Wonder Contributors

Special thanks to our Wonder Friend Julie Kaufman of West Des Moines, Iowa, for nominating today’s Wonder!

A warm evening…a blanket…a dark sky full of bright stars…these are the pieces of a perfect night for stargazing! Do you like to look up at the stars and WONDER about what’s up there? Are there aliens? What is life like on other planets? How many stars are there?

These are the kinds of questions it’s fun to WONDER about as you gaze at the stars. You might also enjoy picking out constellations.

Constellations are groups of stars in the sky that have been defined by and agreed upon by an international group of astronomers. Most constellations have a long history and were identified hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.

The stars within a constellation can be incredible distances apart. Yet, when viewed from Earth’s night sky, they appear to be close together and form some sort of pattern.

For example, one of the most popular and easily-identifiable constellations is called Ursa Major, which means “The Great Bear.” Ursa Major is easy to identify because of seven of the stars within the constellation known as the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper, although sometimes referred to as a constellation, is actually an asterism.

An asterism is an interesting pattern of stars within a larger constellation. The Big Dipper, also sometimes called the Plough, is made up of the seven brightest stars within Ursa Major.

Like all groups of stars, the position of the Big Dipper changes throughout the year. In the summer sky, it’s usually not too difficult to find, though, as its unique ladle shape is easy to learn and spot.

You can also use two of the stars in the “cup” of the Big Dipper to locate Polaris, the North Star. Since the Big Dipper orbits around the northern portion of the sky, African-American slaves in the 19th century often used the Big Dipper, which many of them called “the Drinking Gourd,” to guide them on their way toward freedom in the North.

106 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (23 votes, avg. 3.43 out of 5)
  1. That’s a great wonder wonderopolis I was on the beach and we were all looking at the stars and we found the BIG dipper well we didn’t find the BIG dipper our friends found the BIG dipper but we all were looking at the stars together.

    • Kate, that sounds like an awesome place to Wonder! We’re so happy to hear that you and your friends spotted the Big Dipper while you were stargazing! Your Wonder comment really made us light up! :)

    • Have you seen the Big Dipper in the sky, Aiden? What a cool group of stars to Wonder about today! Thanks for visiting us! :)

    • We agree, Wonder Friend Brita! We are excited that we can all Wonder together about the great stars of the sky! :)

    • We totally agree, Kennedy! We Wonder if you have spotted the North Star, or Polaris, too? We’re so happy you’re been stargazing with us today! :)

  2. I didn’t know the Big Dipper wasn’t a constellation.
    I also didn’t know that the slaves used the constellation to find the northern stars.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friends Jensen! It sounds like we’ve all learned something new together today– we always thought the Big Dipper was a constellation, too! :)

      We bet thousands, maybe even millions, of people see the Big Dipper throughout the year! It all depends on where they are located and if they look up at night! Thanks for visiting us today! :)

    • Hello Wonder Friends Jensen, we LOVE all your awesome questions! We enjoyed WONDERing about the Big Dipper with you today, and there are other formations of stars in the sky. Some other constellations that you might see in the month of April include: Chameleon, Crater, Hydro, Leo, Leo Minor, and Ursa Major, too! We hope you’ll check them out! We are glad this Wonder connects to what you’re learning in class! The moon is so very cool! :)

    • Great questions, Wonder Friends Jensen! We are thrilled that this Wonder made you smile, and we hope you’ll continue to stargaze in the evenings! While stars create the formation of the Bid Dipper, astronomers are still trying to find out how close, or far away, the stars are to one another! There are lots of other constellations in the sky in addition to Ursa Major. You can do some WONDERing of your own to learn about the other constellations, including Orion, Gemini, and Pictor. :)

  3. That is funny how we are learning things about space in class and someone nominated a wonder of the big dipper! That is cool. We are studying the moon! Have you seen the Big Dipper? You can see it if you look though a telescope.

    • How cool, Wonder Friends Jensen! We’re glad to hear that this Wonder matches perfectly with your space lessons in class! What great timing! We are going to be on the look out for the Big Dipper this month, and a few of our Wonder Friends have seen it in the past! We love WONDERing about how large the universe is- there’s so much to explore! :)

  4. Kalea didn’t know that the Big Dipper was not a constellation.

    Isabela didn’t know that the Big Dipper could show you the way to go North.

    • Hey there, Mrs. Thomas’ Class! We are so excited that you shared what you learned, and we’re happy to hear that Kalea and Isabela both learned something new today! We’re glad we all learned that the actual term used to describe the Big Dipper is “asterism”, which describes a pattern of stars! How cool to learn something awesome with you! We will always know what direction we’re heading if we see the Big Dipper and the star Polaris! :)

  5. Thoughts, Questions, Connections: Bryan- This wonder should have been about the Little Dipper. Savion- This video was not as interesting as the others. Destiny- Why was there NyQuil in the video? Alexia- Can you touch stars? Hayden- Does every star have a name? Sierra- Does every star have heat?

    Predictions: Erica- What causes rain? Savion- How much rain comes down in a year? Alexia- Why does it rain? Stephanie- What is rain? Stevie- Where does rain come from? Aaliyah- How do clouds hold water? Bryan- Can rain turn to ice? Hayden- Does rain water evaporate to clouds? Sierra- How do thunderstorms form?

    • Good afternoon, Wonder Friends in Mrs. VanDusen’s Class! Thanks for sharing your comments! We’re sorry to hear that this wasn’t one of your favorite videos, but we’re glad you’ve been thinking about all the awesome things happening in the universe! We hope you’ll keep up the WONDERing, Bryan, Savion, Destiny, Alexia, Hayden and Sierra! Stars are so very far away, and you can even name some stars that don’t have names! How cool is that? Stars emit gas, which is why they are bright and we can see them all the way from Earth! :)

      We are preparing our rain jackets for tomorrow’s Wonder… your guesses are splash-tastic, Erica, Savion, Alexia, Stephanie, Stevie, Aaliyah, Bryan, Hayden and Sierra! Great work! :)

  6. Hi Wonderopolis!

    Our class has a connection: we recently went on a field trip to a planetarium and we saw the big dipper, the little dipper, the big, bear, the little bear, a dog, and the brightest star! We also saw orion and leo the lion.

    The big dipper and the little dipper look like a pot.

    We predict tomorrow’s wonder will be about rain, splashing at the pool, snow, a hose, storms, a puddle,a sprinkler, sleet, a water slide, a water gun, or a hail.

    • WOWZA, how AWESOME that you’ve checked out constellations of all kinds, Froggy 1! It sounds like your trip to the planetarium was OUT OF THIS WORLD! :) We agree with you about the Little and Big Dippers– they do look like a pot! We can’t wait for more WONDERing with you tomorrow! See you soon! :)

  7. Connections: Combining stars can make different shapes. (Alexandra) The big dipper kind of looks like a kite. (Will) It reminds me of the fireworks at Disney World. (Tatum)
    It reminds me of the time I went to the planetarium and I saw different animals in the sky. (Chanelle)

    Emma wonders if it changes with each season?

    • Great comments, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Glover’s K-Class! It sounds like you’ve been comparing and contrasting different constellations with us today! HOW COOL! Thanks for telling us about your awesome connections to today’s Wonder, Alexandra, Will, Tatum and Chanelle!

      Emma, great question! Certain constellations are easier to see at different times. For example, we should be able to see the Big Dipper in the sky this month! :)

  8. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We meant to write yesterday, but did not get a chance. We would like to thank you for using Brady and Liam’s idea about martial arts, for your wonder yesterday. Our class writes to you on a regular basis (as a whole class, or individually), and are always thrilled that you take the time to write back to everyone personally. We are true WONDER friends and fans, please keep up the amazing work.
    From your ever wondering friends,
    Ms. Barnett’s grade 4 and 5 class :)

    • Good afternoon, Ms. Barnett’s 4/5 Class! We’re so excited to have great Wonder Friends like you! Thanks for visiting us– we were so excited to learn all about martial arts that some of us here at Wonderopolis have signed up for classes! We are so pumped! :)

      Thanks for sharing your awesome comments, nominated Wonders and smiles! We are lucky to have great friends like you, too! See you soon! :)

  9. Ryan said that the big dipper is not a constellation, Samantha said the big dipper is part of a big constellation. Ava said the big dipper is the tail of Ursa Major. Skyler said Ursa Major connects a picture. Mr. Flinn took Astronomy twice in college and always thought the big dipper was a constellation. Probably why he had to take the class twice.

    • Good afternoon, Wonder Friends in Mr. Flinn’s Kindergarten Class! We are so excited your here today– we even saw some of your amazing art on Twitter today! WAY TO GO! :)

      It sounds like we all learned something new, including Ryan, Samantha, Ava, Sklyer, and Mr. Flinn, too! :) So many of us always thought the Big Dipper was a constellation, but we are glad we all learned that it’s actually a part of a constellation! The technical term is called an asterism, or a collection of stars forming a pattern! Keep up the great WONDERing, and everyone be sure to give Mr. Flinn a high five today! Astronomy twice… we like to call that perseverance! :)

  10. -_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
    Wow Lots OF Big Words!!!…I Didn’t Understand A Word They Said!!! :(

    I Wonder What’s Next???
    If You’re Coming To Wonderopolis Tomorrow, Better Bring An Umbrella!!!
    Oh Um Is It Rain!!! 😀
    Join Us Next Time In The Exciting Conclusion Of The Rainy Day!!! 😀

    • Hey there, Max! We’re glad you’re here… and we hope you’ll check out today’s Wonder again! Sometimes those large words can be intimidating, but we know you’ll get it! Stars are so much fun to Wonder about, and we cannot wait to find out what tomorrow’s Wonder will bring! :)

  11. I thought the video was awesome. I loved how it showed the big dipper up close.

    Connection: I’ve seen the big dipper before. I actually got to see it up close on my telescope.

    Prediction: Why does it rain.

    • Hello to our Wonder Friends William, Roody and I, and Meghan! Thanks for sharing your comments about the Big Dipper and astronomy of all sorts! William, way to go- you learned something new! Roody and I, it sounds like you’ve been stargazing already! Meghan, how cool that you have a telescope of your own! We look forward to WONDERing with you tomorrow! Stay dry! :)

  12. Our guesses for tomorrow :)
    Maybe rain…but we think you’re probably playing a trick on us. So, our other guesses are:
    water cycle
    cats and dogs
    Mary Poppins
    Wow…we came up with quite a list. Can’t wait to see if one of our guesses is correct!
    The Pink Panthers :)

    • WOW, we are so excited to read all your awesome Wonder guesses! Way to go, PinkPanthers! Tomorrow’s going to be soggy, but we’ll still have fun! We are so glad to have great Wonder Friends like you! :)

  13. The video was super amazing, but I noticed that we learned it in science.

    I thought a dipper was something that flies in the sky , but now I remember that it is a shape formed by the north star I think a makes kind of a bucket with a long handle.

    How does it rain? Is my next wonder of the day.

    • Good afternoon, Shaviyana and Angel! Thank you both for sharing your Wonder comments today! The Big Dipper sure is cool, isn’t it? :)

      The Big Dipper has lots of names, and it resembles different types of things… such as a pot, a bucket, a ladle, a long spoon! We can’t wait to Wonder with you again and we hope you bring your rain boots! :)

  14. Good morning Wonderopolis! I have heard all kinds of tales for the big dipper. My favorite story from the big dipper is the one that helped the slaves come to freedome. Lovely video.

    Well have a good day! :3

    • Good afternoon, Gabe and Wonder Friend M! We are leaping for joy as we read your awesome comments! Isn’t it awesome to learn more about our solar system? It’s so vast, but we will continue to Wonder about it! Thakns for sharing your comments and your predictions, too! :)

  15. We were very surprised that the “Big Dipper” rotates with the seasons. We made a connection to a story about slaves finding their way to Canada by following the starts of the “Big Drinking Gourd.” That was a cool connection. We also learned a new fact about the Big Dipper being a part of Ursa Major. That was definitely a WONDERful fact for us to learn.
    We are WONDERing about “precipitation” or weather related wonders for tomorrow?

    • Good afternoon, Mrs. Larsen’s Detectives! We are so excited that you shared all the awesome things you learned today! A few of our Wonder Friends have told us about stories they have read about the Big Drinking Gourd. What an amazing story. We are so very happy that you visited us today, Wonder Friends! Grab your raincoat– it’s going to be a soggy Wonder tomorrow! :)

  16. Prediction: Tomorrow’s wonder may be about….

    April showers?
    Hot temperatures?
    The sun?

    • So many awesome predictions for tomorrow, we can barely contain our excitement! HOORAY for WONDERing with Miss Komarchuk’s Class! YOU ROCK! :)

  17. What we learned:
    Asterisms are patterns that form shapes within a constelation. – Sean

    We sang the Drinking Gourd song, and read the book last year for Chorus. – Daniela

    What is rain? – Peter
    Water Cycle – Haneefah

    Thank you to the class that responds so often for assisting us with a format for our responses…is it Mrs. Hess? I’m sorry if I messed up my credit!

    • Good afternoon, Mrs. Ross’s Class! Thanks for telling us all about what you learned today! Sean, Daniela, Peter, and Haneefah, we are so proud of all of you! Your thoughts, connections and predictions are so out of this world– YOU ROCK! :)

      Sean and Daniela, we love reading about your thoughts and connections to today’s Wonder! Peter and Haneefah, grab your rain gear! We are glad Mrs. Hess helped you set up your comments- she is really great! :)

  18. Thank you for listening to kids’ ideas! This class is super excited. We love learning from your WONDERS each day!
    From, 3D in WDM, IA

    • WOOHOO, we are so excited that we can hardly stop smiling! Thank YOU for sharing your awesome idea for a Wonder, 3D in WDM! We are lucky to have such great Wonder Friends! :)

    • We hope you’ll get to see it in the future, Ariel… perhaps you and your family can do some stargazing of your own this Spring! :)

  19. We thought it was really cool that the Big Dipper is actually part of Ursa Major. Many of us have seen the Big Dipper in the stars but we didn’t realize it was part of Ursa Major. We also loved learning a new word – asterism.

    Our predictions for tomorrow are:
    The biggest storm
    The water cycle
    How many storms are there?
    Acide rain

    Thanks Wonderopolis!

    • Hello Wonder Friends in Mrs. Zitar’s Class! We are so excited that we can all Wonder together today! How awesome- you learned all about Ursa Major AND you learned a new word (so did we): asterism! :)

      Get ready for a soggy Wonder tomorrow! Thanks for sharing your awesome predictions! :)

  20. I have never seen the big dipper but I have heard it is in the shape of a pan like object. I wonder how big stars are since stars are so tiny down here on earth. I wonder what #934’s wonder will be?

    • Hey there, Brooke, you’re right! The Big Dipper resembles a pot or a pan, just like you mentioned! We hope you can check it out for yourself, the Big Dipper is quite beautiful! Keep WONDERing with us Brooke, and we hope you’ll do some research about stars, too! :)

  21. I think the big dipper is cool because of what the shape it makes and how it is formed. I think the name “The Big Dipper” is a cool name because it has the word dipper in it which is like a spoon.

    • Hi there, Aubree, we are so glad you enjoyed this Wonder with us today! The Big Dipper has a SUPER cool name, and we are glad you can see the cool shape of the asterism! :)

  22. I wonder when the big dipper will run out of fuels and blow up? I wonder why it hasn’t blown up yet because it’s so old?

    • We think it’s great that you’ve been WONDERing about how old the stars in the Big Dipper are, Michael.A! Way to go! Keep WONDERing with your awesome imagination! :)

  23. I didn’t know that the big dipper is not a constellation but a group of astroids. (cool) 😉 😉

  24. I believe the Big Dipper is to the north. I live in Minnesota where it is kind of countryside so when it is really dark out I can see the Big Dipper.
    A couple of predictions are:
    -why do people like animals?
    -how did scientists discover the periodic table?
    -why does a peach have fuzz?
    I hope you can use some of these wonders in the future!!!

    • Good afternoon, Dillon and True Cowgirl! We’re so happy to read your awesome comments today! The group of stars that make up the Big Dipper are quite amazing– we are glad you have seen it in your backyard, True Cowgirl! We love your enthusiasm, Dillon! We look forward to WONDERing with you both again! :)

  25. I love learning about astronomy. I think it’s really interesting. I love looking up at the sky in the summer and trying to find the Big Dipper. What I really wonder about when I’m looking at the stars is how may constellations are there in the sky?

  26. I can’t believe that the Big Dipper was seen one hundred years ago or maybe even one thousand years ago. I wonder how the stars ended up like that, in the shape of a dipper.

    • Hey there, Amme and McKenna! Your comments are so awesome– thank you for sharing what you learned today… and what you’ll continue to Wonder about! :)

      Keep your eyes, ears and mind open to Wonder! :)

  27. The Big Dipper is north. It’s a constellation known as the Ursa Major. The slaves used it to find the drinking gourd.

    • Hi there, Alex, we are glad you’ve been thinking about what you learned from our starry Wonder! The Big Dipper IS North, and it’s part of a constellation. The technical term for the Big Dipper is “asterism”– it’s a cluster of stars that are brightest! Thanks for visiting us and sharing your comment! :)

  28. I didn’t know that the big dipper isn’t a constellation. For my whole life I thought it was a constellation. It’s actually an asterism.
    I think it’s really cool that slaves used the big dipper or the drinking gourd to find freedom to the north.

  29. I have seen the big dipper many times in the sky. When my family is driving home in the summer I usually look for the big dipper and find it right away. I think it was interesting how I got to learn more than I know. Sometimes after I find the big dipper I look for the little dipper but I never find it!

    • Good morning, Laura and Maddy! We are so happy that you have both been WONDERing about the Big Dipper with us– it’s cool to learn the proper term for the Big Dipper! It’s an asterism! :)

      We hope you’ll continue to keep your eyes and ears open for the Wonder around you! Perhaps you’ll find the Little Dipper soon, Maddy! :)

  30. I think I will find the big dipper tonight. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about rain and umbrellas. I like the wonder you did today.

    • Hi there, Brynn and Elijah!

      We’re glad you’ve been searching for the Big Dipper, Brynn, and we’re glad you shared your comment today! We hope you stay dry tomorrow! :-)

      Elijah, you’re right! The North star is at the very tip of the Big Dipper– it’s been used as a guide to those traveling for thousands of years! What a great comment! :)

  31. I think the big dipper is important because it reminds us of the drinking gourd and I don’t get why they call it a plough.

  32. Hi I have never seen the big dipper but from what I heard about it so far it sounds so cool. I WONDER how many astroids make up the big dipper also when did the astronauts find the big dipper?

    • Hello to our Wonder Friends Justin B, Sami and Macy! We’re so happy that you’ve been using your awesome imaginations to Wonder with us about the Big Dipper! A plough is a type of machine used in farming, Justin B, and the Big Dipper resembles a plough when you see it in the sky. :)

      Sami, we hope you can check out the Big Dipper for yourself someday soon! The Big Dipper is made up of seven bright stars– you can Wonder about it by reading our Wonder! :)

      Macy, no one really knows how the Big Dipper was formed– but the cluster of stars forms a patter that astronomers have called the Big Dipper! :)

  33. Thanks for the information about the Big Dipper, but we can’t see it in the sky in the southern hemisphere. Maybe Wonderopolis could also talk about the Southern Cross (Crux) which is an important constellation that we see in the southern Hemisphere.

    • That’s a fantastic idea, Mrs. Keane! We are so glad you shared some more information about a constellation known as the Southern Cross! What a great addition to our starry Wonder! Thank you so much! :)

  34. I have heard of the big dipper and I have seen it on TV but I have never seen it in real life. I wonder how many people have seen it. I hope to see it this weekend and I can’t believe how long it’s been around.

    • Good afternoon, Wonder Friends Matt, Brittany and Mason! We love that you are using your awesome imaginations to Wonder about space with us! We hope all of you will be able to check out the Big Dipper soon, and perhaps you’ll see some other constellations throughout the year! We think it’s cool to imagine all the different people, over the course of time, who have seen the same formation we can see– the Big Dipper! :)

  35. Hi wonderopolis! I know we’re a little late but we’d like to comment!
    The other night we where gazing the stars cause we where having a camp out then when we where putting stuff on the grill for our dinner cause we know how to grill while I flipped some burgers Jaimjaim said Kk look! Pointing to the sky we saw the Big Dipper! It’s pretty amazing! Speaking of burgers…

    • Hello to our awesome Wonder Friends KK and Jaimjaim! We are so excited that you’ve been doing some stargazing of your own! Nice work! It sounds like you had a delicious dinner while you enjoyed the great outdoors! It’s so amazing that you spotted the Big Dipper- it must have been a clear night! It sounds WONDERful! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your comment, Adrianna! We are glad you have been WONDERing with us as we zoom into space to discover the Big Dipper! Keep your eyes open wide as you stargaze! :)

    • What a WONDERful activity to do together as a family, Paige! Were you all able to find it? Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Where is the Big Dipper?
  • What is an asterism?
  • Can you make up your own constellations?

Wonder Gallery

927Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Are you seeing stars yet? If not, just wait! Grab a friend or family member and explore one or more of the following out-of-this-world activities:

  • Ready to do some stargazing? Grab a blanket, some snacks, and some friends or family members and head out to the great outdoors. There’s nothing quite like relaxing after dark and taking in the incredible sights in the heavens above. Can you spot some constellations? If you need help finding or identifying common constellations, just jump online and print out a sky map to help you. Can you find the Big Dipper?
  • Of course, rather than spotting constellations, you could also make up your own! Way, way back in time, someone had to come up with the constellations, right? Just imagine that you’re the first person ever to see the night sky. What patterns do you see in the stars? What groupings of stars might you select as constellations? What would you call them? Use a drawing pad and pen to chart the stars that you see. Have fun creating your own constellations!

Up for a challenge? Check out the fun Zodiac Track activity. You’ll illustrate the constellations of the zodiac and Polaris and re-create the band of zodiac signs. Along the way, you’ll develop a greater understanding that Earth’s rotation and axial inclination causes the apparent progression of stars across the night sky. You can also explore why we see certain signs of the zodiac at certain times of the year in the activity Celestial Circles.

Still Wondering

Many cultures, like the Greeks and some American Indians, have used constellations to remember the stories of heroes. Included in an OurStory module from Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History entitled “Exploring the Sky,” the Constellation Maker activity is designed to help children and adults enjoy exploring history together through the use of children’s literature, everyday objects, and hands-on activities.

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