THIS is one of the best times of the year to see the most famous star pattern in the whole of the night sky - The Big Dipper, writes STUART ATKINSON.

You've probably already seen the Big Dipper countless times, but if you haven't - and if you live somewhere with really bad light pollution that's very possible - this is a good time to track it down. On any clear night over the next week just head out after dark, look to the north and it's right there in front of you, hanging above the treetops, a giant 'spoon' made out of seven stars of roughly equal brightness. By midnight it is balancing on the end of its handle, oriented perpendicular to the horizon, but as dusk darkens the sky it is parallel to the horizon and really does jump out at you.

Although many people think the Big Dipper is a constellation, it isn't. Its seven stars make up what astronomers call an "asterism", a small pattern or grouping of stars immediately obvious to the naked eye. In fact, the Big Dipper is just part of a constellation called Ursa Major or The Great Bear. The Dipper's handle represents the bear's tail, and its bowl represents its hind quarters. Stars too faint to see from light polluted towns and cities can be joined together to make the bear's legs, shoulders and head.

Having found the Big Dipper after sunset, go back indoors, grab a cuppa, and go out again at around 9pm. Then, looking towards the east - to the right of the Dipper - you'll see Orion standing tall above the horizon, very easy to find thanks to his distinctive and unique belt of three blue-white stars. These point down towards Sirius, the brightest star in the whole sky, but that doesn't clear the horizon until an hour or so after Orion becomes fully visible.