Image: Northern sky
Two prominent stars in the Big Dipper point the way to Polaris, the star closest to the celestial north pole. If you continue along the same direction, indicated here by the dotted line, you will come to the M-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. Click for a larger, more detailed map.
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updated 12/3/2003 9:14:35 PM ET 2003-12-04T02:14:35

In the northern sky you will find the Big Dipper low on the horizon. So low, in fact, that the handle of the Dipper dips below the horizon part of the night for many Northern Hemisphere skywatchers. The Big Dipper is the most recognized pattern in the night sky. It resides in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Big Bear.

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THE BIG DIPPER is a great starting point to learn the night sky. The two end stars that form the bowl of the dipper point straight to Polaris, the North Pole Star.

All the other stars in the sky seem to turn around Polaris. Polaris itself marks the end of the handle of another pattern known as the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor, the Little Bear.

Wrapping around Polaris is the constellation Draco. The stars forming this constellation are associated with dragons in many different mythologies. One of Draco’s stars, Thuban, was the North Pole Star when the Pyramids were built. Earth’s pole wanders over the millennia, however, causing it to point to different stars in different eras.

Tracing an imaginary line from Dubhe in the bowl of the Dipper to Polaris and toward the zenith brings you to an M-shaped shaped pattern of stars formed by the brightest stars in the constellation of Cassiopeia the Queen.

In between Draco and Cassiopeia is King Cepheus. Cepheus was the husband of Cassiopeia. Together they ruled a vast territory in Africa called Ethiopia.

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