One of the most familiar of northern constellations, the Great Bear (Ursa Major), sweeps high overhead over the course of the night at this time of year. The seven stars of the Plough (or Big Dipper) are just the brightest asterism in a constellation that sprawls over a much larger area. In a dark sky, you can see fainter stars outlining the bear's head and paws. Unlike real bears, the celestial species - both Great and Little - sport tails. The "handle" of the Plough doubles as the Great Bear's tail. Test your visual acuity, and / or sky quality, by looking for Alcor, fainter companion to Mizar, next but last star in the Plough handle. Like the Great Bear, Comet Hale-Bopp is currently placed so it circles the pole and never sets for observers at UK latitudes, but it is easiest to see soon after dusk or just before dawn.

Jacqueline Mitton