Big Dipper

Big Dipper

Overview

The Plough, also known as the Big Dipper or the Saptarishi (after the seven rishis
Saptarshi
The Saptarishi are the seven rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and Hindu literature. The Vedic Samhitas never actually enumerate these rishis by name, though later Vedic texts such as the Brahmanas and Upanisads do so. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the...

), is an asterism
Asterism (astronomy)
In astronomy, an asterism is a pattern of stars recognized on Earth's night sky. It may form part of an official constellation, or be composed of stars from more than one. Like constellations, asterisms are in most cases composed of stars which, while they are visible in the same general direction,...

 of seven star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s that has been recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures from time immemorial. The component stars are the seven brightest of the formal constellation
Constellation
In modern astronomy, a constellation is an internationally defined area of the celestial sphere. These areas are grouped around asterisms, patterns formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another on Earth's night sky....

 Ursa Major
Ursa Major
Ursa Major , 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...

.

The Plough is significant because the North Star (Polaris
Polaris
Polaris |Alpha]] Ursae Minoris, commonly North Star or Pole Star, also Lodestar) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole, making it the current northern pole star....

), the current northern
True north
True north is the direction along the earth's surface towards the geographic North Pole.True geodetic north usually differs from magnetic north , and from grid north...

 pole star
Pole star
The term "Pole Star" usually refers to Polaris, which is the current northern pole star, also known as the North Star.In general, however, a pole star is a visible star, especially a prominent one, that is approximately aligned with the Earth's axis of rotation; that is, a star whose apparent...

 on Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

, can be found using it. Polaris
Polaris
Polaris |Alpha]] Ursae Minoris, commonly North Star or Pole Star, also Lodestar) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole, making it the current northern pole star....

 is part of the "Little Dipper", Ursa Minor
Ursa Minor
Ursa Minor , also known as the Little Bear, is a constellation in the northern sky. Like the Great Bear, the tail of the Little Bear may also be seen as the handle of a ladle, whence the name Little Dipper...

.

In Hindu astronomy
Hindu astronomy
Historical Indian astronomy develops as a discipline of Vedanga or one of the "auxiliary disciplines" associated with the study of the Vedas.The oldest extant text of astronomy is the treatise by Lagadha, dated to the Mauryan era ....

, it is referred to as Sapta Rishi, meaning the "Seven (Great) Sages
Saptarshi
The Saptarishi are the seven rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and Hindu literature. The Vedic Samhitas never actually enumerate these rishis by name, though later Vedic texts such as the Brahmanas and Upanisads do so. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the...

".

Throughout eastern Asia, these stars compose the Northern Dipper.
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The Plough, also known as the Big Dipper or the Saptarishi (after the seven rishis
Saptarshi
The Saptarishi are the seven rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and Hindu literature. The Vedic Samhitas never actually enumerate these rishis by name, though later Vedic texts such as the Brahmanas and Upanisads do so. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the...

), is an asterism
Asterism (astronomy)
In astronomy, an asterism is a pattern of stars recognized on Earth's night sky. It may form part of an official constellation, or be composed of stars from more than one. Like constellations, asterisms are in most cases composed of stars which, while they are visible in the same general direction,...

 of seven star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s that has been recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures from time immemorial. The component stars are the seven brightest of the formal constellation
Constellation
In modern astronomy, a constellation is an internationally defined area of the celestial sphere. These areas are grouped around asterisms, patterns formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another on Earth's night sky....

 Ursa Major
Ursa Major
Ursa Major , 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...

.

The Plough is significant because the North Star (Polaris
Polaris
Polaris |Alpha]] Ursae Minoris, commonly North Star or Pole Star, also Lodestar) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole, making it the current northern pole star....

), the current northern
True north
True north is the direction along the earth's surface towards the geographic North Pole.True geodetic north usually differs from magnetic north , and from grid north...

 pole star
Pole star
The term "Pole Star" usually refers to Polaris, which is the current northern pole star, also known as the North Star.In general, however, a pole star is a visible star, especially a prominent one, that is approximately aligned with the Earth's axis of rotation; that is, a star whose apparent...

 on Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

, can be found using it. Polaris
Polaris
Polaris |Alpha]] Ursae Minoris, commonly North Star or Pole Star, also Lodestar) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole, making it the current northern pole star....

 is part of the "Little Dipper", Ursa Minor
Ursa Minor
Ursa Minor , also known as the Little Bear, is a constellation in the northern sky. Like the Great Bear, the tail of the Little Bear may also be seen as the handle of a ladle, whence the name Little Dipper...

.

Asia


In Hindu astronomy
Hindu astronomy
Historical Indian astronomy develops as a discipline of Vedanga or one of the "auxiliary disciplines" associated with the study of the Vedas.The oldest extant text of astronomy is the treatise by Lagadha, dated to the Mauryan era ....

, it is referred to as Sapta Rishi, meaning the "Seven (Great) Sages
Saptarshi
The Saptarishi are the seven rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and Hindu literature. The Vedic Samhitas never actually enumerate these rishis by name, though later Vedic texts such as the Brahmanas and Upanisads do so. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the...

".

Throughout eastern Asia, these stars compose the Northern Dipper. They are colloquially known as the "Seven Stars of the Northern Dipper":;
  • Japanese
    Japanese language
    is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

    : 北斗七星hokutoshichisei;
  • Korean
    Korean language
    Korean is the official language of the country Korea, in both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in People's Republic of China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing...

    : 북두칠성, Bukduchilseong;
  • Vietnamese: chòm sao Bắc Đẩu.

The seven stars are very important in Taoist astrology
Astrology
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

. Sometimes there are said to be nine stars — besides the seven visible stars, two invisible "attendant" stars, one on either side of the star Alkaid. Legend has it that there used to be 9 stars (北斗九星) but 2 had since faded and that those who can see the 2 unseen stars will lead a long life. The Goddess Doumu is said to have given birth to the nine stars which make up the constellation.

Buruj Biduk (The Ladle
Ladle (spoon)
A ladle is a type of spoon used to scoop up and serve soup, stew, or other foods. Although designs vary, a typical ladle has a long handle terminating in a deep bowl, frequently with the bowl oriented at an angle to the handle to facilitate lifting liquid out of a pot or other vessel and conveying...

) is the formation's name in Malaysia. In Mongolia
Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western-most point is only from Kazakhstan's eastern tip. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest...

, it is known as the Seven Gods (Долоон бурхан). In parts of rural India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, it is known as the Samantha formation. An Arabian story has the four stars of the Plough's bowl as a coffin
Coffin
A coffin is a funerary box used in the display and containment of dead people – either for burial or cremation.Contemporary North American English makes a distinction between "coffin", which is generally understood to denote a funerary box having six sides in plan view, and "casket", which...

, with the three stars in the handle as mourners, following it.

Europe


In both Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 and Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, this pattern is known as the Plough or sometimes the Saucepan. It is also occasionally referred to as the Butcher's Cleaver in northern England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. In Ireland the figure is sometimes called the Starry Plough; the symbol of the Starry Plough has been used as a political symbol by Irish Republican
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 and left wing movements.

Known as Charles his waine in some areas of England, the Plough was formerly called by the old name
Name
A name is a word or term used for identification. Names can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a given context. A personal name identifies a specific unique and identifiable individual person, and may or may not include a middle name...

 Charles' Wain ("wain" meaning "wagon," and derived from the still older Carlswæn), as it still is in Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

, Karlavagnen, Karlsvogna, or Karlsvognen. In the northeast of England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 it is sometimes known as Charlie's Waggon. A folk etymology holds that it was named after Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

, but this common Germanic
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

 name meant the men's wagon (the churls' wagon), in contrast to the women's wagon (the Little Dipper). An older Odin's Wain may have preceded these Nordic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 designations. Similarly, in Romanian
Romanian language
Romanian Romanian Romanian (or Daco-Romanian; obsolete spellings Rumanian, Roumanian; self-designation: română, limba română ("the Romanian language") or românește (lit. "in Romanian") is a Romance language spoken by around 24 to 28 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova...

 and most Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

 it is known as "the Great Wagon", as opposed to "the Small Wagon," the Little Dipper. In German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 it is called Großer Wagen (Great Cart).

In Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

, its official name is Grote Beer ( Big Bear), but often called Steelpannetje (saucepan), because of its resemblance to the utensil. In Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 the figure is known as Otava and widely used as a cultural symbol. In Finnish dialects, the word otava
Otava
Otava Publishing Company Ltd. is a major Finnish publisher of books. It was founded in 1890 and now is the second largest in Finland. It publishes fiction, non-fiction, books for teenagers and children, multimedia and teaching materials. The number of new titles a year exceeds 400...

means a 'salmon net', but this word is largely obsolete in modern Finnish.

In Hungary
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

, it is commonly called Göncölszekér ("Göncöl's cart") after a figure in Hungarian mythology
Hungarian mythology
Hungarian mythology includes the myths, legends, folk tales, fairy tales and gods of the Hungarians. Many parts of it are thought to be lost, i.e. only some texts remained which can be classified as a myth. However, a significant amount of Hungarian mythology was successfully recovered in the last...

, a táltos
Táltos
The táltos is a figure in Hungarian mythology similar to a shaman.According to Roman Catholic priest Arnold Ipolyi, in his book "Magyar mitológia" from 1854, a táltos was in direct contact with God during the prenatal period. Once born, the táltos had a special mission in life to cure both body...

 who carried medicines in his cart that could cure any disease.

These seven stars (septentriones, from the phrase septem triōnēs, meaning "seven plough oxen") are the origin of the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 word septentriōnēs meaning "north" and now found as the adjective septentrional
Septentrional
Septentrional is a word that means "of the north", rarely used in English but commonly used in Latin and in the Romance languages. Early maps of North America, mostly those before 1700, often refer to the northern- or northwestern-most unexplored areas of the continent at "Septentrional" or...

(northern) in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 and Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

. This etymology goes back to a passage in Varro
Varro
Varro was a Roman cognomen carried by:*Marcus Terentius Varro, sometimes known as Varro Reatinus, the scholar*Publius Terentius Varro or Varro Atacinus, the poet*Gaius Terentius Varro, the consul defeated at the battle of Cannae...

 (Marcus Terentius) who explains that triōn- (a word not attested elsewhere) means "plough ox" and derives the form from terō, one of whose meanings is "thresh grain by rubbing". The derivation is acceptable (Latin short vowels often syncopate before -r- in medial syllables), but the meaning, if Varro is right about the root derivation, is surely "threshing ox", as the seven stars (oxen) perpetually wheel about the pole star like oxen on a threshing floor. A different etymology appeals to *septem astr-iōn- "seven stars" (aster-), which is not obviously wrong (if lacking poetic inspiration), but the development of *-nstr- to -ntr- is not without problems.

North America



In the English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 speaking regions of North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 (Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

) the Plough is known as the Big Dipper because the major stars can be seen to follow the rough outline of a large ladle
Ladle
Ladle may refer to:* Ladle , a serving device, typically for soup* Ladle , a foundry ladle used to carry and pour molten metal...

 or dipper. This figuration appears to be derived originally from Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, where it was sometimes seen as a drinking gourd
Gourd
A gourd is a plant of the family Cucurbitaceae. Gourd is occasionally used to describe crops like cucumbers, squash, luffas, and melons. The term 'gourd' however, can more specifically, refer to the plants of the two Cucurbitaceae genera Lagenaria and Cucurbita or also to their hollow dried out shell...

. In the 19th century, runaway slaves would "follow the Drinking Gourd
Follow the Drinkin' Gourd
"Follow the Drinkin' Gourd" is an American folk song first published in 1928. The "Drinking Gourd" is another name for the Big Dipper asterism. Folklore has it that fugitive slaves in the United States used it as a point of reference so they would not get lost...

" to the north and freedom.

A widespread American Indian
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 figuration had the bowl as a bear. Some groups considered the handle to be three cubs following their mother, while others pictured three hunters tracking the bear. (For example, see Abenaki mythology
Abenaki mythology
The Abenaki people are an indigenous peoples of the Americas located in the northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. Religious ceremonies are led by medicine keepers, called Medeoulin or Mdawinno.-Three ages:...

.) The Dipper appears on some Tribal flags
Flag of the Cherokee Nation
The flag of the Cherokee Nation consists of an orange field with the Great Seal of the Cherokee Nation in the center. The seal is surrounded by seven yellow stars with seven points. Each of these stars points toward the star in the center of the seal...

, while the flag of the state of Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 features a stylized Big Dipper and North Star
Polaris
Polaris |Alpha]] Ursae Minoris, commonly North Star or Pole Star, also Lodestar) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole, making it the current northern pole star....

. The Anishinaabe or Ojibway First Nation
Anishinaabe
Anishinaabe or Anishinabe—or more properly Anishinaabeg or Anishinabek, which is the plural form of the word—is the autonym often used by the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Algonquin peoples. They all speak closely related Anishinaabemowin/Anishinaabe languages, of the Algonquian language family.The meaning...

 know the Big Dipper as Ojig-anang or the Fisher Star (after the fisher cat
Fisher (animal)
The fisher is a medium-size mammal native to North America. It is a member of the mustelid family, commonly referred to as the weasel family. The fisher is closely related to but larger than the American Marten...

).

Stars


Within Ursa Major the stars of the Big Dipper have Bayer designation
Bayer designation
A Bayer designation is a stellar designation in which a specific star is identified by a Greek letter, followed by the genitive form of its parent constellation's Latin name...

s in consecutive Greek alphabet
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

ical order from the bowl to the handle.

Proper
Name
Bayer
Designation
Apparent
Magnitude
Distance
(L Yrs)
Dubhe  α UMa 1.8 124
Merak
Beta Ursae Majoris
Beta Ursae Majoris is a star in the constellation of Ursa Major. It has the traditional name Merak.It is more familiar to northern hemisphere observers as one of the "pointer stars" in the Big Dipper, and a straight line connecting it with nearby Alpha Ursae Majoris extends to Polaris, the north...

 
β UMa 2.4 79
Phecda
Gamma Ursae Majoris
Gamma Ursae Majoris is a star in the constellation Ursa Major. It has the traditional name Phad, or Phecda, from the Arabic phrase فخذ الدب "fakhð ad-dubb" ....

 
γ UMa 2.4 84
Megrez
Delta Ursae Majoris
Delta Ursae Majoris is a star in the constellation Ursa Major. It has the traditional names Megrez , from the al-maghriz "the base [of the bear's tail]", and Kaffa....

 
δ UMa 3.3 81
Alioth
Epsilon Ursae Majoris
Epsilon Ursae Majoris is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Major , and at magnitude 1.76 is the thirty-first brightest star in the sky...

 
ε UMa 1.8 81
Mizar  ζ UMa 2.1 78
Alkaid
Eta Ursae Majoris
Eta Ursae Majoris is a star in the constellation Ursa Major. It has the traditional names Alkaid and Benetnash ....

 
η UMa 1.9 101


In the same line of sight as Mizar
Mizar (star)
The Mizar–Alcor stellar sextuple system consists of the quadruple system Mizar and the binary system Alcor.- Description :Mizar is a quadruple system of two binary stars in the constellation Ursa Major and is the second star from the end of the Big Dipper's handle. Its apparent magnitude is 2.23...

, but three light-years beyond it, is the star Alcor (80 UMa
Uma
-Abbreviations:* Unified managed account, a type of investment account* Arab Maghreb Union *Ukrainian Museum-Archives, a museum in Cleveland, Ohio...

). Together they are known as the Horse and Rider
Horse and Rider
The Horse and Rider is an informal name given to the asterism composed of the two stars Mizar and Alcor because of their close proximity in the sky. Mizar is the second star in from the end of the handle of the Big Dipper. Mizar has apparent magnitude 2.27 and spectral class A1 V. With good...

. At fourth magnitude, Alcor would normally be relatively easy to see with the unaided eye, but its proximity to Mizar renders it more difficult to resolve, and it has served as a traditional test of sight. Mizar itself has four components and thus enjoys the distinction of being part of an optical binary as well as being the first-discovered telescopic
Telescope
A telescope is an instrument that aids in the observation of remote objects by collecting electromagnetic radiation . The first known practical telescopes were invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1600s , using glass lenses...

 binary
Binary star
A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common center of mass. The brighter star is called the primary and the other is its companion star, comes, or secondary...

 (1617) and the first-discovered spectroscopic binary (1889).
Five of the stars of the Big Dipper are at the core of the Ursa Major Moving Group
Ursa Major Moving Group
The Ursa Major Moving Group, also known as Collinder 285 or Ursa Major association, is a nearby stellar moving group, a set of stars with common velocities in space and thought to have a common origin. Its core is located roughly 80 light years away...

. The two at the ends, Dubhe and Alkaid, are not part of the swarm, and are moving in the opposite direction. Relative to the central five, they are moving down and to the right in the map. This will slowly change the Dipper's shape, with the bowl opening up and the handle becoming more bent. In 50,000 years the Dipper will no longer exist as we know it, but be re-formed into a new Dipper facing the opposite way. The stars Alkaid to Phecda will then constitute the bowl, while Phecda, Merak, and Dubhe will be the handle!

Guidepost


Not only are the stars in the Big Dipper easily found themselves, they may also be used as guides to yet other stars. Thus it is often the starting point for introducing Northern Hemisphere beginners to the night sky
Night sky
The term night sky refers to the sky as seen at night. The term is usually associated with astronomy, with reference to views of celestial bodies such as stars, the Moon, and planets that become visible on a clear night after the Sun has set. Natural light sources in a night sky include moonlight,...

:
  • Polaris
    Polaris
    Polaris |Alpha]] Ursae Minoris, commonly North Star or Pole Star, also Lodestar) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole, making it the current northern pole star....

    , the North Star, is found by imagining a line from Merak (β) to Dubhe (α) and then extending it for five times the distance between the two Pointers.
  • Extending a line from Megrez (δ) to Phecda (γ), on the inside of the bowl, leads to Regulus
    Regulus
    Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo and one of the brightest stars in the night sky, lying approximately 77.5 light years from Earth. Regulus is a multiple star system composed of four stars which are organized into two pairs...

     (α Leonis
    Leo (constellation)
    Leo is one of the constellations of the zodiac. Its name is Latin for lion. Its symbol is . Leo lies between dim Cancer to the west and Virgo to the east.-Stars:...

    ) and Alphard
    Alphard
    Alphard is the brightest star in the constellation Hydra. The name Alphard is from the Arabic الفرد , "the solitary one", there being no other bright stars near it. It was also known as the "backbone of the Serpent" to the Arabs. In ancient China it formed part of an asterism called the "red bird"...

     (α Hydrae
    Hydra (constellation)
    Hydra is the largest of the 88 modern constellations, measuring 1303 square degrees. It has a long history, having been included among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is commonly represented as a water snake...

    ). A mnemonic
    Mnemonic
    A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...

     for this is "A hole in the bowl will leak on Leo."
  • Crossing the top of the bowl from Megrez (δ) to Dubhe (α) takes one in the direction of Capella
    Capella (star)
    Capella is the brightest star in the constellation Auriga, the sixth brightest star in the night sky and the third brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus and Vega. Although it appears to be a single star to the naked eye, it is actually a star system of four stars in...

     (α Aurigae
    Auriga (constellation)
    Auriga is a constellation in the northern sky. Its name is Latin for 'charioteer' and its stars form a shape that has been associated with the pointed helmet of a charioteer. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains among the 88 modern...

    ). A mnemonic for this is "Cap to Capella."
  • Castor
    Castor (star)
    Castor is the second brightest star in the constellation Gemini and one of the brightest stars in the night sky. Although it has the Bayer designation "alpha", it is actually fainter than Beta Geminorum...

     (α Geminorum
    Gemini (constellation)
    Gemini is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It was one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. Its name is Latin for "twins", and it is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology...

    ) is reached by imagining a diagonal line from Megrez (δ) to Merak (β) and then extending it for approximately five times that distance.
  • By following the curve of the handle from Alioth (ε) to Mizar (ζ) to Alkaid (η), one reaches Arcturus (α Boötis
    Boötes
    Boötes is a constellation in the northern sky, located between 0° and +60° declination, and 13 and 16 hours of right ascension on the celestial sphere. The name comes from the Greek Βοώτης, Boōtēs, meaning herdsman or plowman...

    ) and Spica
    Spica
    Spica is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, and the 15th brightest star in the nighttime sky. It is 260 light years distant from Earth...

     (α Virginis
    Virgo (constellation)
    Virgo is one of the constellations of the zodiac. Its name is Latin for virgin, and its symbol is . Lying between Leo to the west and Libra to the east, it is the second largest constellation in the sky...

    ). A mnemonic for this is "Arc to Arcturus then speed to Spica."

Additionally, the Dipper may be used as a guide to telescopic objects:
  • The approximate location of the Hubble Deep Field
    Hubble Deep Field
    The Hubble Deep Field is an image of a small region in the constellation Ursa Major, constructed from a series of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. It covers an area 2.5 arcminutes across, two parts in a million of the whole sky, which is equivalent in angular size to a 65 mm tennis...

     can be found by following a line from Phecda (γ) to Megrez (δ) and continuing on for the same distance again.
  • Crossing the bowl diagonally from Phecda (γ) to Dubhe (α) and proceeding onward for a similar stretch leads to the bright galaxy pair M81
    Messier 81
    Messier 81 is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. Due to its proximity to Earth, large size and active galactic nucleus Messier 81 (also known as NGC 3031 or Bode's Galaxy) is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa...

     and M82
    Messier 82
    Messier 82 is the prototype nearby starburst galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major...

    .
  • Two spectacular spiral galaxies flank Alkaid (η), the Pinwheel (M101). to the north, and the Whirlpool (M51), to the south.
  • Projecting a line from Alkaid through the pole star will point to Cassiopeia
    Cassiopeia (constellation)
    Cassiopeia is a constellation in the northern sky, named after the vain queen Cassiopeia in Greek mythology, who boasted about her unrivalled beauty. Cassiopea was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century Greek astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today...

     and hence the cluster known as the Seven Sisters or Pleiades
    Pleiades (star cluster)
    In astronomy, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters , is an open star cluster containing middle-aged hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky...

    ,

Cultural associations


The Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 refers to it as "the seven stars" (Amos 5:8).

Book XVIII of Homer's
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

mentions it as "the Bear, which men also call the Wain."

In Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College,...

's Middle-earth
Middle-earth
Middle-earth is the fictional setting of the majority of author J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy writings. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place entirely in Middle-earth, as does much of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales....

 mythos, it is called the Valacirca (Sickle of the Valar), the sign of Hope signifying doom for Evil, while in T.A. Barron's Great Tree of Avalon series, it is called the Wizard's Staff, symbolizing Merlin
Merlin
Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in the Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures...

's staff.

It is a prominent symbol in the Fist of the North Star
Fist of the North Star
is a Japanese manga series written by Buronson and drawn by Tetsuo Hara that was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 1983 to 1988, spanning 245 chapters, which were initially collected in a 27-volume tankōbon edition by Shueisha...

manga
Manga
Manga is the Japanese word for "comics" and consists of comics and print cartoons . In the West, the term "manga" has been appropriated to refer specifically to comics created in Japan, or by Japanese authors, in the Japanese language and conforming to the style developed in Japan in the late 19th...

/anime
Anime
is the Japanese abbreviated pronunciation of "animation". The definition sometimes changes depending on the context. In English-speaking countries, the term most commonly refers to Japanese animated cartoons....

 series; Kenshiro
Kenshiro
is the main protagonist of the manga franchise Fist of the North Star by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara. According to Buronson, Kenshiro's character design was inspired by the character of Max Rockatansky from the Mad Max film series and martial artist Bruce Lee.In the story, Kenshiro is the rightful...

, has scars on his chest in the Big Dipper's configuration. It is identified as an omen: "When the great bear appears, violence will follow."

In addition to appearing on the flags of political entities, the Dipper has also been used in corporate logos.

See also

  • Ursa Major
    Ursa Major
    Ursa Major , 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...

    , the constellation of which the Big Dipper is a part
  • Little Dipper