Sunday, October 16, 2011

Constellations - Big and Little Dippers

Throughout this year, Sophia and Olivia are going to be studying constellations and stars. We started with Polaris, Big Dipper, and Little Dipper.

We used the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey, and the Handbook of Nature Study website to learn these constellations as well as help the girls with their nature journal entries.


According to Find the Constellations, there are only about 2,500 stars at a time that are visible to the naked eye. With telescopes, it's different; giving people opportunities to see millions of stars.

Even though Polaris (with the stress on "lar") isn't one of the brightest stars in the sky (it's only of 2nd magnitude), it's an important star because it gives the illusion of standing still while the other constellations revolve around it (see photograph below). This isn't how it works, but simply how it appears due to the Earth's rotation.

"Polaris is also called the North Star....because it is always north," states Find the Constellations. "When you are looking at Polaris you are facing north, and to your right is east, to your left west, and south is behind you."

The Big Dipper

The Big Dipper is a group of seven bright stars. It is also known as the Drinking Gourd; and points the way to the North Star (Polaris). The Big Dipper is a part of the constellation Great Bear.

Both Polaris and the Big Dipper are night sky symbols that led the slaves to the Northern states and Canada, where they could live in freedom.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Astonomy Department, "The Big Dipper was also a very important part of the Underground Railroad which helped slaves escape from the South before the Civil War. There were songs spread among the slave population which included references to the 'Drinking Gourd.' The songs said to follow it to get to a better life. This veiled message for the slaves to flee northward was passed along in the form of songs since a large fraction of the slave population was illiterate."

The Little Dipper

The Little Dipper has Polaris at the tip of the handle. It is also called Little Bear, but it looks more like a dipper than a bear.

The Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and Polaris.

Natural Journaling

Sophia and Olivia each did a nature journal entry about Polaris, the Big Dipper, and the Little Dipper. 

Olivia's journal entry.

Sophia's journal entry.


Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

This is going to be a great year long study for your girls. I love how you are learning alongside your girls and it will be a great experience for them to keep up their star gazing throughout the year.

Thanks so much for sharing your entry with the OHC Carnival.

Crafty Cristy said...

I went outside this morning and found Polaris. I never knew that was its name. It was great.

Are you going to a place with few or no electric lights? You will see many more stars in a dark place than in one with lots of ambient light. Also, cold nights make great stargazing nights, because atmospheric conditions make the skies clearer. Happy stargazing.

I want to do this with my children. I may institute it for them next school year.

Zonnah said...

We should do this soon, thanks for sharing :)

Eva Varga said...

A fabulous year-long study! I've done a month-long moon study ... but would love to extend it. Thank you for the inspiration! :)

BTW - I'm a newbie to your blog (found you via the OHC) .. Do your girls study Mandarin? My kiddos are learning and I was just curious.