If you’ve been playing with your computer planetarium and looking at the stars at night, you should be starting to know some constellations and stars. Since it’s the weekend and you may be able to stay up a little later, this will be a good time to take a closer look at Ursa Major, the Great Sky Bear.
As soon as it gets good and dark (around 7:30 pm), head on outside and look for Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. (Check it out on your computer first to remind you what to look for) You should be facing North. Can you find the four stars that make up the bowl of the dipper? Can you see the three or four stars that make up the dipper’s handle? Make a sketch of the Big Dipper. You should include North marked on your sketch. Draw in any objects you see in the foreground like houses, trees, etc. and leave lots of room for the sky. Now add the Big Dipper and the time of your observation right next to it. Be very accurate, you’re going to need a good sketch to compare to later. Now look for your other constellations and stars or you can go back in or do what ever else you had planned for the evening.
In a about 3 hours head back on outside (this is why a weekend night is a good one to do this, if this week doesn’t work out you can try again next Friday). Where’s the Big Dipper now? Does it look any different? Why? Add it to your sketch and label the time. That takes care of req. 4c.
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Let’s hope we get a clear night. Before 7:30 pm Mars should be visible in the West, if you don’t have trees in the way. If you can’t see it, try to find a place to look at the sky that has a clear view of the horizon. You may also be able to see Mercury and Venus very low on the horizon if there aren’t trees in the way. If you haven’t looked for it planets yet, get out there on our next clear night.
As soon as it gets good and dark look for Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. You should be looking into the North. Look for the four stars that make up the bowl of the dipper? Can you see the three or four stars that make up the dipper’s handle? The two stars at the front of the dipper are Dubhe (on your left) and Merak (on your right).
Now that you’ve found Ursa Major you can look for the other circum polar constellations. To find Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) use the pointer stars Dubhe and Merak, draw an imaginary line between them and continue it 5 times further towards the North. See a star there? That’s Polaris, the North Star. It’s right at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle or the little bear’s tail. Can you see the handle and the four stars that make up the bowl?
Keep your line going West about the same distance as the line from Ursa Major to Ursa Minor. Find the big W? That’s Cassiopia’s throne. If you find Cassiopia the Queen, King Cephus must be close by. Imagine the Queen sitting on her throne looking at the nearby stars to the right and you’ll see the four stars for Cephus’s head and the hat that looks like a clown hat.
Want to try another? Look right below Ursa Minor and see if you can find the head of Draco the dragon. It should be right on the horizon, so trees may make it impossible to find where you are. Do you see the dragon’s body? Good luck.
If you can find all five constellations, you’re half way to the number of constellations you need to learn.Every night when you go out, you should try to re-find these constellations and stars, so it becomes second nature.
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