Similar to Ursa Major, which contains the Big Dipper asterism, Ursa Minor contains another recognizable asterism that is often called the Little Dipper. Some of the dimmer dipper stars can be difficult to locate in city skies, and the other stars forming the bear might be impossible to see. Polaris, the constellation’s brightest star, is found at the end of the bear’s tail, or at the end of the dipper handle. This star is thought by some to be significant because it is the brightest star in the sky, which is incorrect – Sirius in Canis Major is actually the brightest star in all of the night sky. An observer can verify that Polaris is not the brightest star in the sky by locating it, and comparing it with other stars in the rest of the sky. Polaris can be located by using the Big Dipper’s pointer stars, the two stars at the end of the dipper bowl away from the handle, and drawing an imaginary line upwards from the top of the bowl.
Ursa Minor is the 56th-largest constellation, and one of the 48 constellations cataloged by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remain among the 88 modern constellations. There are no Messier objects in this constellation.
© James R. Johnson, 2014.