The Big Dipper

Still Image (Now)
Animation (100,000 Years)

The Big Dipper is one of the most widely recognized groups of stars, containing seven bright stars that seem to be close together in space. Of the seven, five actually are close together in space -- an actual clump of stars moving through the Galaxy, almost as if in formation. However, the other two stars, Dubhe (at the end of the bowl) and Alkaid (at the end of the handle) are outside this group, and move separately.

Over the next hundred thousand years or so, the different motions of these stars will gradually change the familiar Dipper shape. In fact, the "bowl" will flatten out, and the "handle" will bend even more, so that after nearly 100,000 years the Dipper will have turned upside down and backwards! Additionally, after 100,000 years there will be an eighth star in the "Dipper". This bright interloper is the star Zeta Herculis, now very far away from the Big Dipper in the constellation Hercules.