Category Archives: Constellations

The Big Dipper

Everybody loves looking at the stars. I’m sure we all will enjoy it more once we actually get to see them, instead of clouds. I thought I’d start a series on constellations and other celestial bodies. What they are, what they look like, where they are, and some folklore that surrounds them.

There are 88 common constellations in the night sky. The first constellation I’ll talk about is the Big Dipper. It’s the most recognizable constellation in the sky. Where other constellations are only seen during different seasons, in the Northern Hemispere, the Big Dipper can be seen all year round.

The Big Dipper is known as different names in different countries. Ursa Major is latin for Great Bear. It’s also known as The Plough, The Butcher’s Cleaver, The Great Bear and Carl’s Wagon.

The Big Dipper is made of 7 stars. Three make the handle of the dipper and 4 for the pot. By following a line from Merak and Dubhe, the outside stars of the pot, you can find the North Star. If you are standing facing the North Star, you are facing North. Ship Navigators have been using the North Star to guide them for centuries.

In Greek mythology, it is said that Zeus swept Kallisto, who had been turned into a bear by Zeus’ jealous wife Hera, and her son Arcus into the sky. Kallisto is the Great Bear, and Arcus is the Little Bear (Ursa Minor)

In Native American folklore, three brothers were hunting the Great Bear. After the kill, and they were preparing their meal, the brothers looked to the sky and saw that the Great Bear had used it’s magical abilities and rose to the sky, and so the three brothers gave chase again. The handle of the dipper are three brother hunters, chasing a bear, the pot.

Using the Big Dipper as a starting point we are able to find most of the other constellations.