Human ignorance, sadly, isn't limited to planet Earth. Even today, over 400 years after the Age of Enlightenment began, plenty of people are still getting plenty of stuff wrong--not just about our home planet, but about the whole universe. Luckily, Jeopardy!s Ken Jennings is the author of a new book about the mysteries of the cosmos, the Junior Genius Guide to Outer Space. In this month's Debunker columns, he'll set us straight on a whole sky full of starry slip-ups. These are some misconceptions of truly astronomical proportion.
The Debunker: Star Myth #1: Is the Big Dipper a Constellation?
Ask someone to name a constellation in the night sky, and odds are most of them will first think of the Big Dipper, the seven bright stars that gleam overhead on summer nights in an unmistakable sickle-shaped pattern. The Big Dipper has helped humans navigate for millennia by pointing the way to Polaris, the North Star. Virtually every culture had its own name for the Dipper, from the "Drinking Gourd" of West Africa to the "Seven Gods" of Mongolia to the "Charles' Wagon" of the Vikings. It's iconic enough to have been borrowed for the corporate logo of Iridium Communications and on the state flag of Alaska. But the world's most famous constellation isn't actually a constellation at all. It's an asterism.