Starwatch: start with the bear and go from there

This week, take the time to look north. Start by identifying Ursa Major, the great bear. This large constellation stretches across the northern sky. It is the third largest constellation in the entire sky and has been recognised for millennia across many different cultures, mostly because of its seven brightest stars.

They make up an asterism called the plough in the UK and the big dipper in North America. Various other cultures recognise it too, their depictions range from a wagon, to a ladle, to a great wall and many others.

The asterism itself is important for celestial navigation as two of the stars, Merak and Dubhe, can be used to point to Polaris, the so-called pole star because it currently sits on the celestial north pole.

The chart shows the view looking north from London at 22.00 BST on Monday night, when a first quarter moon sits in Gemini, and the planet Mars is just below it. If your sky is dark enough, once you’ve found the plough, trace out the other fainter stars that make up the full Ursa Major constellation.

Then find Polaris and trace Ursa Minor, the small bear. Around midweek, look further east than this chart (off beyond Draco, the dragon) and keep an eye out for shooting stars. The Lyrid meteor shower will be active in the early hours.


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