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Skywatch

Tue May 17, 2016 THE BIG DIPPER, THE GREAT BEAR

The Big Dipper is about halfway up in the northern sky after sunset tonight. This is a pretty easy group of stars to find: it’s made up of seven fairly bright stars which trace out the pattern of a saucepan in the heavens. Three of the stars, Alkaid, Mizar and Alioth, mark its handle, and four stars – Megrez, Phecda, Merak and Dhube, form the pot or the bowl.  Now the official constellation in this part of the sky is Ursa Major, the Great Bear, in Greek mythology a maid who was transformed into a bear and carried into the sky by Zeus, the king of the gods. The Big Dipper makes up the bear’s back and the tail. There are some fainter stars in front of the Dipper’s bowl and beneath it which faintly trace the outline of this bear, but the Dipper is a whole lot easier to see. Just to make it a challenge, though, the Big Dipper is now placed upside down, so that the open end of the pot would spill out its contents onto the floor of the sky.  Maybe that's where the Milky Way comes from...