A graphic of the words "build the big dipper," in stylized reddish letters.
A photo of outer space with points of light and gaseous shapes against the dark of space.

A blurry field of blue and white color. hen you look up into the night sky, the stars look like tiny points of light. But stars are not tiny - they're huge, burning balls of gas, like our Sun. They just look small because they are so far away.

The stars may all look the same distance away, as if they were pasted on the wall of a giant dome. But, that's an illusion too. Some stars are billions of miles farther away than others.

Stylized letters form the sentence, "Take a look at the Big Dipper."
Stars shown as points of light against the inky black of outer space. Lines are superimposed on the photo to outline the Big Dipper constellation.

From Earth, it looks like a connect-the-dots picture on a piece of paper. But if you saw the Big Dipper from a different angle, it would not look flat at all. The stars in the Big Dipper are actually nowhere near each other. Some are seven times farther away than others! If you flew out in a spaceship and looked at the Big Dipper from the side, it wouldn't look like a dipper anymore. To find out what you'd see . . .

To see what the Big Dipper would look like from outer space, make a mobile!

What You Need:

  • a black crayon or marker
  • an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of rigid cardboard or foam core board
  • black thread
  • aluminum foil, cut into 7 six-inch squares
  • a pen or pencil to poke a hole in the cardboard
  • tape
  • ruler

Chart of Stars in the Big Dipper

# Star
Distance from Earth
in Light Years
1 Alkaid 104 4 ¾ inches
2 Mizar 86 9 inches
3 Alioth 83 9 ¾ inches
4 Megrez 81 10 ¼ inches
5 Phecda 83 9 ¾ inches
6 Merak 80 10 ½ inches
7 Dubhe 123 0 inches
A hand holding a marker and applying black color to an area of white paper.


1.    Print a copy of the Big Dipper Map. Color in the background to look like space, and glue or tape the whole page to the cardboard or foam core board.

A hand piercing a flat dark surface with the tip of a ballpoint pen.

2.    Poke holes through the cardboard where the "stars" appear on the paper.

A hand holding an extension of thread against the end of a ruler, and a hand cutting the thread.

3.    Cut seven pieces of thread about two feet long.

4.    Tape the end of one piece of string to a six-inch square of foil. Crumple the foil into a ball around the string. Make the foil ball as tight as you can. Repeat this six times until you have seven foil ball stars on strings.

Two hands holding a small flat piece of metal foil.
Two hands compressing metal foil into a small-to-medium size ball.
Two hands compressing metal foil into a small-size ball.
Two fingers holding a needle and inserting it in into a hole in a flat dark-colored area of cardboard.

5.    Poke the free end of one thread through the hole for Star #1 (the first star on the end of the handle). Now find Star #1 on the chart. This star is named Alkaid. In the right-hand column of the chart, you'll see that Alkaid gets a string 4 ¾ inches long. 

A hand holding a ruler, with the other hand holding a small metal foil ball. A sheet of white paper is on a tabletop in the background.

Pull the thread through the hole until the foil ball is 4 ¾ inches from the board.

Fingers pulling thin black thread through a hole in a flat brown surface, and securing it with a piece of clear tape.

Tape the thread in place on the back side of the board.

6.    Repeat for all seven threads. Be careful not to let the strings get tangled together as you work. For star #7, pull the string up until the ball hits the board and tape the string down in back.

A hand with thin black thread entwined around several fingers, with a small piece of brown cardboard on a table in the background.

7.    To hang your mobile, poke four new holes through the cardboard, each about an inch in from the four corners. Now cut two more pieces of string, each about two feet long. Pull one piece of thread down through one corner hole and then pull it up through the nearest corner hole. Tie the two ends together, then repeat for the other two holes. Tie the two loops together so the board hangs flat.

Stylized letters form the words, "You've done it!"
Small light-color spheres against a dark background forming the shape of the Big Dipper

8.    Hang your mobile from a nail in a doorway, or tape it to the ceiling. Now stand under your mobile and look up. What do you see?

Sideview of a mobile with 7 balls hanging at varying lengths from a posterboard.

9.    Now look at your mobile from the side. That's what the Big Dipper looks like from space - and you didn't have to spend a billion dollars on a spaceship!