Ursa Major

Ursa Major
Ursa Major
Ursa Major
List of stars in Ursa Major
Abbreviation UMa
Genitive Ursae Majoris
Pronunciation /ˈɜrsə ˈmeɪdʒər/, genitive /ˌɜrsiː məˈdʒɒrɨs/
Symbolism the Great Bear
Right ascension 10.67 h
Declination +55.38°
Quadrant NQ2
Area 1280 sq. deg. (3rd)
Main stars 7, 20
Stars with planets 13
Stars brighter than 3.00m 7
Stars within 10.00 pc (32.62 ly) 8
Brightest star ε UMa (Alioth) (1.76m)
Nearest star Lalande 21185
(8.31 ly, 2.55 pc)
Messier objects 7
Meteor showers Alpha Ursa Majorids
Leo Minor
Coma Berenices
Canes Venatici
Visible at latitudes between +90° and −30°.
Best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of April.
Big dipper.triddle.jpg
The Big Dipper or Plough.

Ursa Major (Latin: "Larger Bear"), also known as the Great Bear, is a constellation visible throughout the year in most of the northern hemisphere. It can best be seen in April. It is dominated by the widely recognized asterism known as the Big Dipper or Plough, which is a useful pointer toward north, and which has mythological significance in numerous world cultures.



The seven brightest stars of Ursa Major form the asterism known as the Big Dipper in the United States and Canada, or the Plough in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Another asterism is recognized in Arab culture, a series of three pairs of stars:

  • ν and ξ Ursae Majoris, Alula Borealis and Australis, the "first leap";
  • λ and μ Ursae Majoris, Tania Borealis and Australis, the "second leap";
  • ι and κ Ursae Majoris, Talitha Borealis and Australis, the "third leap".

These stars are found along the southwest border of the constellation.

Notable features


Except for Dubhe and Alkaid, the stars of the Big Dipper all have proper motions heading towards a common point in Sagittarius. A few other such stars have been identified, and together they are called the Ursa Major Moving Group.

Mizar, a star in the Big Dipper, forms the famous optical double star with Alcor.

The stars Merak (β Ursae Majoris) and Dubhe (α Ursae Majoris) are known as the "pointer stars" because they are helpful for finding Polaris, also known as the North Star. By visually tracing a line from Merak through Dubhe and continuing, one's eye will land on Polaris, accurately indicating true north.

W Ursae Majoris is the prototype of a class of contact binary variable stars, and ranges between 7.75m and 8.48m.

47 Ursae Majoris has a planetary system with two confirmed planets, 2.54 times and 0.76 times the mass of Jupiter.

Several bright galaxies are found in Ursa Major, including the pair Messier 81 (one of the brightest galaxies in the sky) and Messier 82 above the bear's head, and Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), a beautiful spiral northeast of η Ursae Majoris. The other notable spiral galaxies Messier 108 and Messier 109 may also be found in this other constellation. Altogether, the constellation contains about 50 galaxies observable through an amateur telescope. The bright planetary nebula Owl Nebula (M97), named for its appearance, can be found along the bottom of the bowl of the Big Dipper. Of note as a curiosity more than an interesting deep sky object is Messier 40, a double star that Messier nonetheless included in his catalogue.

The Hubble Deep Field is located to the northeast of δ Ursae Majoris.


Ursa Major was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is mentioned by such poets as Homer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Tennyson and Bertrand Cantat. The Finnish epic Kalevala mentions it, Vincent van Gogh painted it and Federico Garcia Lorca mentions in his poem "Song for the Moon" written August 1920.


The constellation of Ursa Major has been seen as a bear by many distinct civilizations.[1] This may stem from a common oral tradition stretching back more than 13,000 years.[2]

In Greek mythology, Zeus (the king of the gods) lusts after a young woman named Callisto, a nymph of Artemis. Hera, Zeus' jealous wife, transforms the beautiful Callisto into a bear. Callisto, while in bear form, later encounters her son Arcas. Arcas almost shoots the bear, but to avert the tragedy, Zeus hurls them both into the sky, forming Ursa Major. In ancient times the name of the constellation was Helike, ("turning"), because it turns around the Pole. In Book Two of Lucan it is called Parrhasian Helice, since Callisto came from Parrhasia in Arcadia, where the story is set.[3]

One of the few star groups mentioned in the Bible (Job 9:9; 38:32; Amos 5:8—Orion and the Pleiades being others), Ursa Major was also pictured as a bear by the Jewish peoples. ("The Bear" was translated as "Arcturus" in the Vulgate and it persisted in the KJV.)

The Iroquois Native Americans interpreted Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid as three hunters pursuing the Great Bear. According to one version of their myth, the first hunter (Alioth) is carrying a bow and arrow to sike down the bear. The second hunter (Mizar) carries a large pot — the star Alcor — on his shoulder in which to cook the bear while the third hunter (Alkaid) hauls a pile of firewood to light a fire beneath the pot.

In Hinduism, Ursa Major is known as Saptarshi, each of the stars representing one of the Saptarshis or Seven Sages viz. Bhrigu, Atri, Angirasa, Vasishta, Pulastya, Pulalaha and Kratu. The fact that the two front stars of the constellations point to the pole star is explained as the boon given to the boy sage Dhruva by Lord Vishnu.

In Finnish language, the asterism is sometimes called with its old Finnish name, Otava. The meaning of the name has been almost forgotten in Modern Finnish; it means a salmon weir.

In Burmese, Pucwan Tārā (pronounced "bazun taja") is the name of a constellation comprising stars from the head and forelegs of Ursa Major; pucwan is a general term for a crustacean, such as prawn, shrimp, crab, lobster, etc.

In theosophy, it is believed the Seven Stars of the Pleiades focus the spiritual energy of the Seven Rays from the Galactic Logos to the Seven Stars of the Great Bear, then to Sirius, then to the Sun, then to the god of Earth (Sanat Kumara), and finally through the seven Masters of the Seven Rays to the human race.[4]

In South Korea, the constellation is referred to as "the seven stars of the north". In the related myth, a widow with seven sons found comfort with a widower, but to get to his house required crossing a stream. The seven sons, sympathetic to their mother, placed stepping stones in the river. Their mother, not knowing who put the stones in place, blessed them and, when they died, they became the constellation.

In Javanese, as known as "Bintang Kartika". This name comes from Sanskrit which refers "krttikã" the same star cluster. In ancient Java, this star clusters so popular because its emergence into the start time marker for planting.

In Shinto, the 7 largest stars of Ursa Major belongs to Amenominakanushi, the oldest and most powerful of all kami.

Graphic visualisation

In European star charts, the constellation was visualized with the 'square' of the Big Dipper forming the bear's body and the chain of stars as a long tail. However, bears do not have long tails, and Jewish astronomers considered Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid instead to be either three cubs following their mother, and the Native Americans as three hunters.

Noted children's book author H. A. Rey, in his 1952 book The Stars: A New Way to See Them, (ISBN 0-395-24830-2) instead had the "bear" image of the constellation, much as Johannes Hevelius had done (as far as the figure of the bear facing "left"), oriented with Alkaid as the tip of the bear's nose, and the "handle" of the Big Dipper part of the constellation forming the outline of the top of the bear's head and neck, rearwards to the shoulder. Because of Rey's book, many amateur astronomers[who?] have come to accept Rey's star chart interpretation of Ursa Major,[citation needed] dropping the idea of the Big Dipper's "handle" as being the hind end of the bear, with a non-natural "tail" extending rearwards.

See also


  1. ^ Gibbon, William B. (1964). "Asiatic parallels in North American star lore: Ursa Major". Journal of American Folklore 77 (305): 236–250. 
  2. ^ Bradley E Schaefer, The Origin of the Greek Constellations: Was the Great Bear constellation named before hunter nomads first reached the Americas more than 13,000 years ago?, Scientific American, November 2006, reviewed at The Origin of the Greek Constellations
  3. ^ Hamilton, Edith Mythology New American Library, New York, 1942, chapter 21 (Callisto).
  4. ^ Baker, Dr. Douglas The Seven Rays:Key to the Mysteries 1952

Further reading

External links

Coordinates: Sky map 10.67h 00m 00s, +55.38° 00′ 00″

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ursa Major — Ursa Ur sa, n. [L. ursa a she bear, also, a constellation, fem. of ursus a bear. Cf. {Arctic}.] (Astron.) Either one of the Bears. See the Phrases below. [1913 Webster] {Ursa Major} [L.], the Great Bear, one of the most conspicuous of the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Ursa major — (lat.), der Große Bär, Ursa minor, der Kleine Bär, Sternbilder, s. Bär …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Ursa Major — [ʉr′sə] n. [L, lit., Great Bear] a prominent N constellation between Lynx and Draco: it contains more than 50 visible stars, seven of which form the Big Dipper; the Great Bear or the Bear …   English World dictionary

  • Ursa Major — Daten des Sternbildes Großer Bär Deutscher Name Großer Bär, Großer Wagen Lateinischer Name Ursa Maior Lateinischer Genitiv Ursae Maioris Lateinische Abkürzung UMa Rektaszension 8 h 08m bis 14h 29m …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ursa major — Daten des Sternbildes Großer Bär Deutscher Name Großer Bär, Großer Wagen Lateinischer Name Ursa Maior Lateinischer Genitiv Ursae Maioris Lateinische Abkürzung UMa Rektaszension 8 h 08m bis 14h 29m …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ursa major — Grande Ourse Pour les articles homonymes, voir Grande Ourse (homonymie). Grande Ourse …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Ursa Major — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Ursa Major est un nom latin qui peut se rapporter à : Ursa Major, super héros des comics Marvel ; La Grande Ourse, l’une des 88 constellations.… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Ursa Major — n. = the Great Bear (see BEAR(2)). Etymology: L, = greater bear * * * Ursa Major 7 [ˌɜːsə ˈmeɪdʒə(r)] [ˌɜːrsə] (also the ˌGreat ˈBear …   Useful english dictionary

  • Ursa Major — Bear Bear (b[^a]r), n. [OE. bere, AS. bera; akin to D. beer, OHG. bero, pero, G. b[ a]r, Icel. & Sw. bj[ o]rn, and possibly to L. fera wild beast, Gr. fh r beast, Skr. bhalla bear.] [1913 Webster] 1. (Zo[ o]l.) Any species of the genus {Ursus},… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Ursa Major — noun A large circumpolar constellation of the northern sky, said to resemble a bear. It includes the familiar asterism the Big Dipper and the stars Mizar, Dubhe, and Alkaid. My father compounded …   Wiktionary

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