It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s the Big Dipper!
Whether we take the time to notice them or not, the constellations in the night sky are always there. Did you know, there are a total of 88 individually recognized constellations? Despite them having names that represent different mythological people and animals, the grouping of stars tend to bear no true resemblance to their name sakes. It’s thought that the ancient greeks, who recognized the first 48 groupings, believed that the constellations were created by the gods and used to tell stories.
The constellations serve a practical purpose today however. They act almost like a road map for scientists. Similar to how you might say “ I found a new bakery two blocks from Smith Street and Third Boulevard,” astronomers can use them as points of reference when referring to new stars they are researching or have discovered.
When looking at the night sky, one might assume that the stars that make up constellations are conveniently located near each other. This is not the case though! The reality is that two stars that appear to be only a few inches apart can be thousands of miles away from each other or in a completely different plane.
With warm weather around the corner, stargazing at night with your little one is a fun and educational activity for all ages. In order to get a good view of the stars, you want to make sure it’s a clear night with no clouds and you are away from the bright lights of the city. So pull up a blanket to your local park and get comfy.
The most well known constellation is The Big Dipper. You might be surprised to learn that this grouping of stars is actually not a constellation at all, but rather part of a larger constellation known as “The Great Bear” or its scientific name, Ursa Major. Once you are able to find the Big Dipper it makes finding the rest of the Great Bear constellation a breeze.
The Little Dipper, Ursa Minor or the Little Bear is the next constellation on the list. Follow the two stars that make up the right side of the Big Dipper cup directly North. You will find a particularly bright star, that is Polaris. Polaris is the last star of the handle, trace it to the left and slightly down and you will find the rest of the constellation.
Another easy one to spot is Orion, or The Hunter. Start off by finding the straight line of three stars that make up the belt. Then trace just North of the star to the right, and you will find the star, Betelgeuse. This is the Hunters armpit. Follow that East and you will find the arm and bow of Orion.
Now that you know what to look for, enjoy going out with your little one and exploring the night sky. See what other constellations you can find!