One of the first things I can remember learning about astronomy was star-hopping using the Big Dipper. I learned this technique from illustrations in the 1952 book “The Stars: A New Way to See Them” by H.A. Rey – the creator of “Curious George.” I still have a copy of that book today.
The Big Dipper is not a constellation, it is an asterism: a prominent pattern of stars, having a popular name, composed of stars from one or more constellations. The Big Dipper is an asterism in the constellation Ursa Major – “The Great Bear”
The Big Dipper can be used to star-hop all over the night sky; I find myself doing this unconsciously quite frequently.
Ursa Major is host to numerous deep sky objects:
An interesting object in the handle of the Big Dipper is the naked eye double star Mizar and Alcor. When I was a younger, I could just barely see that there are two stars there; when giving night sky tours, I often challenge young observers to do the same. Mizar and Alcor are not gravitationally bound, rather they are nearly in line with each other when viewed from the Earth.
In a small telescope Mizar and Alcor separate, and it becomes apparent that Mizar is itself a double star.
But that’s not all: Alcor is also a double star, and Mizar is a double double star!
Mizar and Alcor Gallery: