Finding the Little Dipper

Finding Polaris is often easy even though it’s not the brightest star in the northern sky. It is moderately bright (mag 2) and stands out because it’s more or less by itself. If the Big Dipper is visible then Polaris can be found using the two stars of the pouring side of the Big Dipper which point to Polaris. Finding the Little Dipper however is quite a bit more challenging. Mostly because none of the stars really stand out – even in moderately dark skies. From a location with dark skies the problem becomes finding the stars that form the Little Dipper (average mag 3) among the background of stars that are only slightly fainter than the dipper.

Annotated image of the Little Dipper Star Field
The finder at right shows the little dipper and orientation on June 19th, 2013. The un-annotated view demonstrates how the little dipper stars blend in with the other stars making it hard to spot.

From the observatory site, the sky to the north varies from mag 2.5 to 3.5, so often the little dipper is washed out by the background sky and not visible to the unaided eye.