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There are two clusters of stars that I always thought were the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. But after looking at images of the Little Dipper and Big Dipper online, I am not too sure if that's what they are. Also, I found out that the front edge of the Big Dipper is supposed to be aligned with Polaris (or the North Star), which is part of the Little Dipper, but that's not the case with these clusters of stars that I see.

So last night I took this photo:

Two clusters of stars circled

I circled the clusters of stars that I thought were the Little Dipper and Big Dipper. I would like to know if either of these clusters are indeed the Little Dipper or Big Dipper. If either of them are not the Little Dipper or Big Dipper, what are they? And where should I look in relation to these two clusters to find the Little Dipper and Big Dipper?

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    $\begingroup$ I have a rather dinky app on my tablet. if you hold it up it has a picture of the stars you are looking at, labelled with their names. As a plus, if you hold it pointing down it shows you the stars over Australia, which is rather cool. There are many apps to choose from, so I won't advertise. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Dec 17 '20 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ There's a very relevant XKCD comic, but it's also very rude. $\endgroup$ – Eric Duminil Dec 17 '20 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ Pleiades does in fact look like a very little dipper. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Dec 17 '20 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ For the curious ones, the comic mentioned by @EricDuminil is xkcd.com/66 $\endgroup$ – D-Brc Dec 17 '20 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ If you make a fist and hold it at arms length, the big dipper will be a bit larger than that by your view. $\endgroup$ – J.Hirsch Dec 17 '20 at 21:34
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As mentioned, these are the Pleiades, and the belt of Orion. These are visible in the South at this time of year. The Big and Little Dippers are in the North, so turn around. The best way to find them is a map:

enter image description here

I've marked the approximate edge of your photo, with Orion, the V of the Hyades and the small cluster called the Pleiades. The big dipper is much bigger. It is usually quite easy to find, in the North East, In this map it is labeled "Ursa Major" which means "great bear".

The little dipper is a rather faint constellation. Even its brightest star, Polaris, is only second magnitude. You can find it by tracing from the pointers in Ursa Major (I've coloured them green). It is the only moderately bright star in that region of the sky. Once you have found the Pole star, it is possible to make out the faint stars that make up the rest of the Ursa Minor, the little dipper.

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  • $\begingroup$ thanks, so if I pretty much look directly to the left of where I took the photo, I should be able to see the big dipper and little dipper. $\endgroup$ – Cave Johnson Dec 17 '20 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ From Orion's shoulder (betelgeuse), move to Gemini the twins. and from there arc to the big dipper. Note it is much larger than either of the groups of stars that you have circled. The best thing would be to print out a map like this for your region, date and time and try to find as many of the constellations as possible. Orion, Sirus, Taurus and the V of the Hyades, the Pleiades, the W of Cassiopia, Auriga overhead, Leo rising in the East, and the Big Dipper are usually good to find at this time of year. It is actually easier to find more constellations than only one or two. $\endgroup$ – James K Dec 17 '20 at 22:18
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The group of stars circled at the top of the photo is a star cluster named Pleiades. The Pleiades are in the constellation of Taurus.

The group of stars circled at the bottom of the photo is part of the constellation of Orion. The three vertical stars on the left side of the circle are the belt stars of Orion. His upper body is to the upper left, and one leg ending at the bright star Rigel is just to the right of the circle.

As you indicated, Ursa Minor is located at the celestial north pole with Polaris (the North Star) being at the end of the handle of the little dipper. The Big Dipper is part of the constellation of Ursa Major which is not too far from Polaris. Orion's belt is on the celestial equator or 90 degrees away from Polaris.

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The top circled stars are the Pleiades Cluster, aka the Seven Sisters. The other forms part of Orion and you can actually see towards the bottom where the Great Nebula at Orion is located. Hope this helps.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site! We work a little bit differently than a forum here, and each answer is expected to stand on its own. It looks like the only new information you add is the brief bit about the Great Nebula. If so, it would help if you expanded this and added some references. Short unreferenced answers attract downvotes. Good luck and I hope you enjoy the community! $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Dec 18 '20 at 13:05

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