Big Dipper

Asterism Visual Appearance

The Big Dipper is one of the most easily recognizable groups of stars in the sky. It is referred to as circumpolar because, for most northern observers, it never completely sets below the horizon, but is visible in northern skies year-round.

The Big and Little Dippers pour into each other, just as the Big Bear and the Little Bear ceaselessly turn around and around the northern sky. The Guard stars of the Little Dipper protect Polaris from the Great Bear, just in case he might try to catch the North Star for himself.

Three stars make up the Big Dipper’s handle, and four stars make its bowl. If you can find the Big Dipper in the sky, you have a skymark to orient yourself both on the Earth and in the Heavens. The two stars that form the pouring side of the bowl point to Polaris, the north star. Polaris is a rather faint star about five times farther away than the distance between the pointers themselves, and marks the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper.

Use the Big Dipper to find your way around the night sky.

Asterism Skylore

What Americans know as the Big Dipper has many names, being variously called the "Drinking Gourd" (America), "Plough" (Britain), "Wagon" (Europe), among many other names.

In Middle Earth, the Big Dipper (or possible Ursa Major) was known as Valacirca (the Sickle of the Valar), and Cerch im(b)elain (Seven Butterflies). (Rachel Folmar)