Great Bear

In Latin Ursa Major means "greater she-bear." In Greek Arktos is the word for bear, hence the name Arctic, which means bearish and describes the far northern parts of the earth where the Great Bear constellation dominates the heavens even more than in the northern hemisphere. A very large constellation, Ursa Major is best known for its famous asterism or star grouping, the Big Dipper.

Here are three different depictions of Ursa Major:
The ancient way of viewing the Great Bear places the Big Dipper in the rump and the tail of the bear. The tail is unusually long for a bear ... see the Myth!

The old way of viewing the Great Bear has no resemblance to a bear!

The new way of viewing the Great Bear places the bowl of the dipper on the Bear's shoulder like a saddle and the tip of the handle forms the Bear's nose.

Location in the Night Sky

Ursa Major is highest in the sky in the spring and lowest in the autumn, when, according to Indian legends, the Bear is looking for a place to lie down for its winter hibernation. This constellation is a circumpolar constellation, which means it travels closely around the North Star; it is always above the horizon never rising or setting; it can be seen any time of the year, high or low in the sky.

The following graphic shows the position of the Big Dipper in the early evening each season. In the spring the bowl is high above and inverted, pouring water upon the new flowers. In summer the bowl looks as if it is ready to scoop up some cool water with its handle above and its bowl below. In autumn the bowl is right-side-up, ready to catch the falling leaves. In winter the handle points down like an icicle.

The pointer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper point to Polaris, our current North Star. The distance to Polaris appears to be six times the distance between the pointer stars.

To find the Great Bear in the Spring night sky, look high overhead and locate the Dipper first, then the three pairs of stars which form the Bear's paws ... this works for the ancient or new way of viewing the Great Bear. The bowl of the Dipper is inverted as if pouring the contents of fresh water down upon an awakening earth. The paws of the Bear are up high, as if walking in the heavens.

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