Galaxy, Stars & Constellations

"The Big Dipper" Asterism
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Mr. R.

REQUIREMENT #5 Identify in the sky at least 10 constellations, four of which are in the zodiac.  Identify at least eight conspicuous stars, five of which are of first magnitude.
NOTE:  Star names often seem difficult to pronounce, like Zubeneschamali. Earth & Sky's Star Pronunciation Guide is an online quide that will pronounce it for you.

To learn about a constellation & its stars,
click below:

Big Bear
(Ursa Major)

Little Bear
(Ursa Minor)
Northern Crown
(Corona Borealis)

Summer Triangle, Teapot, Kite, Bowtie,
Big Dipper, Sickle. etc.
The "W"

Many of us are able to recognize "The Big Dipper" in the northern skies, but did you know that it is NOT a constellation, but rather an asterism (an easily recognizable figure in the sky often made up of bright stars from one or more constellations).

Requirement #5a:  Show in a sketch the position of the Big Dipper and its relation to the North Star and the horizon early some evening and again six hours later the same night. Record the date and time of making each sketch.

Start in the evening as soon as you can see the North Star.  On a sheet of paper, draw some of the horizon as you face North (just to give you some orientation).  Think of a large clock in the sky with the North Star at the very center.  Straight up is 12:00, to your right is 3:00, down is 6:00, and left is 9:00.  Sketch the Big Dipper and North Star as they appear in the sky.  It helps greatly to include the "W" (Cassiopeia) on the opposite side of the Big Dipper.  Below the Big Dipper write down the time of the first sketch.  That's the easy part.  Now, six hours later...wake up!  The North Star will have remained stationary, but where is the Big Dipper now?  Try to locate it and sketch it again.  It may be very helpful to look for and sketch the "W" again if you are having trouble.  Below the 2nd Big Dipper sketch write down the time of your 2nd observation. 
  • NOTE:  How far did the Big Dipper seem to rotate?  In what direction did it seem to rotate.  Did the skies seem less familiar to you than before?  Remember, the stars did not rotate, but the Earth's rotation gave us that illusion.  As the earth makes its yearly trip around the sun, we see different stars along the way.  The summer stars we see at 4:00 a.m. in the morning are those that will actually be seen three months later at 10:00 p.m.!

REQUIREMENT #5b:  Explain what we see when we look at the Milky Way. 
On dark, clear nights we can often see a faint, hazy band of light studded with millions of stars and stretching across the sky from north to south. We are actually looking sideways through the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. 
The Electronic Sky describes the Milky Way as,  "A bright band that encircles the entire night sky. The Milky Way is, in fact, the main body of our own spiral galaxy, viewed from within: binoculars or a telescope will resolve individual stars in the bright mass." This site has excellent photos, drawing, and descriptions of our galaxy.
Click on Galaxies (main index), 
and then click on Milky Way (center column).
  • To get a feeling of how LARGE our galaxy is, try visiting How Big Is Space.  Click on the green arrow next to the sleeping man and you'll zoom further and further and further out into the universe.  It's cool!


Return to: [ Astronomy Merit Badge ]

Requirements: [1-Moon]  [2-Planets]  [3-Planets, Sun & Eclipses]  [4-Experiments]
[5-Galaxy, Stars & Constellations]  [6-Telescopes]  [7-Sun & Stars]  [8-Observation]  [9-Careers]
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Webpage updated November 2003
Webmaster, Mr. R.