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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Looking Up: Finding the Little Dipper

  • More than likely you can point out the Big Dipper. How about the Little Dipper?
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  • More than likely you can point out the Big Dipper. How about the Little Dipper?
    In an amazing coincidence on the celestial sphere spanning over our heads, the northern night sky displays a set of dippers. Not just one but two- as if packaged together at a kitchen utensil store. They're not unlike those measuring cups that sit inside each other, probably stuffed in a drawer in your kitchen.
    You can call them the Teaspoon and Tablespoon if you'd like. Why not? In the southeastern sky on July evenings, the star asterism portrayed as the "Teapot" (actually part of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer) is in view.
    Then there is the dish that ran away with the spoon just as the cow jumped over the Moon. We do have a bull in the sky (Taurus) but no dish or spoon- unless the Dippers are spoons - and don't get me started about flying saucers.
    The Little Dipper is just as easy to recognize as the Big D., although fainter and smaller.
    No star in the Little Dipper is brighter than +2nd magnitude; most of the seven stars are +3rd or +4th (almost +5th). You need a reasonably dark northern sky, without moonlight to easily pick it out. The Big Dipper's stars are mainly +2nd magnitude and thus easier to see (the lower the number on the celestial magnitude scale, the brighter).
    Polaris, the North Star, marks the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. One of the most famous stars of the night, the star faithfully guides our way north. It is very close to the point on the sky where the entire heavens seems to revolve, as the Earth rotates. Polaris is almost stationary on the sky while all others circle around it.
    Polaris is the brightest star in the group. It lies 430 light years away. A small telescope can show you it has a dim companion star.
    On the opposite end of the Little Dipper is Kochab, which in binoculars shows an orange shade. Kochab is one of the four stars of the bowl. Kochab is nearly as bright as Polaris.
    Notice how on July evenings the Little Dipper seems to stand on its handle, balancing on Polaris something like a helium balloon on a string. To the left is the Big Dipper, which is oriented in opposite fashion, balancing on its bowl. As the night progresses, notice how the Little Dipper seems to "lay down" and the Big Dipper glides beneath it.
    Officially, the stars of the Little Dipper make up something entirely different- an outline of the Little Bear, or in Latin, Ursa Minor. The Big Dipper is part of the large constellation Big Bear, or Ursa Major.
    New Moon is on July 8. Send your notes to news@neagle.com.
    Page 2 of 2 - Keep looking up!

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