When most people are asked to identify one “constellation” in the night sky, their first answer is often the Big Dipper. But, in fact, the Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major (the Big Bear), and is not an actual constellation by itself. The Big Dipper is what we call an asterism, which is an interesting and well-recognizable star pattern, while not one of the official 88 constellations. The Dipper can be found in many myths and legends, and is called by many names– including the Drinking Gourd and the Revolving Man. Regardless of what people have called it, it has been used throughout many cultures and many generations as a celestial tool for navigation. This is due to the fact that the Big Dipper can be seen year-round, and changes position in the sky throughout the year.
While most of us don’t plan on using the Big Dipper as a navigational tool anytime soon, it is helpful to know where to find it in the night sky throughout the year.
Here you can see that in the fall the Big Dipper is oriented like a spoon resting on the horizon, ready to catch the falling leaves of autumn. In the winter the Dipper is upright on its handle, like an icicle hanging down from the bowl. In the spring the Dipper is upside down, like it is pouring out heavy springtime rains; in the summer it is upright on it’s bowl, with the handle pointing up to the heavens.
The reason that the Big Dipper changes position like this is because in the northern part of the sky, all of the stars appear to rotate counterclockwise around Polaris, the North Star. Keep in mind that all of the stars “appear” to rotate in the sky due to the fact that the earth is rotating on its axis. Because the north pole is tilted towards Polaris, all of the stars in this part of the sky appear to rotate around this fixed point. This is why the Big Dipper appears to rotate around Polaris in a counterclockwise direction throughout the year.
The Big Dipper printable is available for you to download, with the drawing and seasonal explanation above. Hopefully, this handy reference sheet will help you year-round while stargazing.
Many of us are busy getting ready to send our children back to school, and some of our children have already started. Being a parent and a teacher, I find this busy time of year to be very exciting– full of new beginnings and new possibilities. Starting the school year in the most organized way possible helps to lessen the inevitable stress that comes with the busyness. I’ve put together a few printables, with an astronomy theme, to help during this back-to-school time.
The first printable contains four bookmarks and two binder/book labels, and the second printable is a homework chart for your child. There are many printables out there for bookmarks, charts, etc.– but only at Lie Back, Look Up can you find these unique ones for your astronomy-loving kids.
Here at Lie Back, Look Up, you will find plenty of stargazing and astronomy activities to do with your family. Many of these activities include free printables, as well as some tutorials and videos. Please let me know in the comments how your family has enjoyed these activities!f
A important thing to remember when stargazing with children is that you need to give them something to “do”. Many children will become bored with just looking up at the sky for long periods of time, so bringing along a great music playlist can help keep everyone occupied.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…..Elizabeth Mitchel & Lisa Loeb
Why Does the Sun Shine?…..They Might Be Giants
Why Does the Sun Really Shine?…..They Might Be Giants
Star…..Earth, Wind & Fire
Bright Morning Stars……The Wailin’ Jennys
What is a Shooting Star?…..They Might Be Giants
Here Comes the Sun…..The Beatles
The Galaxy Song…..Monty Python
These are just a few of my favorite astronomy-themed songs. I especially love the entire Here Comes Science CD by They Might Be Giants– it is filled with fun science-themed songs for kids, which my seven and four-year old can listen to for hours. So let me know, what is your favorite stargazing-themed song? Feel free to take a brake for custom essay service online!
Coming up on the nights of August 11th and 12th is a great opportunity to watch a meteor shower. Many people consider the Perseid Meteor Shower to be one of the best shows of the year, with up to 100 meteors per hour viewable in a dark sky. Start watching after sunset, and as soon as the sky is nice and dark you should be able to see plenty of meteors lighting up the night sky. The waning crescent moon doesn’t rise until after midnight, so you won’t have to worry about the light of the moon obscuring your view.
This meteor shower is a great opportunity for stargazing as a family. If you are blessed with a clear, dark sky, even the youngest child should be able to spot a few meteors streaking across the sky. You might have a hard time snapping a picture with a point-and-shoot camera, but the memories that you’ll capture with your kids will last a lifetime.
Don’t forget to bring along your child’s Stargazing Diary and a few snacks. And stay “tuned” for next week’s post on my suggestions for your Stargazing Playlist– just in time to view the Perseids!
Check out our What’s Up in the Sky this Month page for an idea of planets and constellations to view in August. Don’t forget to print off the free Summer Sky Map as well! (I tried a new layout for the seasonal sky map– a circular view of the entire sky instead of just the southern view. Let me know how you like it!)
If you’re looking for a good video about what to look for in the night sky, check out Stargazers. This is my favorite place to go for weekly videos on what to see in the night sky.