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The constellation Ursa Major and Ursa Minor in the starry sky as background
Starry night sky with Ursa Major constellation or the Great Bear and the Big Dipper constellation
Night sky with the constellation of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor and the North Star
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Constellations. Ursa Major (UMa)
Ursa Major constellation on a night starry sky above pine tree and plain, night outdoor background
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Constellations. Ursa Major (UMa)
Ursa Major constellation
Bown bear looking in the water
Big dipper constellation in starry sky
Beautiful night winter landscape with the stars
Big Dipper Constellation
Beautiful night sky, with clouds and constellations
Shooting star near the Big Dipper, Engadine
Stars and reflection
Serene starry night
The Big Dipper
Beautiful Star Field at sunset with Constellations Big Dipper
Night sky with Neowise comet. Starry sky with Big Dipper constellation and rare comet with tail.
The Big Dipper
Starry Night and River, England
Big Dipper and Mountain Fuji
telescope looking at the Great Bear constellation
constellation of the Great Bear and the North Star in the night starry sky, illustration.
At the Drive In
Polar bear and Ursa Major Great Bear constellation. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.
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Big Dipper Lake
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Northern Light with Big Dipper
ursa maior and minor
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The Big Dipper - Ursa Major
The Northern Lights Aurora Borealis
Deep space images, galaxy M (Messier ) in the constellation Ursa Major
Starry night Ursa Major,Big Dipper constellation with diffraction spikes
Ursa Major, Bootes and Leo constellations in the winter night sky
Drive In Movie Theatre
Constellation of Ursa major
Milky Way stars and starry skies photographed with long exposure from a remote suburb dark location.
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Ursa Major in Albidona
Ursa major and Ursa Minor Constellations in outer space with polar star
old chart of the heavens
Brown bear standing out and looking his next snack in the wild Kamchatka, far east Russia
The Big Dipper Constellation in starry sky over mountains
Night photo into the sky of the Big Dipper constellation
Reflection of Big Dipper and Aurora Borealis in lake
night forest silhouette under a night starry sky and Ursa Major constellation
The Badlands SD, Big Dipper
Ursa Major Constellation
Ursa Major constellation lies in the northern sky. Its name means the great bear, or the larger bear, in Latin. The smaller bear is represented by Ursa Minor.
Ursa Major is the largest northern constellation and third largest constellation in the sky. Its brightest stars form the Big Dipper asterism, one of the most recognizable shapes in the sky, also known as the Plough. Ursa Major is well-known in most world cultures and associated with a number of myths. It was one of the constellations catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. In Greek mythology, it is associated with Callisto, a nymph who was turned into a bear by Zeus jealous wife Hera.
Ursa Major contains a number of notable stars and famous deep sky objects. These include the Pinwheel Galaxy (M), Bodes Galaxy, the Cigar Galaxy, and the Owl Nebula.
Myth, location and map
Ursa Major is a well-known, significant constellation in many cultures. It is one of the oldest constellations in the sky, with a history dating back to ancient times. The constellation is referenced in Homer and the Bible. A great number of tales and legends across the globe associate Ursa Major with a bear.
Ancient Greeks associated the constellation with the myth of Callisto, the beautiful nymph who had sworn a vow of chastity to the goddess Artemis. Zeus saw the nymph one day and fell in love. The two had a son, and named him Arcas. Artemis had already banished Callisto when she had learned about the nymphs pregnancy and broken vow.
However, it was Zeus jealous wife Hera, who was not amused by her husbands philandering, who would do even more damage. Angered by Zeus betrayal, she turned Callisto into a bear.
Callisto lived as a bear for the next 15 years, roaming the forest and always running and hiding from hunters. One day, her son Arcas was walking in the forest and the two came face to face. At the sight of the bear, Arcas quickly drew his spear, scared.
Seeing the scene from Olympus, Zeus intervened to prevent a tragedy. He sent a whirlwind that carried both Callisto and Arcas into the heavens, where he turned Arcas into the constellation Boötes, the Herdsman, and Callisto into Ursa Major. (In another version, Arcas becomes the constellation Ursa Minor.) This only further infuriated Hera and she persuaded her foster parents Oceanus and Tethys never to let the bear bathe in the northern waters. This, according to the legend, is why Ursa Major never sets below the horizon in mid-northern latitudes.
In a different version of the tale, it is not Hera but Artemis who transforms Callisto into a bear. Artemis does this to punish the nymph for breaking her vow of chastity to the goddess. Many years later, both Callisto and Arcas are captured in the forest and taken to King Lycaon as a gift. The mother and son take refuge in the temple of Zeus, and the god intervenes and saves them, placing them both in the sky.
There is an entirely different Greek myth associated with Ursa Major, the one about Adrasteia. Adrasteia was one of the nymphs who took care of Zeus when he was very young. Zeus’ father Cronus was told by an oracle that one of his children would eventually overthrow him and, fearful of the prophecy, Cronus swallowed all his children until Zeus was born. Rhea, Zeus’ mother, smuggled their youngest child to the island of Crete, where the nymphs Adrasteia and Ida nursed young Zeus for a year. In this version of the myth, Ida is associated with the constellation Ursa Minor. Amaltheia, the goat that nursed Zeus, was placed in the sky as the bright star Capella in the constellation Auriga. The prophecy eventually came true; Zeus overthrew Cronus and freed his brothers Hades and Poseidon and sisters Demeter, Hera and Hestia.
Ursa Major constellation map by IAU and Sky&Telescope magazine
The Romans called the constellation Septentrio, or “seven plough oxen,” even though only two of the seven stars represented oxen, while the others formed a wagon.
Ursa Major is associated with many different forms in the sky in different cultures, from the camel, shark and skunk to the sickle, bushel and canoe. The Chinese know the seven brightest stars, or Tseih Sing, as the Government, or Pih Tow, the Northern Measure.
In Hindu legend, the brightest stars of Ursa Major represent the Seven Sages and the constellation is known as Saptarshi. The sages in question are Bhrigu, Atri, Angirasa, Vasishta, Pulastya, Pulalaha and Kratu.
In some Native American tales, the bowl of the Big Dipper represents a large bear and the stars that mark the handle are the warriors chasing it. Since the constellation is pretty low in the sky in autumn, the legend says that it is the blood of the wounded bear that causes the leaves to turn red.
In more recent American history, the Big Dipper played a role in the Underground Railroad, as its position in the sky helped black people find their way north. There were numerous songs that spread in the south that said to follow the Drinking Gourd to get to a better life.
Ursa Major is the third largest constellation in the sky, occupying an area of square degrees. It is located in the second quadrant of the northern hemisphere (NQ2) and can be seen at latitudes between +90° and °. The neighboring constellations are Boötes, Camelopardalis, Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices, Draco, Leo, Leo Minor and Lynx.
Ursa Major contains seven Messier objects: Messier 40 (M40, Winnecke 4), Messier 81 (M81, NGC , Bodes Galaxy), Messier 82 (M82, NGC , Cigar Galaxy), Messier 97 (M97, NGC , Owl Nebula), Messier (M, NGC , Pinwheel Galaxy), Messier (M, NGC ), and Messier (M, NGC ). It also contains 13 stars with confirmed planets.
The brightest star in the constellation is Alioth, Epsilon Ursae Majoris, with an apparent magnitude of
The constellation Ursa Major contains 22 formally named stars. The star names approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) are Alcor, Alioth, Alkaid, Alkaphrah, Alula Australis, Alula Borealis, Aniara, Chalawan, Dombay, Dubhe, Intercrus, Liesma, Megrez, Merak, Mizar, Muscida, Násti, Phecda, Taiyangshou, Talitha, Tania Australis, and Tania Borealis.
There are two meteor showers associated with the constellation; the Alpha Ursa Majorids and the Leonids-Ursids.
Ursa Major belongs to the Ursa Major family of constellations, along with Boötes, Camelopardalis, Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices, Corona Borealis, Draco, Leo Minor, Lynx, and Ursa Minor.
Major stars in Ursa Major
ASTERISM – THE BIG DIPPER (THE PLOUGH)
The Big Dipper is one of the most recognizable asterisms in the sky. It has significance in many different cultures.
Big Dipper stars, image: Luigi Chiesa
The Big Dipper is also very useful in navigation as it points the way to Polaris, the North Star (Alpha Ursae Minoris), which is a part of another famous asterism, the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor constellation.
If you follow the imaginary line from Merak to Dubhe and continue the arc, you will eventually reach the Northern Star.
Similarly, the imaginary line that stretches along the handle of the Dipper leads to the bright star Arcturus, the bear keeper, located in the constellation Boötes, the Herdsman. If you follow the line further, you will find Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo and also one of the brightest stars in the sky.
The seven stars that form the Big Dipper are Dubhe (Alpha Ursae Majoris), Merak (Beta UMa), Phecda (Gamma UMa), Megrez (Delta UMa), Alioth (Epsilon UMa), Mizar (Zeta UMa), and Alkaid (Eta UMa).
Alioth – ε Ursae Majoris (Epsilon Ursae Majoris)
Alioth is the brightest star in Ursa Major and the 31st brightest star in the night sky. It has an apparent magnitude of and is approximately 81 light years distant. The star’s traditional name comes from the Arabic word alyat, which means fat tail of a sheep. Alioth is the star in the bear’s tail that is closest to the body of the bear.
Alioth belongs to the Ursa Major Moving Group (Collinder ), a group of stars that includes most of the brightest stars in the constellation Ursa Major. The stars belonging to the group share common velocities in space and are believed to have a common origin.
The Ursa Major Moving Group was discovered in by the English astronomer Richard A. Proctor, who realized that all stars of the Big Dipper with the exception of Alkaid and Dubhe have proper motions heading toward a common point in the constellation Sagittarius. The stars Alpha Coronae Borealis, Beta Aurigae, Delta Aquarii, Gamma Leporis and Beta Serpentis are outlying members of the group.
Alioth belongs to the spectral class A0pCr. The p stands for peculiar because the star’s spectrum of light is similar to that of an Alpha-2 Canum Venaticorum variable. Alioth exhibits fluctuations in its spectral lines with a period of days.
Dubhe – α Ursae Majoris (Alpha Ursae Majoris)
Dubhe has an apparent magnitude of and is light years distant from the solar system. It is the second brightest star in Ursa Major. The name Dubhe comes from the Arabic dubb, which means bear, from the phrase żahr ad-dubb al-akbar, or the back of the Greater Bear. Dubhe does not belong to the Ursa Major Moving Group.
Dubhe is a giant star belonging to the spectral class K1 II-III. It is a spectroscopic binary star. The companion is a main sequence star that belongs to the spectral type F0 V. It completes the orbit around the brighter star every years from a distance of 23 astronomical units.
There is another binary system about 90, AU away from the main pair, which makes Alpha Ursae Majoris a four star system.
Merak – β Ursae Majoris (Beta Ursae Majoris)
The name Merak comes from the Arabic al-maraqq, which means the loins.
Beta Ursae Majoris is a main sequence star, approximately light years distant, with a visual magnitude of It belongs to the spectral class A1 V. The star has a debris disk of dust orbiting it, one with a mass percent that of the Earth.
Beta Ursae Majoris is times more massive than the Sun, has times the radius, and is about 68 times more luminous. It belongs to the Ursa Major Moving Group and is a suspected variable star.
Alkaid – η Ursae Majoris (Eta Ursae Majoris)
Alkaid is the easternmost star in the Big Dipper asterism. It is also known as Elkeid and Benetnash. It is a young main sequence star belonging to the spectral class B3 V, approximately light years distant. It has an apparent magnitude of and is the third brightest star in the constellation and also the 35th brightest star in the night sky.
Alkaid is notable for being one of the hottest stars that can be seen without binoculars. It has a surface temperature of 20, kelvins. The star has six solar masses and is about times more luminous than the Sun. Like Dubhe, Alkaid does not belong to the Ursa Major Moving Group.
The star’s traditional names, Alkaid and Benetnash (or Benetnasch), come from the Arabic phrase qāid bināt na’sh, which means the leader of the daughters of the bier. The three stars marking the handle of the Big Dipper represent three mourning maidens, while the stars that form the body of the bowl represent the bier. The name Alkaid itself means leader.
In spite of being the third brightest star in Ursa Major, Alkaid was designated Eta Ursae Majoris because Johannes Bayer named the stars of the Big Dipper from west to east, designating the pointer stars Alpha and Beta.
Phecda – γ Ursae Majoris (Gamma Ursae Majoris)
Gamma Ursae Majoris is the lower left star in the bowl of the Big Dipper. It belongs to the Ursa Major Moving Group. The star’s traditional name, Phecda (or Phad), is derived from the Arabic phrase fakhð ad-dubb, which means the thigh of the bear.
Gamma UMa is a main sequence star of the spectral type A0 Ve. It has a visual magnitude of and is approximately light years distant. The –e in the star’s classification refers to it being an Ae star, one that has an envelope of gas surrounding it and adding emission lines to its spectrum.
Phecda’s estimated age is million years. The star is located only light years away from the Mizar-Alcor star system.
Megrez – δ Ursae Majoris (Delta Ursae Majoris)
Megrez, Delta Ursae Majoris, is the faintest of the seven bright stars that form the Big Dipper asterism. It is a main sequence star of the spectral type A3 V. It has a visual magnitude of and is approximately light years distant from the solar system. It is 14 times more luminous than the Sun and has 63% more mass. The star emits an excess of infrared radiation, which indicates a debris disk in its orbit.
The star’s name, Megrez, is derived from the Arabic word al-maghriz, which means the base (as in, the base of the bear’s tail).
Mizar – ζ Ursae Majoris (Zeta Ursae Majoris)
Zeta Ursae Majoris is a system composed of two binary stars. It can be found in the Big Dipper’s handle – it is the second star from the end.
The name Mizar is derived from the Arabic mīzar, which means girdle or waistband.
Mizar has an apparent magnitude of and is approximately light years distant. It was the first double star ever to be photographed. Early American photographer and inventor John A. Whipple and astronomer George P. Bond took the photo of the binary system in using a wet collodion plate and the inch refractor telescope at Harvard College Observatory. Bond had previously also photographed the star Vega in Lyra constellation in
Alcor (80 Ursae Majoris)
Alcor is a visual companion to Mizar. It belongs to the spectral class A5V. The two stars are sometimes known as the “Horse and Rider.”
Alcor has a visual magnitude of and is light years distant from the solar system. It is also known as Saidak (“the test”), Suha (“neglected” or “forgotten”) and Arundhati in Indian cultures. Alcor was discovered to be a binary system in
Both Mizar and Alcor belong to the Ursa Major Moving Group. The estimated distance between the two stars is light years.
Mizar and Alcor, image: Camille Flammarion, Les étoiles et les curiosités du ciel,
W Ursae Majoris
W Ursae Majoris is a prototype for a class of stars known as the W Ursae Majoris variables.
It is a binary system composed of two close stars in a circular orbit with a period of days. The stars are physically so close that their outer envelopes are in direct contact. Each star orbits the other during each orbital cycle, resulting in a decrease in brightness. The apparent magnitude of the system varies between and Both stars belong to the spectral class F8V.
Messier 40 (M40, Winnecke 4, WNC 4)
Winnecke 4 is another double star in Ursa Major. It was originally catalogued as a Messier object by Charles Messier in , while he was looking for a nebula that Johann Hevelius reported seeing in the region. Not finding the nebula, Messier catalogued the binary star instead.
The German astronomer Friedrich August Theodor Winnecke rediscovered the star in , and it was subsequently named after him.
Winnecke 4 has an apparent magnitude that varies between and and it is approximately light years distant.
47 Ursae Majoris
47 Ursae Majoris is a main sequence star belonging to the spectral class G1V. It is light years distant from Earth. The star is a solar analog; it has a similar mass and is slightly hotter than the Sun, with about percent of the Sun’s abundance of iron. It has an apparent magnitude of
In , a planet at least times the size of Jupiter was discovered in the star’s orbit. Two more planets were discovered in the system in and
Alula Borealis and Alula Australis – ν (Nu) and ξ (Xi) Ursae Majoris – “the first leap”
Nu Ursae Majoris is another double star, one visible to the unaided eye. It has an apparent magnitude of and is approximately light years distant from the solar system. It is a giant star belonging to the spectral type K3 III with a radius 57 times that of the Sun, and about times the Sun’s luminosity.
The star’s traditional name, Alula Borealis, is derived from the Arabic word al-Ūlā, which means “the first (leap),” and the Latin word for “northern,” borealis.
Xi Ursae Majoris, or Alula Australis, is the southern star of “the first leap.” It is in fact a star system first discovered by Sir William Herschel in Xi Ursae Majoris is composed of two main sequence dwarfs belonging to the spectral class G0 Ve. The system is only 29 light years distant. The brighter component has an apparent magnitude of , and the dimmer one, The combined visual magnitude of the system is
Xi Ursae Majoris is classified as an RS Canum Venaticorum type variable star. The RS Canum Venaticorum variables are close binary stars with large stellar spots caused by the stars’ active chromospheres. The spots in turn cause variations in luminosity around magnitudes. In some cases, the fluctuations in brightness are caused by the stars being eclipsing binaries.
Each of the two main components in the Xi Ursae Majoris system is itself a spectroscopic double, and has a low mass companion. Xi Ursae Majoris is also notable for being the first binary star to have its orbit calculated, in
Nu and Xi Ursae Majoris are the first of three pairs of stars known to the ancient Arabs as the “leaps of the gazelle.”
Tania Borealis and Tania Australis – λ (Lambda) and μ (Mu) Ursae Majoris – “the second leap”
Lambda Ursae Majoris is a star belonging to the spectral class A2 IV, which means that it is evolving into a giant as its hydrogen supply becomes exhausted. The star has an apparent magnitude of and is approximately light years distant.
The star’s traditional name, Tania Borealis, means “the Northern (star) of the Second (leap).”
Mu Ursae Majoris, or Tania Australis, is the southern star of the pair. It is a red giant, belonging to the spectral type M0 lab, approximately light years away. It has a visual magnitude of and is classified as a semiregular variable star, with variations in brightness fluctuating between and Mu Ursae Majoris has a visual companion about AU away.
Talitha Borealis and Talitha Australis – ι (Iota) and κ (Kappa) Ursae Majoris – “the third leap”
Iota Ursae Majoris is a star system composed of two double stars, a white subgiant of the spectral type A7 IV that is in fact a spectroscopic binary, and another pair of 9th and 10th magnitude stars. When the B component was first discovered in , the two binary stars were separated by arc seconds. The distance between the two has decreased dramatically since, and is now only arc seconds. The two components orbit each other with a period of years. Iota Ursae Majoris is approximately light years distant from the solar system.
Kappa Ursae Majoris is another binary star in Ursa Major, composed of two A-type main sequence dwarfs with visual magnitudes of and The system has an apparent magnitude of and is about light years distant.
Muscida – ο Ursae Majoris (Omicron Ursae Majoris)
Omicron Ursae Majoris is a multiple star system about light years distant. It belongs to the spectral class G4 II-III, which means that it is somewhere between a giant and bright giant on the evolutionary scale. It has an apparent magnitude of The star’s traditional name, Muscida, means “the muzzle.”
Groombridge is a subdwarf belonging to the spectral class G8V, only light years from the Sun. It was catalogued by the British astronomer Stephen Groombridge in the early 19th century in his Catalogue of Circumpolar Stars, published posthumously in
When it was discovered, Groombridge was the star with the highest proper motion of any star known. It dropped to third place with the discovery of Kapteyn’s Star in the constellation Pictor and Barnard’s Star in Ophiuchus.
Like Kapteyn’s Star, Groombridge is a halo star, one that appears to be moving in the direction opposite to the galaxy’s rotation because it does not follow the rotation of the Milky Way. Halo stars are typically metal-poor, because they were created in an earlier age of the galaxy. Most halo stars are located either far above or below the galactic plane and are believed to be at least 10 billion years old. They have highly eccentric orbits and a high space velocity.
Lalande is a red dwarf (spectral type: M2V) only light years distant from the Sun. It has an apparent magnitude of and cannot be seen by the unaided eye. It is the fourth closest star system to our solar system, after Alpha Centauri, Barnard’s Star and Wolf In about 19, years, it will come within light years from the Sun.
Lalande is classified as a BY Draconis type variable and is a known X-ray source.
ψ Ursae Majoris (Psi Ursae Majoris)
Psi Ursae Majoris is an orange giant, belonging to the spectral type K1 III. It has a visual magnitude of and is about light years distant. The Chinese know it as Tien Tsan or Ta Tsun, which means exceptionally honourable.
Deep sky objects in Ursa Major
Bodes Galaxy – Messier 81 (M81, NGC )
Messier 81 is a bright, large spiral galaxy about million light years distant from Earth. Because of its relative proximity and brightness – it has an apparent magnitude of – M81 is a popular target both for beginners and professional astronomers. The galaxys apparent size is x arc minutes. Only one supernova has been discovered in it: SN J, in March
Bodes Galaxy (Messier 81), image: Pablo Carlos Budassi (CC BY-SA )
Bodes Galaxy was discovered by the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode in In , Charles Messier identified the galaxy independently and included it in his catalogue.
Bodes Galaxy is the largest of the 34 galaxies in the M81 Group, one of the groups of galaxies located in Ursa Major. The galaxy can be seen about 10 degrees northwest of the star Dubhe (Alpha Ursae Majoris).
Bodes Galaxy interacts with the nearby galaxies Messier 82 and the smaller NGC As a result of the interactions between the galaxies, hydrogen gas has been stripped away from all three and gaseous filamentary structures have formed in the group. Another consequence of the gravitational interactions is the vigorous star forming activity caused by interstellar gas falling into the centres of Messer 82 and NGC
Bodes Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy (M81 and M82), image: José Jiménez (CC BY )
Cigar Galaxy – Messier 82 (M82, NGC )
Messier 82 is an edge-on starburst galaxy about million light years from the solar system. It has an apparent magnitude of
Star formation that occurs in the galaxys core is ten times faster than star forming activity in the entire Milky Way. M82 is also about five times brighter than our galaxy. massive star clusters were discovered by Hubble in the galaxys central region in
Cigar Galaxy (Messier 82), image: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona (CC BY-SA )
M82 emits an infrared excess and is the brightest galaxy in the sky when observed in infrared light.
The Cigar Galaxy is believed to have had at least one tidal encounter with the neighbouring Messier 81 and, as a result, a large amount of gas ended up funneled into its core in the last million years. Consequently, star forming activity in the galaxy has increased tenfold compared to most other galaxies.
M82 was discovered by Johann Elert Bode on December 31, , along with M Bode originally described them both as nebulous patches.
Owl Nebula – Messier 97 (M97, NGC )
The Owl Nebula is a planetary nebula about 2, light years away from the solar system. It has an apparent magnitude of The nebula was first discovered by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain in It is believed to have formed about 8, years ago.
The Owl Nebula has a 16th magnitude star at its centre. It got its name because of its appearance of owl-like eyes when observed through a large telescope.
Pinwheel Galaxy – Messier (M, NGC )
The Pinwheel Galaxy is a grand design spiral galaxy seen face-on. It has an apparent magnitude of and is million light years distant from Earth. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain in and Charles Messier subsequently included it in his catalogue. It was among the last entries.
The Pinwheel Galaxy (Messier ), image: European Space Agency & NASA. Acknowledgements: Project Investigators for the original Hubble data: K.D. Kuntz (GSFC), F. Bresolin (University of Hawaii), J. Trauger (JPL), J. Mould (NOAO), and Y.-H. Chu (University of Illinois, Urbana). Image processing: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble). CFHT image: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/J.-C. Cuillandre/Coelum. NOAO image: George Jacoby, Bruce Bohannan, Mark Hanna/NOAO/AURA/NSF.
A type Ia supernova, designated as SN fe, was observed in the galaxy in August
Pierre Méchain described Messier as a nebula without star, very obscure and pretty large, 6 to 7 in diameter, between the left hand of Boötes and the tail of the great Bear. It is difficult to distinguish when one lits the [grating] wires.
The Pinwheel Galaxy is about , light years in diameter, which makes it about 70 percent larger than the Milky Way galaxy. It contains a number of large, bright H II regions, full of bright, hot newly formed stars.
M has five notable companion galaxies: NGC , NGC , NGC , NGC and Holmberg IV. The grand design pattern of the Pinwheel Galaxy is suspected to be a result of the interaction between the galaxy and its companions.
Messier (M, NGC )
Messier is a barred spiral galaxy, discovered by Pierre Méchain in From our perspective, the galaxy appears nearly edge-on.
Messier , image: Sloan Digital Sky Survey
M is an isolated member of the Ursa Major Cluster, a galaxy cluster within the Virgo Supercluster. M contains about globular clusters and 83 X-ray sources.
The galaxy has a visual magnitude of and is approximately 45, light years distant. A type 2 supernova, B, was observed in M in
Messier (M, NGC )
Messier is another barred spiral galaxy in Ursa Major. It is located southeast of the star Phecda (Gamma Ursae Majoris). The galaxy has an apparent magnitude of and is million light years distant.
Like the other notable galaxies in Ursa Major, M was discovered by Pierre Méchain in Charles Messier included it in his catalogue two years later.
Messier , image: Sloan Digital Sky Survey
A type Ia supernova, SN A, was seen in the galaxy in So far it has been the only supernova observed in M
M has at least three satellite galaxies, UGC , UGC and UGC It is the brightest galaxy in the M Group, a large group consisting of more than 50 galaxies in Ursa Major.
NGC is a peculiar dwarf galaxy in Ursa Major, located near the Pinwheel Galaxy (M), with which it interacts. The galaxy is often classified as a dwarf spiral galaxy because it shows signs of a spiral structure. As a result of the tidal interactions with M, the galaxys disk is offset from the nucleus, and so is the star formation.
NGC is the closest companion to M It has a visual magnitude of and is approximately 22 million light years distant from the solar system.
The subject of this Hubble image is NGC , a dwarf galaxy located 21 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). This beautiful image was taken with Hubbles Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The term dwarf galaxy may sound diminutive, but dont let that fool you — NGC contains several billion stars! However, when compared to the Milky Way with its hundreds of billions of stars, NGC does indeed seem relatively small. NGC itself is part of the Messier Group. The brightest galaxy within this group is the well-known spiral Pinwheel Galaxy (also known as Messier ). This galaxys prominent, well-defined arms classify it as a grand design galaxy, along with other spirals Messier 81 and Messier Also within this group are Messier s galactic neighbors. It is possible that gravitational interactions with these companion galaxies have had some influence on providing Messier with its striking shape. Similar interactions with Messier may have caused the distortions visible in NGC Both the Messier Group and our own Local Group reside within the Virgo Supercluster, making NGC something of a neighbor in galactic terms. Image: NASA/ESA
Constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere
This article is about the constellation. For the pattern of stars (asterism), see Big Dipper. For other uses, see Ursa Major (disambiguation).
Ursa Major (; also known as the Great Bear) is a constellation in the northern sky, whose associated mythology likely dates back into prehistory. Its Latin name means "greater (or larger) she-bear," referring to and contrasting it with nearby Ursa Minor, the lesser bear. In antiquity, it was one of the original 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD. Today it is the third largest of the 88 modern constellations.
Ursa Major is primarily known from the asterism of its main seven stars, which has been called the "Big Dipper," "the Wagon," "Charles's Wain," or "the Plough," among other names. In particular, the Big Dipper's stellar configuration mimics the shape of the "Little Dipper." Two of its stars, named Dubhe and Merak (α Ursae Majoris and β Ursae Majoris), can be used as the navigational pointer towards the place of the current northern pole star, Polaris in Ursa Minor.
Ursa Major, along with asterisms that incorporate or comprise it, is significant to numerous world cultures, often as a symbol of the north. Its depiction on the flag of Alaska is a modern example of such symbolism.
Ursa Major is visible throughout the year from most of the northern hemisphere, and appears circumpolar above the mid-northern latitudes. From southern temperate latitudes, the main asterism is invisible, but the southern parts of the constellation can still be viewed.
Ursa Major covers square degrees or % of the total sky, making it the third largest constellation. In , Eugène Delporte set its official International Astronomical Union (IAU) constellation boundaries, defining it as a sided irregular polygon. In the equatorial coordinate system, the constellation stretches between the right ascension coordinates of 08h m and 14h m and the declination coordinates of +° and +°. Ursa Major borders eight other constellations: Draco to the north and northeast, Boötes to the east, Canes Venatici to the east and southeast, Coma Berenices to the southeast, Leo and Leo Minor to the south, Lynx to the southwest and Camelopardalis to the northwest. The three-letter constellation abbreviation "UMa" was adopted by the IAU in 
See also: List of stars in Ursa Major
The outline of the seven bright stars of Ursa Major form the asterism known as the "Big Dipper" in the United States and Canada, while in the United Kingdom it is called the Plough or (historically) Charles' Wain. Six of the seven stars are of second magnitude or higher, and it forms one of the best-known patterns in the sky. As many of its common names allude, its shape is said to resemble a ladle, an agricultural plough, or wagon. In the context of Ursa Major, they are commonly drawn to represent the hindquarters and tail of the Great Bear. Starting with the "ladle" portion of the dipper and extending clockwise (eastward in the sky) through the handle, these stars are the following:
- α Ursae Majoris, known by the Arabic name Dubhe ("the bear"), which at a magnitude of is the 35th-brightest star in the sky and the second-brightest of Ursa Major.
- β Ursae Majoris, called Merak ("the loins of the bear"), with a magnitude of
- γ Ursae Majoris, known as Phecda ("thigh"), with a magnitude of
- δ Ursae Majoris, or Megrez, meaning "root of the tail," referring to its location as the intersection of the body and tail of the bear (or the ladle and handle of the dipper).
- ε Ursae Majoris, known as Alioth, a name which refers not to a bear but to a "black horse," the name corrupted from the original and mis-assigned to the similarly named Alcor, the naked-eye binary companion of Mizar. Alioth is the brightest star of Ursa Major and the 33rd-brightest in the sky, with a magnitude of It is also the brightest of the chemically peculiarAp stars, magnetic stars whose chemical elements are either depleted or enhanced, and appear to change as the star rotates.
- ζ Ursae Majoris, Mizar, the second star in from the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, and the constellation's fourth-brightest star. Mizar, which means "girdle," forms a famous double star, with its optical companion Alcor (80 Ursae Majoris), the two of which were termed the "horse and rider" by the Arabs. The ability to resolve the two stars with the naked eye is often quoted[by whom?] as a test of eyesight, although even people with quite poor eyesight can see the two stars.
- η Ursae Majoris, known as Alkaid, meaning the "end of the tail". With a magnitude of , Alkaid is the third-brightest star of Ursa Major.
Except for Dubhe and Alkaid, the stars of the Big Dipper all have proper motions heading toward a common point in Sagittarius. A few other such stars have been identified, and together they are called the Ursa Major Moving Group.
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 or Pole Star. By visually tracing a line from Merak through Dubhe (1 unit) and continuing for 5 units, one's eye will land on Polaris, accurately indicating true north.
Another asterism known as the "Three Leaps of the Gazelle" is recognized in Arab culture. It is a series of three pairs of stars found along the southern border of the constellation. From southeast to southwest, the "first leap", comprising ν and ξ Ursae Majoris (Alula Borealis and Australis, respectively); the "second leap", comprising λ and μ Ursae Majoris (Tania Borealis and Australis); and the "third leap", comprising ι and κ Ursae Majoris, (Talitha Borealis and Australis respectively).
W Ursae Majoris is the prototype of a class of contact binaryvariable stars, and ranges between m and m.
47 Ursae Majoris is a Sun-like star with a three-planet system Ursae Majoris b, discovered in , orbits every days and is times the mass of Jupiter.47 Ursae Majoris c, discovered in , orbits every days and is times the mass of Jupiter.47 Ursae Majoris d, discovered in , has an uncertain period, lying between and days; it is times the mass of Jupiter. The star is of magnitude and is approximately 46 light-years from Earth.
The star TYC (9h 40m 44s 48142), located to the east of θ Ursae Majoris and to the southwest of the "Big Dipper") has been recognized as the state star of Delaware, and is informally known as the Delaware Diamond.
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 (M), a spiral northeast of η Ursae Majoris. The spiral galaxiesMessier and Messier are also found in this constellation. The bright planetary nebulaOwl Nebula (M97) can be found along the bottom of the bowl of the Big Dipper.
M81 is a nearly face-on spiral galaxy million light-years from Earth. Like most spiral galaxies, it has a core made up of old stars, with arms filled with young stars and nebulae. Along with M82, it is a part of the galaxy cluster closest to the Local Group.
M82 is a nearly edgewise galaxy that is interacting gravitationally with M It is the brightest infrared galaxy in the sky.SN J, an apparent Type Ia supernova, was observed in M82 on 21 January 
M97, also called the Owl Nebula, is a planetary nebula 1, light-years from Earth; it has a magnitude of approximately It was discovered in by Pierre Méchain.
M, also called the Pinwheel Galaxy, is a face-on spiral galaxy located 25 million light-years from Earth. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain in Its spiral arms have regions with extensive star formation and have strong ultraviolet emissions. It has an integrated magnitude of , making it visible in both binoculars and telescopes, but not to the naked eye.
NGC is a lenticular galaxy at a distance of 24 million light-years. Unlike most lenticular galaxies, NGC has a bar at its center. It also has a halo of globular clusters, indicating its age and relative stability.
NGC is a lenticular galaxy located 60 million light-years from Earth.
NGC is a starburst spiral galaxy located 52 million light-years from Earth. It has a horseshoe-shaped structure at its center that indicates the presence of a supermassive black hole. The structure itself is formed by superwinds from the black hole.
NGC is another starburst spiral galaxy located 50 million light-years from Earth. Its bright white color is caused by its higher than usual rate of star formation, which began million years ago after a merger. Studies of this and other starburst galaxies have shown that their starburst phase can last for hundreds of millions of years, far longer than was previously assumed.
NGC is an edge-on spiral galaxy located 55 million light-years from Earth. It has a prominent dust lane and has several visible star forming regions.
I Zwicky 18 is a young dwarf galaxy at a distance of 45 million light-years. The youngest-known galaxy in the visible universe, I Zwicky 18 is about 4million years old, about one-thousandth the age of the Solar System. It is filled with star forming regions which are creating many hot, young, blue stars at a very high rate.
The Hubble Deep Field is located to the northeast of δ Ursae Majoris.
The Kappa Ursae Majorids are a newly discovered meteor shower, peaking between November 1 and November 
HD , a sun-like star in a binary system, orbits a common center of gravity with its partner, HD ; the two are separated by 1, AU on average. Research conducted in indicates that its sole planet, HD b is a future hot Jupiter, modeled to have evolved in a perpendicular orbit around 5 AU from its sun. The 4-Jupiter mass planet is projected to eventually move into a circular, more aligned orbit via the Kozai mechanism. However, it is currently on an incredibly eccentric orbit that ranges from approximately one astronomical unit at its apoapsis and six stellar radii at periapsis.
Ursa Major has been reconstructed as an Indo-European constellation. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century AD astronomer Ptolemy in his Almagest, who called it Arktos Megale.[a] It is mentioned by such poets as Homer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Tennyson and also by Federico Garcia Lorca, in "Song for the Moon".Ancient Finnish poetry also refers to the constellation, and it features in the painting Starry Night Over the Rhône by Vincent van Gogh. It may be mentioned in the biblical book of Job, dated between the 7th and 4th centuries BC, although this is often disputed.
The constellation of Ursa Major has been seen as a bear, usually female, by many distinct civilizations. This may stem from a common oral tradition of Cosmic Hunt myths stretching back more than 13, years. Using statistical and phylogenetic tools, Julien d'Huy reconstructs the following Palaeolithic state of the story: "There is an animal that is a horned herbivore, especially an elk. One human pursues this ungulate. The hunt locates or get to the sky. The animal is alive when it is transformed into a constellation. It forms the Big Dipper."
In Roman mythology, Jupiter (the king of the gods) lusts after a young woman named Callisto, a nymph of Diana. Juno, Jupiter's jealous wife, discovers that Callisto has a son named Arcas, and believes it is by Jupiter. Juno then transforms the beautiful Callisto into a bear so she no longer attracts Jupiter. Callisto, while in bear form, later encounters her son Arcas. Arcas almost shoots the bear, but to avert the tragedy, Jupiter turns Arcas into a bear too and puts them both in the sky, forming Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Callisto is Ursa Major and her son, Arcas, is Ursa Minor. An alternate version has Arcas become the constellation Boötes.
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.The Odyssey notes that it is the sole constellation that never sinks below the horizon and "bathes in the Ocean's waves," so it is used as a celestial reference point for navigation. It is also called the "Wain."
In Hinduism, Ursa Major is known as Saptarshi, each of the stars representing one of the Saptarshis or Seven Sages viz. Bhrigu, Atri, Angiras, Vasishtha, Pulastya, Pulaha 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.
One of the few star groups mentioned in the Bible (Job ; ; – 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 King James Bible.
East Asian traditions
In China and Japan, the Big Dipper is called the "North Dipper" 北斗 (Chinese: běidǒu, Japanese: hokuto), and in ancient times, each one of the seven stars had a specific name, often coming themselves from ancient China:
- "Pivot" 樞 (C: shū J: sū) is for Dubhe (Alpha Ursae Majoris)
- "Beautiful jade" 璇 (C: xuán J: sen) is for Merak (Beta Ursae Majoris)
- "Pearl" 璣 (C: jī J: ki) is for Phecda (Gamma Ursae Majoris)
- "Balance"權 (C: quán J: ken) is for Megrez (Delta Ursae Majoris)
- "Measuring rod of jade" 玉衡 (C: yùhéng J: gyokkō) is for Alioth (Epsilon Ursae Majoris)
- "Opening of the Yang" 開陽 (C: kāiyáng J: kaiyō) is for Mizar (Zeta Ursae Majoris)
- Alkaid (Eta Ursae Majoris) has several nicknames: "Sword" 劍 (C: jiàn J: ken) (short form from "End of the sword" 劍先 (C: jiàn xiān J: ken saki)), "Flickering light" 搖光 (C: yáoguāng J: yōkō), or again "Star of military defeat" 破軍星 (C: pójūn xīng J: hagun sei), because travel in the direction of this star was regarded as bad luck for an army.
In Shinto, the seven largest stars of Ursa Major belong to Amenominakanushi, the oldest and most powerful of all kami.
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.
Native American traditions
The Iroquois 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 strike 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.
The Lakota people call the constellation Wičhákhiyuhapi, or "Great Bear."
The Wampanoag people (Algonquian) referred to Ursa Major as "maske," meaning "bear" according to Thomas Morton in The New England Canaan.
The Wasco-Wishram Native Americans interpreted the constellation as 5 wolves and 2 bears that were left in the sky by Coyote.
Northern European traditions
In the Finnish language, the asterism is sometimes called by its old Finnish name, Otava. The meaning of the name has been almost forgotten in Modern Finnish; it means a salmonweir. Ancient Finns believed the bear (Ursus arctos) was lowered to earth in a golden basket off the Ursa Major, and when a bear was killed, its head was positioned on a tree to allow the bear's spirit to return to Ursa Major.
Southeast Asian traditions
In Burmese, Pucwan Tārā (ပုဇွန် တာရာ, pronounced "bazun taya") is the name of a constellation comprising stars from the head and forelegs of Ursa Major; pucwan (ပုဇွန်) is a general term for a crustacean, such as prawn, shrimp, crab, lobster, etc.
In Javanese, it is known as "lintang jong," which means "the jong constellation." Likewise, in Malay it is called "bintang jong."
In Theosophy, it is believed that 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.
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 forming the Dipper's "handle" as a long tail. However, bears do not have long tails, and Jewish astronomers considered Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid instead to be three cubs following their mother, while the Native Americans saw them as three hunters.
Noted children's book author H. A. Rey, in his book The Stars: A New Way to See Them, (ISBN) had a different asterism in mind for Ursa Major, that instead had the "bear" image of the constellation 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, potentially giving it the longer head and neck of a polar bear.
Ursa Major is also pictured as the Starry Plough, the Irish flag of Labour, adopted by James Connolly's Irish Citizen Army in , which shows the constellation on a blue background; on the state flag of Alaska; and on the House of Bernadotte's variation of the coat of arms of Sweden. The seven stars on a red background of the flag of the Community of Madrid, Spain, may be the stars of the Plough asterism (or of Ursa Minor). The same can be said of the seven stars pictured in the bordure azure of the coat of arms of Madrid, capital of that country.
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Coordinates: 10h 40m 12s, +55° 22′ 48″
The Ursa Major Constellation
Ursa Major or also known as the Great Bear is the largest constellation in the northern hemispheres sky. It is the third-largest out of the 88 constellations in the sky.
The name is Latin meaning greater she-bear. Ursa Major is the greater or larger bear because it is contrasted with the nearby Ursa Minor, also known as the lesser bear.
Ursa Major is one of the original 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy in the second century CE. The brightest stars in this constellation form the Big Dipper or also known as the Plough. This asterism in Ursa Major is one of the most recognizable shapes in the sky.
The flag of Alaska contains the image of the Big Dipper along with the Polaris star.
The Big Dipper asterism in Ursa Major.
Ursa Major Constellation Details:
- Symbolism: The Great Bear
- Brightest star: Alioth
- Number of stars (Total):
- Size: sq. deg. (3rd largest)
- Right Ascension: h
- Declination: +°
Ursa Majors Prominent Stars
Ursa Major contains a number of prominent stars. This constellation is primarily known from the asterism of its main seven stars, the Big Dipper:
Big Dipper Stars:
Although this part of the constellation represents the Great Bears hind legs and tail, these bright stars form the popping image of a ladle. This asterism has two bright stars that can be used as a navigational pointer. These two stars are Dubhe and Merak. They point to the location of the current northern pole star, Polaris.
Polaris is the north star that is located in the Ursa Minor constellation. Dubhe is also referred to as Alpha Ursae Majoris. Dubhe is an orange giant star around light-years from Earth. It is the second brightest star in the constellation with a magnitude of
Dubhe is the 35th brightest star in the sky. Merak is also known as Ursae Majoris. It is a white star with a magnitude of That is around three times the mass and radius of our sun.
Merak also has surface temperatures that are roughly twice as hot as our sun.
The Alkaid star, or also called Eta Ursae Majoris, is the tip of the Great Bears tail. Or also seen as the tip of the Big Dippers handle. It is a bluish-white star. It has a magnitude of and surface temperatures around 3 times hotter than our sun. Alkaid is the third brightest star of Ursa Major.
The second star from the end of the tail or handle is Mizar-Alcor or known as Zeta Ursae Majoris. It is the constellations fourth-brightest star. Mizar forms a famous double star, with its companion Alcor. The Arabs termed these two stars as the horse and rider. Among them, the ability to see these two stars with the naked eye was often considered a test of good eyesight.
The third star is Alioth, or also referred to as Epsilon Ursae Majoris. Alioth is the brightest star in the Ursa Major constellation. It is the 33rd brightest star in the sky, consisting of magnitude It has a distance of around 80 light-years from Earth.
The Big Dipper as seen from my Bortle Scale Class 8 backyard.
The fourth star is Megrez or Delta Ursae Majoris. Megrez is located at the intersection of the body and tail of the bear or the ladle and handle of the dipper. It is a white star and is around 60 light-years from Earth.
After Megrez we have the star Dubhe, completing the top frame of the dipper. Merak is the star that outlines the bottom of the dipper. Phecda or also known as Gamma Ursae Majoris completes the bottom frame of the dipper. Phecda is a white star with a magnitude of
Muscida is the star that is located at the head of the bear. This star is also known as Omicron Ursae Majoris. It is a yellow giant star with a distance of around light-years from earth.
Talitha is the star located at the bears front legs. It is referred to as Lota Ursae Majoris. This star is a four-star system. It contains two pairs of binary stars that are roughly 45 light-years away from earth.
The remaining stars are located in the bears hind legs. These stars are known as the Tania Borealis, Tania Australis, Alula Borealis, and Alula Australis.
Tania Borealis is a white star that is about light-years from the earth. Tania Australis is a red giant star around light-years from earth.
The Alula Borealis is an orange giant with a distance of around light-years from earth. Alula Australis is a four-star system. It consists of two pairs of binary stars. These stars are 30 light-years from our earth. The main stars in this system are like sun stars. The other ones are considered to be red dwarfs.
Deep-Sky Objects in Ursa Major
Ursa Major contains seven Messier objects that are located within and around the constellation. The most famous of these seven are the Pinwheel Galaxy, Bode’s Galaxy, the Cigar Galaxy, and the Owl Nebula.
The other three Messier objects are referred to as Messier 40 (M40, Winnecke 4), Messier (M, NGC ), and Messier (M, NGC ).
The Ursa Major constellation also contains 13 stars within it that are confirmed as planets. There are two meteor showers associated with the constellation; the Alpha Ursa Majorids and the Leonids-Ursids.
Ursa Major constellation belongs to the Ursa Major family of constellations. This family of constellations consists of Boötes, Camelopardalis, Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices, Corona Borealis, Draco, Leo Minor, Lynx, and Ursa Minor.
M81, M82, and NGC can be seen in this photo (view larger version).
M, The Pinwheel Galaxy lies near the handle of the Big Dipper in Ursa Major.
Location in the Night Sky
Ursa Major is the third largest constellation in the sky. It occupies an area of square degrees.
Ursa Major is located in the second quadrant of the northern hemisphere. It can be seen at latitudes between +90° and °. The best time to see this constellation is in the spring. At this time Ursa Major is high above the north-eastern horizon.
The eight neighboring constellations to the Great Bear are Draco to the north and northeast. Boötes to the east. Canes Venatici to the east and southeast. Coma Berenices to the southeast.
Leo and Leo Minor to the south. Lynx to the southwest and Camelopardalis to the northwest. From southern temperate latitudes, the Big Dipper is unable to be seen. However, some of the southern parts of the constellation can be seen.
Ursa Major constellation map from the IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine.
Origin of the Great Bear
The Great Bear is one of the oldest constellations in the night sky. It can be dated back up to 13, years. It is mentioned in the Bible and also found in the works of the Greek author Homer.
In Greek mythology, the constellation is associated with the myth of Callisto. Callisto was the beautiful nymph who had sworn a vow of chastity to the goddess Artemis. One day Zeus saw the nymph and the two fell in love.
Artemis banished Callisto when she discovered that Callistos vow was broken. Zeus and Callisto had a son named Arcas.
However, it was Hera, a jealous wife of Zeus who turned Callisto into a bear.
Callisto lived as a bear for 15 years, until she came face to face with her son Arcas. Arcas quickly drew his spear but before he could attack Zeus intervened to prevent disaster. Zeus sent a whirlwind that lifted Callisto and Arcas into the heavens. Arcas became the constellation Boötes, or also known as the Herdsman. Callisto became Ursa Major.
Among the Greek myths there are different versions of this tale. Another asserts that it is Artemis who transforms Callisto into a bear as punishment for breaking her vow of chastity. Many years later, Callisto along with Arcas become captured in a forest.
They are imprisoned and taken to King Lycaon as a gift. However, the mother and son are able to escape and take refuge in the temple of Zeus. Not realizing that their trespassing is punishable by death, Zeus comes and intervenes to save them by placing them both in the sky.
The Ursa Major constellation is associated with several Greek and Roman myths. The Romans called the constellation Septentrio, or seven plough oxen.
However, only two of the seven stars represented the oxen, while the others formed a wagon.
In Hindu legend, the brightest stars represent the Seven Sages. The Hindus termed the constellation as Saptarshi. The sages are Bhrigu, Atri, Angirasa, Vasishta, Pulastya, Pulalaha and Kratu.
The ancient Chinese believed the seven bright stars represented Tseih Sing, the Government, or Pih Tow, the Northern Measure. In South Korea, the constellation is referred to as the Seven Stars of the North.
In some Native American stories, the three stars in the asterisms handle of the dipper represented three warriors chasing a great bear. In recent American history, the Big Dipper was used in the Underground Railroad.
Its position in the sky helped slaves find their way north. Numerous songs spread among slaves in the south encouraging them to follow the ‘Drinking Gourd’ to find a better life.
In history, wanderers in the northern hemisphere used Polaris (located in Ursa Minor) to stay on course. The Big Dipper helped in locating the Polaris star (the North Star).
This is the star around which the whole northern celestial sphere appears to turn throughout the night. This is because Polaris is located nearly above Earth’s northern axis.
The following video will provide you with an excellent overview of the constellation Ursa Major. The host covers several interesting facts about the constellation as a whole, and the Big Dipper asterism within it.
Major picture ursa
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