How to Find the Little Dipper

Two Parts:Using the Big Dipper to Find the Little DipperSeasonal Changes and Other Considerations

The stars of the Little Dipper are quite dim, so they can be difficult to spot in a night sky that is not perfectly dark. If you are looking at an ideal sky, though, you can find the Little Dipper by locating the North Star, which forms a part of the asterism itself.

Part 1
Using the Big Dipper to Find the Little Dipper

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    Choose the right setting. Before you can find any stars, you need to make sure that the night sky you view is conducive to star gazing. This is especially important when looking for the Little Dipper, since some of the stars making it up are fairly dim.
    • Go out into the country. If you live in a big city or a suburb, you might be familiar with the term “light pollution.” Due to the number of streetlamps, indoor lights, porch lamps, and other various forms of electrical light shining at night in such locations, the darkness of the night sky can be difficult to see. As a result, stars are also hard to see, especially when dealing with dim stars like those found in the Little Dipper. You will need to get away from the lights of the city or suburbs if you hope to be able to see enough of the night sky to spot the Little Dipper.
    • Get away from obstructions. While low-rising fences, shrubs, and other small objects on the horizon are unlikely to block your view, large trees, barns, or similar structures might. Improve your odds of spotting the Little Dipper by choosing a viewing location with as few potential obstacles as possible.
    • Go when the weather is nice. Ideally, you should go when the sky is only partly cloudy. Too many clouds will block the stars completely. You could also try going when there are no clouds out, but these conditions could cause the moon to appear brighter, and a very bright moon can make it difficult to see some of the dimmer stars in the Little Dipper.
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    Locate the North Star. Look due north to find the North Star, or Polaris. If you want to find the Little Dipper, this will be the easiest and brightest of its stars to spot. In order to find the North Star, though, you will need to use the Big Dipper.
    • Find the Big Dipper, first. There is no simple trick to doing this other than simply looking. The Big Dipper rotates around the North Star, and the North Star always lies toward the true north, so you can begin by looking toward the north. For most people in the northern parts of the continental United States, the Big Dipper is usually somewhere around the halfway point between the top of the night sky and the horizon. Adjust for latitude based on your location. For instance, as you get further south, look closer to the horizon to spot the Big Dipper. As you get further north, look closer to the top of the sky.
    • Identify Dubhe and Merak. These are two stars that make up the bowl of the Big Dipper, and they are also known as the “pointer stars” since they can be used to “point” to Polaris. More precisely, these two stars make up the outer edge of the bowl. Merak creates the "bottom corner" of the bowl and Dubhe stands in as that "top corner" of the bowl.
    • Draw an imaginary line connecting Merak and Dubhe. Extend this line to a point that is roughly five times longer than the length of the line itself. Somewhere around the end of this imaginary line, you should find Polaris.[1]
    • Polaris marks the first and brightest star in the Little Dipper, so you have effectively found the Little Dipper at this point even if you cannot make out the full shape of it. Polaris is the outermost star of the handle.
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    Look for Pherkad and Kochab. These are two stars at the front edge of the bowl of the Little Dipper. Aside from Polaris, these two stars are the only ones that are relatively easy to see with the naked eye.
    • Pherkad forms the "top corner" of the bowl of the Little Dipper and Kochab forms the "bottom corner" of the bowl.
    • These stars are also referred to as "Guardians of the Pole" because they rotate or march around Polaris. They are the nearest of the bright stars to the Polaris, and if you do not count Polaris, these two stars are the nearest bright stars to the northern pole or axis of the Earth.
    • The brightest star is Kochab, which is a second magnitude star with an orange glow. Pherkad is a third magnitude star but should still be fairly visible.
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    Connect the dots. Once you have the three brights stars of the Little Dipper in your sight, you can gradually search the sky around those stars to find the other four stars that complete the picture.
    • The easiest thing way to complete the pattern is to start by completing the bowl portion. The two inner "corners" of the bowl are made up of fourth and fifth magnitude stars, so they can be difficult to see in poor sky conditions.
    • After you find the remaining bowl stars, look for the handle stars. Keep in mind that Polaris is the outermost handle star. There should be two others positioned in between the bowl and the North Star.
    • Note that the Little Dipper will point in the opposite direction of the Big Dipper.[2] The handle of one will extend out in one direction, while the handle of the other will extend out in the exact opposite direction. Similarly, one will appear to be upside-down when the other appears right-side-up.

Part 2
Seasonal Changes and Other Considerations

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    Spring up and fall down. The position of the Little Dipper varies slightly based on the current time of year. During the spring and summer, the Little Dipper tends to be a bit higher in the sky. During the fall and winter, it tends to be a bit lower and nearer to the horizon.[3]
    • The Earth's rotation around the sun affects how you see the group of stars. Since the Earth is tilted on an axis, your geographic location with respect to the stars forming the Little Dipper can either be nearer or further. This angle changes whether the stars appear higher or lower in the sky as you look up.
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    Improve your chances during the right time of year. While you can technically find the Little Dipper during any time of the year under the right circumstances, the easiest time to view it is usually during spring evenings or winter mornings.[4]
    • At these points in time, the stars forming the Little Dipper should be fairly high in the sky. The brightness itself will not change, but you will have a clearer view.
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    Don't bother looking in the Southern Hemisphere. As noted previously, the position of the Little Dipper and the North Star will change based on the latitude of your location. If you travel all the way south, below the Equator and into the Southern Hemisphere, the north sky and its stars, including Polaris and the two Dippers, will not be visible.
    • As long as you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the North Pole and both the Big and Little Dippers should be circumpolar, meaning that they can be found above the horizon. These stars lie below the horizon if you are positioned in the Southern Hemisphere, though.
    • Note that at the North Pole, Polaris would be directly above you in the sky. At the South Pole, Polaris would be directly below you, at a point well beyond your range of sight.


  • Consider using a telescope or pair of binoculars. Use your naked eye to locate the general area that the Little Dipper should appear in. Once you narrow it down, pull out the binoculars or telescope and use it to get a closer view. Doing so might make it easier to find the Little Dipper itself, especially in less-than-ideal viewing conditions.
  • Note that the Little Dipper is not technically a constellation. Instead, it is an asterism, or a pattern of stars that form a portion of a constellation. In the instance of the Little Dipper, the asterism forms part of the constellation Ursa Minor, or the "Little Bear."

Things You'll Need

  • Telescope or binoculars (optional)

Article Info

Categories: Astronomy