Constellation of the Month: The Little Dipper

David Baumgartner writes about Ursa Minor, a constellation that includes the North Star.

This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.

Last month you learned how to find the North Pole or the North Star by using the two pointer stars in the constellation Ursa Major (Big Dipper). This star (Polaris), that seems to never move, belongs to a separate constellation called Ursa Minor or the Little Dipper. It is not as large and bright as the Big Dipper, only having two stars with any brightness at all and the North Star being one of them. Locating this smaller dipper is fairly difficult. It might be best to take out your star charts and compare it to the real thing in the sky.

It just amazes me how they came up with a bear of any kind in either dipper. Good imagination, I guess. I have yet to see a bear with such a long tail as these two have. There must be some reason why people associate bears, usually polar bears, with these constellations. When Europeans landed in North America, they found that some of the Native American tribes also call Ursa Major a bear.

If you happen to find yourself up just before sunrise any time this month, take a look at the three planets in the east looking back at you: Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.  On May 22, Jupiter’s moon Io will traverse (cross in front of) the jovian disk. You won’t be able to see Io itself, but its shadow. At times you can see one of the moons to the side of Jupiter and its shadow casting on the surface of the planet. You will need a decent size telescope for this view.

The nights are still a little chilly under the stars. So if you can bear it, bundle up and get out there this weekend with your whole family and see what you can find. Who knows, maybe the Little Dipper?

Clear skies.

May Sky Watch

May 16: Moon passes 4° south of Neptune

May 18: Moon is at apogee (252,018 miles from Earth)

May 20: Moon passes 4° south of Uranus

May 22: Mercury passes 0.9° south of Venus

May 22: New Moon

May 23: Moon passes 4° south of Venus

May 24: Moon passes 3° south of Mercury

May 29: First Quarter Moon


David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. College (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Questa, Colleges, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonville, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate License in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. In December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. None the less, I am retired and I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.