big dipper and little dipper constellations in the sky

The Stars Align: 3 Things to Know About the Big Dipper and Little Dipper

The Big Dipper and Little Dipper are two of the easiest constellations to spot in the sky, but they have powerful meaning that reaches through the ages. Spot them in the night, and you’ll always know where you stand in the world.

History of the Big Dipper and Little Dipper

The Big Dipper is part of the Ursa Major constellation, also known as the Great Bear. In Greek mythology, Zeus’s wife Hera turned his mistress Callisto into a bear. Years later, Arcas, son of Callisto and Zeus, nearly speared the bear, but Zeus intervened and threw mother and son into the heavens, where they became constellations. Callisto became the Great Bear; Arcas, the Little Bear (Ursa Minor, which includes the Little Dipper).

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How to Spot Them

First, find your true north - the North Star, or Polaris. It’s at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper constellation. An easy way to find Polaris is to locate the Big Dipper. Its eight stars resemble a long-handled ladle (or "dipper") and appears upside down in sky this time of year. Follow the two stars on the left of the constellation down until you see Polaris, the first star on the handle of the Little Dipper.

If you can find Polaris — the brightest star in both constellations — you’ll always know where North is and be able to reorient yourself. In fact, Polaris guided Europeans when they first sailed across the Atlantic more than five centuries ago.

Big + Little Dipper Spiritual Meaning

When the Big Dipper is upright, the Little Dipper is upside down, because their handles extend in opposite directions. Similar to yin and yang, this orientation symbolizes balance. It also embodies the inextricable link between mother and child. Bonded forever, your love burns as bright as the stars and lasts as long as the heavens can reach.

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Wearing These Symbols

The Big Dipper and Little Dipper are common symbols seen in clothing, jewelry, and even tattoos. You can wear the constellations as a reminder of the ones you hold dearest, or give one of the Big Dipper and Little Dipper charms to someone you feel close to. Pair the Big Dipper and Little Dipper with Moon + Stars charms or zodiac symbols to show how vast and endless your love and connection are.


Originally Written by Yelena Shuster. Updated by Julie Tremaine