dipper is more difficult to find because it only has 3 bright stars. The remaining stars are dim and it is difficult to see the outline of the constellation, especially in locations where the sky is not dark. To find the Little Dipper you must first identify the guide stars in the Big Dipper. The guide stars are made up of the two stars called Merak and Dubhe. Follow a line up from these two stars to find Polaris, the North star. The diagram below shows the guide stars.


Big Dipper, guide stars and Polaris




Once you find Polaris you will see two other bright stars nearby. These form the spoon part of the little dipper as shown in the diagram above. Can you find the Little Dipper? Put your mouse cursor over any star in the little dipper to reveal it location.

Little Dipper



Cassiopia

Cassiopia is easy to find. It is shaped like a big "W". Cassiopia is North near the Little Dipper. It appears on the opposite side of the Little Dipper as the Big Dipper. In the diagram below you can see how you can follow the guide stars from the big dipper to the North star, Polaris. Then curve over to the center of Cassiopia.



Finding Cassiopia

Finding Cassiopia may be difficult the first time. After you become familiar with its shape and size, it is easy to "look up" and see it in the sky.




The diagram below shows the constellation Cassiopia. Put the mouse arrow over a star in Cassiopia to display the name of the star.
Cassiopia

Can you find Cassiopia? Put the mouse arrow over one of the stars of Cassiopia in the diagram below to reveal its position.

Find Cassiopia


Cygnus

Cygnus is the swan and is also known as the Northern Cross. In the summer Cygnus is high overhead and is oriented in the North-South direction. The diagram below shows how Cygnus will look if you were facing South and looked straight up. This assumes that you live in the Northern Hemisphere (as in Europe, the North America, Asia, etc.). Place the mouse arrow over any star in Cygnus to see its name.

Cygnus, the Northern Cross

Another way to find Cygnus is to find the star called Vega. In the summer, Vega appears overhead. It is one of the brightest stars in the sky and can be seen right after the sun sets. Vega is not part of the Cygnus constellation, it is part of the constellation called Lyra (see the next section). The diagram in the next column shows where Vega is in relation to the constellation Cygnus.

Vega





Find Cygnus


Lyra

Lyra is next to Cygnus and contains one of the brightest stars in the sky called Vega. Once you find the Northern Cross (Cygnus) look to the lower right corner and find the bright star Vega. Next to this star will be the diamond known as Lyra. The diagram below shows the relative position of Lyra with respect to Cygnus.

Locating Lyra


The interactive diagram in the next column shows Lyra up close. Place the mouse arrow over a star to reveal its name. The two stars Sheliak and Sulafat are important to remember if you own a telescope. The Ring Nebula is found between these two stars.




The diagram below shows Lyra up close. Put your mouse cursor over any of stars in Lyra to see the name of the star.
Lyra

Can you find Lyra in the diagram below? Put the mouse arrow over a star in Lyra to reveal its location.

Find Lyra


Sagittarius

Sagittarius toward the South (for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere). Sagittarius also called the 'Teapot' because it is shaped like a teapot. The most interesting aspect of Sagittarius that its spout points to the center of the Milky Way galaxy. If you are lucky enough to observe the sky from a dark location (away from city lights), you will see a cloud of stars that streams across the sky. The constellations Cygnus, Lyra and Sagittarius in the middle of this cloud. What you are seeing is the Milky Way galaxy edge on. The diagram below shows Sagittarius well as the center of the Milky Way.
Sagittarius

Can you find Sagittarius the diagram below? Put the mouse arrow over a star in Lyra to reveal its location.

Find Sagittarius


Hercules

Hercules is down and to the right of Cygnus on the other side of Lyra. See the diagram below to help locate Hercules. Hercules is easy to identify by the box that forms his body. This box is called the 'keystone' and is the location of the Great Cluster. If you have a pair of powerful binoculars or a telescope you can see the Great Cluster (see binocular section for more details).

Locating Hercules

The diagram in the next column shows Hercules up close. Use the mouse cursor to find names of the stars that make up the main parts of Hercules. Only one star in Hercules has a formal name, all other stars are the generic 'Greek letter - constellation' names.




The diagram below shows Hercules up close. Put your mouse cursor over any of stars in Hercules to see the name of the star.
Hercules

Can you find Hercules in the diagram below? Put the mouse arrow over a star in Hercules to reveal its location.

Find Hercules


Orion (Winter Constellation)

Orion is the second most recognized constellation in the Northern sky (the Big Dipper is the most recognized). Orion is known as the great hunter. He's a warrior with a sword and an bow. Orion is normally out during the Winter months or early morning. The easiest way to find it is to look for the three bright stars that makeup Orion's belt. The diagram below shows Orion's relative position in the sky.

Locating Orion


The diagram below shows Orion up close. Put your mouse cursor over any of the main stars in the body of Orion (including all three stars in the belt) to see the name of the star.



The diagram below shows Orion up close. Put your mouse cursor over any of stars in Orion to see the name of the star.
Orion

Can you find Orion in the diagram below? Put the mouse cursor on any star in the Orion constellation to reveal its location.

Find Orion


Leo (Winter Constellation)

Leo the lion is located on the opposite side of the Big Dipper from the little dipper. Imagine if the Big Dipper had a hole in it and you poured water out of the Little Dipper into the Big Dipper. The water would spill through the Big Dipper and hit Leo right on the neck!
(Locating Leo)




The diagram below shows Leo up close. Put your mouse cursor over any of stars in Leo to see the name of the star.
Leo

Can you find Leo in the diagram below? Put the mouse cursor on any star in the Leo constellation to reveal its location.

Find Leo