THIS is probably the best time of the whole year to see one of the most famous patterns of stars in the whole sky - The Big Dipper, or The Plough as many people call it, writes STUART ATKINSON. You might be surprised to hear that it's not actually a constellation though; it's an asterism, a small pattern of stars that really jumps out at you when you see it, just like Orion's Belt, the Horns of Taurus or the Summer Triangle. The Big Dipper's stars actually belong to the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The Dipper's bent handle represents the bear's tail, and its bowl the hindquarters of the fierce animal. Stars too faint to see with the naked eye from light-polluted towns and cities can be joined up to make the bear's head and legs.

To find the Big Dipper in the sky at the moment all you have to do is wait for the sky to go dark and then look a little way to the right of the point on the skyline where the Sun sets and there, a couple of hand widths above the horizon, you'll see the Big Dipper in all its glory, looking exactly like a giant spoon or ladle.

Stargazers famously use the Big Dipper to locate Polaris, the Pole Star. The two stars on the far right of the Dipper are known as the Pointers because if you draw an imaginary line between them and extend it away from the Big Dipper (upwards at this time of year) that line ends at the Pole Star, the only star in the sky that doesn't move during the night or the year for that matter. Polaris hasn't always been the Pole Star though, and in thousands of years it won't be the Pole Star any more, so catch it while you can!

Good luck bear hunting!