Telescope Nerd » How To See » How to See the Big Dipper With A Telescope?

How to See the Big Dipper With A Telescope?

The Big Dipper constellation is a group of stars belonging to the constellation Ursa Major or the Big Bear. It is easy to spot on any dark night in the Northern Hemisphere. The Big Dipper with its neighbor the Little Dipper can be seen rotating around the North star Polaris throughout the year. In summer and spring, you will find it at its highest in the Northern Hemisphere. For centuries, the Big Dipper has been used as a navigation tool as it has many bright stars like Alioth (1.8 magnitudes i.e. 102 times brighter than the Sun), Mizar and Alcor, etc.

What is a Big Dipper?

The Big Dipper, an asterism within the Ursa Major constellation, is a celestial treasure trove of deep-sky objects and stars that captivate the stargazing enthusiast. Its apparent magnitude, ranging from 1.79 to 3, influences the brightness and visibility of its stars, with the dimmest being Megrez at 3.3. The Big Dipper’s size, approximately 10 degrees wide and 28 degrees long, dwarfs its Little Dipper counterpart, making it a prominent feature in the night sky.

This stellar ensemble comprises seven stars – Dubhe, Merak, Phecda, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid – each a beacon of light in the cosmic expanse. Among these, the Mizar double star shines as a well-known optical double star, forming a binary system with Alcor that enchants the naked eye. The white stars in the Big Dipper, several times more massive than the Sun, not only guide the celestial navigator towards Polaris, the North Star, but also symbolize themes of guidance and enlightenment.

In the realm of deep-sky objects, the Big Dipper constellation boasts a celestial menagerie that includes Messier Object 51, NGC 3184, and IC 2574, offering a glimpse into the cosmic tapestry. Additionally, the M81 and M82 galaxies, with their unique features and active galactic nuclei, beckon telescope enthusiasts to explore their mysteries.

The Big Dipper’s shape, resembling a ladle or dipper, is a testament to its cultural significance and beauty. Nestled in the constellation Ursa Major, this celestial wonder shines brightest in the northern latitudes, offering a year-round spectacle to those who gaze upon its splendor. However, the allure of the Big Dipper is not immune to the encroaching threat of light pollution, which dims its radiance in polluted areas.

Amidst this cosmic symphony, the Alcor binary star adds an extra layer of intrigue to the Big Dipper, forming a part of the Mizar-Alcor system that enhances the constellation’s allure. Thus, the Big Dipper stands as a celestial beacon, guiding the way for stargazers and astronomers alike in the vast expanse of the night sky.

How far is Big Dipper from planet Earth?

The Big Dipper is a group of stars that form an asterism in the constellation Ursa Major. It is not a physical object with a measurable mass. The Big Dipper is not all at the same distance from Earth, but ranges from 78 to 124 light-years away. The five stars in the Ursa Major Moving Group (Mizar, Merak, Alioth, Megrez, and Phecda) are all about 80 light-years away, varying by only a few light-years. Alkaid and Dubhe, the two stars not in the Ursa Major Moving Group, are 101 and 124 light-years away respectively. The proper motion of the Big Dipper causes its shape to change over time, but it remains recognizable in the night sky due to Earth’s rotation and position.

Can you see Big Dipper with a telescope?

Yes, the Big Dipper can be seen with a basic telescope, with an aperture of at least 8 inches being recommended for the best view. The Celestron NexStar 8SE Telescope is a good choice for this purpose. The minimum magnification needed to view the Big Dipper is around 200x, and a focal length of approximately 1200mm is recommended. The Big Dipper and little dipper are located in the constellation Ursa Major in the Northern Hemisphere and is easily recognizable, making it a popular target for amateur astronomers. Studying nebulae with a telescope can provide insights into the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies, while observing the Big Dipper allows for a closer look at the individual stars within the constellation. Telescopes like the Orion SpaceProbe 130ST, Celestron Advanced VX 8 Edge HD, and Celestron NexStar 8SE are recommended for viewing deep sky objects in the Big Dipper. An infrared telescope would be best for viewing specific objects like the Big Dipper in space.

Quick Guide to Observe the Big Dipper

Make sure you are using a star map, it will greatly help. The Big Dipper and little dipper is not hard to spot. However, you can use star apps like Stellarium or others to find it easily. Find the darkest night and look towards the north horizon at 60 degrees angle. Center the Big Dipper on the finderscope with a low magnification and a long focal length object.

How to find the Big Dipper? 

  1. Find a location away from light pollution. The darkest the best. 
  2. Find out a position for yourself where the northern horizon is clear enough.
  3. You can take help from a map or a magnetic compass to find the north. Look into the northern sky at a 60-degree angle. If it is mid-summer or autumn, the Big Dipper will be near the horizon. It will be hard to see from the southern locations.

What is the best time to observe the Big Dipper?

The best time to view the Big Dipper is during summer from March to June at around 10 p.m.

What can you see with the Big Dipper with a telescope?

  • Polaris- the North Star
  • The constellation Ursa Major- The Great Bear
  • Arcturus and Spica
  • Capella
  • Regulus
  • Castor
  • Deep Sky Objects in Ursa Major
  • M101 – The Pinwheel Galaxy in Ursa Major
  • M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy
  • M81 and M82
  • M81 (left) and M82 (right) in Ursa Major
  • M97 – The Owl Nebula Location in Ursa Major
  • The naked eye double star Mizar and Alcor in the handle of the Big Dipper

What telescope to see the Big Dipper?

Celestron – NexStar 8SE Telescope – Computerized Telescope, and Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector, are great telescopes to see The Big Dipper. A list of telescopes has more telescope options that can see The Big Dipper very clearly.

What size telescope to see the Big Dipper?

With a 70mm telescope, you will get great views of The Big Dipper. The more the aperture, the better and sharper the images and the details. But to get the best details you should have a telescope with at least 500 mm of aperture.

What magnification is required to see the Big Dipper?

50x magnification is enough to show the whole moon. However, 150x magnification is better to see the details. The Big Dipper can tolerate higher magnification than all other night sky objects. It also helps to reduce glare from The Big Dipper.

Enjoying the Big Dipper? Here are other things to see with your telescope.

The Big Dipper is a collection of stars that appear awesome with a telescope. However, the same telescopes can show you the amazing planets of the solar system with their moons. Myriads of nebulae, galaxies, and asteroids look outstanding with your telescope. Viewing The Sun Through A Telescope can guide you to observe our own star with full eye protection. You also can go through  ‘List of things to see with a telescope’ to get an idea of the objects you can plan to observe next time.