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Astronomy: The Big Dipper and the Seasons - Explore

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Sierra Daily

11/21/2010

Astronomy: The Big Dipper and the Seasons

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Can you tell during what season this photo was taken? Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that by looking at a picture of the Big Dipper, you can tell what season it was taken?

One assumption we must first make is that the photo was taken sometime during the evening hours. Because the stars continue to spin overhead all night long (or, more accurately, Earth continues to spin), the Big Dipper will change appearance over the course of a night. However, if we assume that most photos are taken in the evening and not at 1 a.m. or 4 a.m., we can tell what season it was when the image was taken due to the Big Dipper’s appearance.

On fall evenings, the Big Dipper skims along the horizon. It can almost look like a spoon resting on the ground, with the mouth of the dipper exposed and facing up. To remember this, imagine that the Big Dipper is catching the autumn leaves as they fall.

On winter evenings, the Big Dipper is poised so that the handle dangles down from the spoon shape. Think of this handle as an icicle hanging off the bowl to remind you of how the Big Dipper looks in winter.

On spring evenings, the Big Dipper has seemed to have turned upside down. Any liquid that the imagined dipper might have been holding is spilling out onto the ground. Think of spring showers falling from the Big Dipper to remember its vernal appearance.

On summer evenings, the Big Dipper seems to be headed down toward the ground with the bowl first, as if an invisible hand were using the dipper in preparation to scoop a giant bowlful of water from the sea. Hot summer evenings can remind you of the need to get a cool drink as the Big Dipper dives down for a dip.

Now, looking at the photo above, if it was taken in the evening hours, you should be able to figure out what season the image was taken in.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt

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