The Myth of Ursa Major | Stars of Ursa Major

It's time to learn about The Myth of Ursa Major or Stars of Ursa Major. one of the constellations in the night sky. Do you recognize this constellation? It's Ursa Major! The largest constellation in the northern sky, Ursa Major - Latin for 'great bear' - is visible all year long from northern latitudes.

[caption id="attachment_962" align="aligncenter" width="1269"]The Myth of Ursa Major The Myth of Ursa Major[/caption]

Ursa Major is most commonly recognized by the seven brightest stars in the constellation that form a pattern known as the Wagon, the Plough, or the Big Dipper. This pattern is an asterism, which is the term for a recognizable group of stars that is smaller than a constellation. Other famous asterisms include Orion's Belt and the Little Dipper.

The Big Dipper is associated with myths and stories from many different cultures. In some Native American legends, the Big Dipper represents a giant bear, being chased by three warriors. In Hindu mythology, the stars of the dipper represent the Seven Sages.


[caption id="attachment_965" align="alignleft" width="300"]The Myth of Ursa Major The Myth of Ursa Major[/caption]

The story of Ursa Major comes from ancient Greek mythology. A beautiful maiden named Callisto was seduced by Zeus. When his wife, Hera, found out, she was furious and transformed Callisto into a bear as punishment.

Later as she wandered the forest, a hunter, thinking of her as a normal bear, prepared to kill her. Before she could be killed, Zeus placed her in the sky as the constellation of the bear. But Hera had one more punishment to inflict on Callisto: she stopped her from ever drinking water again by preventing her from dipping below the horizon.

That's why Ursa Major stays in the sky all year long. Of course, Ursa Major stays in the northern sky because it is a circumpolar constellation. Circumpolar constellations rotate around the celestial poles, and Ursa Major rotates around the North Pole.


[caption id="attachment_964" align="aligncenter" width="1297"]The Myth of Ursa Major The Myth of Ursa Major[/caption]

The stars in the Big Dipper can also be used to help navigate. Two stars at the end of the dipper are called "pointer stars," because if you follow a line drawn between them it will point to the star Polaris,

Which is always in the north. The Big Dipper was supposedly used by escaping slaves following the Underground Railroad to find their way North, as memorialized in a song called "Follow the Drinking Gourd." I hope you enjoyed learning about Ursa Major today. If you are out stargazing in the northern hemisphere, look north and see if you can find Ursa Major, the constellation of the great bear.