Stargazing: The quiet Autumn sky

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You may have noticed that the autumn sky has fewer bright stars and distinctive constellations than the other three seasons. Even the Big Dipper appears to be missing from the evening sky. The reason for the lackluster sky now is because we are looking directly out of the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy, and the Big Dipper isn't really missing. You just need to know where to look for it.

The Big Dipper is an asterism, or pattern of seven stars located in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Ursa Major is a circumpolar constellation, which means it's always in the sky rotating counterclockwise around Polaris the "North Star." Contrary to popular belief, second magnitude Polaris is not the brightest star in the night sky. At 9 p.m., look for the Big Dipper just above the northern horizon. The dipper will continue rotating so it can be found standing on its handle by 3 a.m., and by sunrise the dipper will be high in the northeastern sky.



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