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Big Dipper & Little Dipper Lesson for Kids: Constellation & Facts

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever seen the Big or Little Dippers in the night sky? In this lesson, you'll find out about the stars that make up these star patterns and how they've been useful to travelers for thousands of years.

Patterns in the Sky

Have you ever looked up at the sky and seen stars that look like a dog or a boat? Since ancient times, people have looked up at the night sky and seen pictures in the stars.

Constellations
map

Scientists called astronomers study the stars. About 80 years ago, these scientists divided up the sky into 88 pieces, each of which contains groups of stars, planets, meteors, galaxies, and other objects that might be in the night sky.

These pieces of sky and everything within each one are what we call the constellations. In each of these pieces of the sky, there are also many stars. Some of them are part of pictures that we can recognize.

Ursa Major or the Big Dipper?

For example, in the constellation called Ursa Major, or the 'Great Bear,' there are dozens of stars. It's really difficult to see a bear when you look at this constellation; the first astronomers must have had good imaginations!

However, within the constellation Ursa Major, there's a pattern of just seven stars that you can always recognize. We call it the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper isn't a constellation; it's an asterism, which is a group of stars that have a recognizable pattern.

The Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major, but there are other stars in Ursa Major that aren't part of the Big Dipper. The Little Dipper is also an asterism; the seven stars that make up the Little Dipper are part of the constellation Ursa Minor, the 'Little Bear.'

Stars in the Big Dipper

The Big Dipper has two pieces: a handle made of three stars and a bowl made of four stars. The stars in the handle are Alkaid, which is the tip of the handle, Mizar, and Alioth, which is the brightest star in The Big Dipper and in the Ursa Major constellation. One side of the Big Dipper's bowl is formed by the stars Megrez and Phad, and the other side by the stars Dubhe and Merak.

The Dippers
dippers

Dubhe and Merak are known as 'the pointers' because if you draw a line from Dubhe through Merak, you can easily find Polaris, the star at the tip of the Little Dipper's handle! The Big Dipper is easy to find, but the Little Dipper is harder to see because its stars are dim. Use the pointers to help you find both of the dippers in the night sky.

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