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The Little Dipper Asterism

The Little Dipper is often mistaken for the whole constellation Ursa Minor. But there's no truth to that! Little Dipper is actually an asterism in the North sky, formed by the brightest stars of the Ursa Minor or "little bear" constellation. An asterism is a pattern of stars that is not itself a constellation but maybe a part of one.

But why Dipper? Because the Little Dipper looks like the handle of a ladle. The handle of the Little Dipper forms the stars of the bear's tail while its cup forms the bear's flank. The star Polaris marks the end of the Little Dipper's handle. Interestingly, the Big and Little Dippers are called "The Kites" in England because they look like kites too!

Where Is The Little Dipper?

Looking for the Little Dipper? First, look for the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper's stars Merak and Dubhe point towards Polaris, the brightest star of the Little Dipper. It is located in the third quadrant of the Northern Hemisphere. Moreover, the Little Dipper is a circumpolar star, so it is always above the horizon.

Can I Actually See The Little Dipper?

Well, yes, and no. You can see the Little Dipper, but not all of it. Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case you can neither see Little Dipper nor Ursa Minor. Little Dipper is visible at latitudes 90 and -10 in June at around 9 pm. The Little Dipper consist of seven stars, however the four stars between Kochab, Polaris, and Pherkad are very dim, and you probably won't be able to see them. So yes, you can see the Little Dipper, but to see all seven stars, you'll need to be in a very dark country.

Little Dipper Asterism

By Till Credner - Own work: AlltheSky.com

Navigating With The Little Dipper:

Polaris is also called the North Star because it indicates the location of the North Pole. The star is positioned just above the horizon and thus can help sailors navigate better than any compass ever could! If you're from the North Pole, Polaris is directly overhead. However, it appears near the horizon to observers close to the equator. And at mid-northern latitudes, it appears halfway between the horizon and zenith, which is the highest point on the celestial scale.

History Of The Little Dipper:

In older days, the little Dipper was the wings of the constellation named Draco The Dragon. But stars are always moving in space, and their patterns slowly drift apart in what is known as "precession." However, it is believed that the Greek philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician Thales clipped off Draco's wings to assist the Phoenicians in navigating using the Little Dipper. Furthermore, in Thales's time, Kochab and Pherkad were twin pole stars in the North instead of the Polaris. They are also called the Guardians of The Pole for this very reason.

Mythologies Associated With The Little Dipper:

The Little Dipper has several myths associated with it.

Arcas And His Mother Castillo:

It is believed that Arcas and Castillo were turned into the big and little bears by Zeus. Castillo, the nymph, could only be with the Goddess Artemis but Zeus very cunningly disguised himself to seduce her. Unfortunately, Zeus' wife Hera found out about Zeus' fling with Castillo and their son Arcas. Hera turned Castillo into a bear. Later, when Arcas came across the big bear, he sought to kill it, but Zeus saved her and set both mother and son in the sky as constellations.

Hera’s Hesperides:

Another myth projects the seven stars of the Little Dipper as the seven Hesperides that Hera had appointed to guard her orchard of immorality giving apples. The Hesperides, though, appeared to be sneaking apples themselves, and so Hera appointed a never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon called Ladon to keep an eye on them. This dragon is the nearby constellation Draco.

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Polaris And Other Stars Of The Little Dipper:

The little dipper has seven stars – namely Polaris, Kochab, Yildun, Pherkad, Ahfaal al Farkadain, Anwar al Farkadain and Epsilon or Urodelus.

Polaris (Alpha Ursae Minoris) Of The Little Dipper:

With a magnitude of 2.02, this yellow-white supergiant is the brightest star in the entire constellation. Polaris is a multiple star system with one main and two companion stars as well as two other components. It is approximately 425 light-years away from the earth.

We used to call it Dog's tail, but now it's Polaris or the North Star. But it might not be the north star forever! Fourteen thousand years from now, Vega from the Lyra constellation might overthrow Polaris as the North Star. But not to worry because experts speculate that Polaris will regain the title after another 14000 years.

Kochab (Beta Ursae Minoris):

This orange giant is 131 light-years away from our solar system and 390 times brighter than the sun. The Kochab is also the brightest star in the Little Dipper’s bowl. At a visual magnitude of 2.08, it is only second to Polaris.

Pherkad (Gamma Ursae Minoris):

The Arabian name Pherkad means "dim one of the two calves," and Pherkad is named so in reference to Kochab. This white supergiant is a shell with a circumstellar disk of gas around it. It is situated 487 light-years away from the earth and has a visual magnitude of 3.05.

Yield (Delta Ursae Minoris) Of The Little Dipper:

This white-hued star is 172 light-years away from the solar system and has a magnitude of 4.35, which makes it 47 times brighter than the sun.

Ahfaal al Farkadain (Zeta Ursae Minoris):

Inspired by Kochab and Pherkad, Zeta and Eta are also referred to as the two calves. Zeta is the dimmer of the two at a magnitude of 4.32.

Anwar al Farkadain (Eta Ursae Minoris):

The "brighter of the two calves," also called Alasco, is a yellow-hued star that has a magnitude of 4.95 and is barely even visible to the naked eye.

Urodelus (Epsilon Ursae Minoris):

This triple star system has an eclipsing binary star and a third component, which is an 11th magnitude star. The Urodelus is 347 light-years away from us.