Big Dipper


The Big Dipper (US, Canada) or the Plough (UK, Ireland)[1][2] is a large asterism consisting of seven bright stars of the constellation Ursa Major;[3][4][5][6] six of them are of second magnitude and one, Megrez (δ), of third magnitude. Four define a "bowl" or "body" and three define a "handle" or "head". It is recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures. The North Star (Polaris), the current northern pole star and the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper (Little Bear), can be located by extending an imaginary line through the front two stars of the asterism, Merak (β) and Dubhe (α). This makes it useful in celestial navigation.

The asterism of the Big Dipper (shown in this star map in green) lies within the constellation of Ursa Major.

Names and places Edit

The Big Dipper seen from Fujian

The constellation of Ursa Major (Latin: Greater Bear) has been seen as a bear, a wagon, or a ladle. The "bear" tradition is Indo-European (appearing in Greek, as well as in Vedic India),[7] but apparently the name "bear" has parallels in Siberian or North American traditions.[8][9][10]

European astronomy Edit

The name "Bear" is Homeric, and apparently native to Greece, while the "Wain" tradition is Mesopotamian. Book XVIII of Homer's Iliad mentions it as "the Bear, which men also call the Wain".[11] In Latin, these seven stars were known as the "Seven Oxen" (septentriones, from septem triōnēs).[12] Classical Greek mythography identified the "Bear" as the nymph Callisto, changed into a she-bear by Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus.

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, this pattern is known as the Plough (Irish: An Camchéachta – the bent plough). The symbol of the Starry Plough has been used as a political symbol by Irish Republican and Irish left wing movements. Former names include the Great Wain (i.e., wagon), Arthur's Wain[13] or Butcher's Cleaver. The terms Charles's Wain and Charles his Wain are derived from the still older Carlswæn.[14] A folk etymology holds that this derived from Charlemagne, but the name is common to all the Germanic languages and the original reference was to the churls' (i.e., the men's) wagon, in contrast to the women's wagon, (the Little Dipper).[15][16] An older "Odin's Wain" may have preceded these Nordic designations.[14]

In German, it is known as the "Great Wagon" (Großer Wagen) and, less often, the "Great Bear" (Großer Bär). Likewise, in the North Germanic languages, it is known by variations of "Charles's Wagon" (Karlavagnen, Karlsvogna, or Karlsvognen), but also the "Great Bear" (Stora Björn), and to the Norse pagans, it was known as Óðins vagn; "Woden's wagon".[17]. In Dutch, its official name is the "Great Bear" (Grote Beer), but it is popularly known as the "Saucepan" (Steelpannetje). In Italian, it is called either the "Great Wagon" (Grande Carro) or "Orsa Maggiore" ("Greater Bear").

Romanian and most Slavic languages also call it the "Great Wagon". In Hungarian, it is commonly known as "Göncöl's Wagon" (Göncölszekér) or, less often, "Big Göncöl" (Nagy Göncöl) after a táltos (shaman) in Hungarian mythology who carried medicine that could cure any disease. In Finnish, the figure is known as Otava with established etymology in the archaic meaning 'salmon net', although other uses of the word refer to 'bear' and 'wheel'.[18] The bear relation is claimed to stem from the animal's resemblance to—and mythical origin from—the asterism rather than vice versa.[19][20]

In Lithuanian, the stars of Ursa Major are known as Didieji Grįžulo Ratai ("The Big Back Wheels"). Other names for the constellation include Perkūno Ratai ("The Wheels of Perkūnas"), Kaušas ("The Bucket"), Vežimas ("The Carriage"), and Samtis ("The Ladle").[citation needed]

In the Sámi languages of Northern Europe, the constellation is identified as the bow of the great hunter Fávdna (the star Arcturus). In the main Sámi language, North Sámi it is called Fávdnadávgi ("Fávdna's bow") or simply dávggát ("the bow"). The constellation features prominently in the Sámi national anthem, which begins with the words Guhkkin davvin dávggáid vuolde sabmá suolggai Sámieanan, which translates to "Far to the north, under the Bow, the Land of the Sámi slowly comes into view." The Bow is an important part of the Sámi traditional narrative about the night sky, in which various hunters try to chase down Sarva, the Great Reindeer, a large constellation that takes up almost half the sky. According to the legend, Fávdna stands ready to fire his Bow every night but hesitates because he might hit Stella Polaris, known as Boahji ("the Rivet"), which would cause the sky to collapse and end the world.[21]

Asian traditions Edit

The Hall of the Big Dipper in a Taoist temple, Wuhan

In Chinese astronomy and Chinese constellation records, The Big Dipper is called "Beidou" (Chinese: 北斗; pinyin: Běi Dǒu), literally means Northern Dipper. It refers to an asterism equivalent to the Big Dipper. The Chinese name for Alpha Ursae Majoris is Beidou Yi (Chinese: 北斗一; pinyin: Běi Dǒu yī; lit. 'Beidou One') and Tianshu (Chinese: 天樞; pinyin: Tiān Shū; lit. 'Star of Celestial Pivot').[22] The asterism name was mentioned in Warring States period (c. 475–221 BCE) stellar records, in which the asterism is described to have seven stars in the shape of a dipper or a chariot.[23][failed verification]

The Chinese astronomy records were translated to other East Asian cultures in the Sinosphere. The most prominent name is the "Northern Dipper" (北斗) and the "Seven Stars of the Northern Dipper" (Chinese and Japanese: 北斗七星; pinyin: Běidǒu Qīxīng; Cantonese Yale: Bak¹-dau² Cat¹-sing¹; rōmaji: Hokuto Shichisei; Korean: 북두칠성; romaja: Bukdu Chilseong; Vietnamese: Bắc Đẩu thất tinh).[24][25] In astrology, these stars are generally considered to compose the Right Wall of the Purple Forbidden Enclosure which surrounds the Northern Celestial Pole, although numerous other groupings and names have been made over the centuries. Similarly, each star has a distinct name, which likewise has varied over time and depending upon the asterism being constructed.[26] The personification of the Big Dipper itself is also known as "Doumu" (斗母) in Chinese folk religion and Taoism, and Marici in Buddhism.

In Vietnam, the colloquial name for the asterism is Sao Bánh lái lớn (The Big Rudder Stars), contrasted with Ursa Minor, which is known as Sao Bánh lái nhỏ (The Little Rudder Stars).[27] Although this name has now been replaced by the Sino-Vietnamese "Bắc Đẩu" in everyday speech, many coastal communities in central and southern Vietnam still refer to the asterism as such and use it to navigate when their fishing vessels return from the sea at night.[28]

In Shinto religion, the seven largest stars of Ursa Major belong to Amenominakanushi, the oldest and most powerful of all kami.

In Malay, it is known as the "Boat Constellation" (Buruj Biduk); in Indonesian, as the "Canoe Stars" (Bintang Biduk).[29]

In Burmese, these stars are known as Pucwan Tārā (ပုဇွန် တာရာ, pronounced "bazun taja"). Pucwan (ပုဇွန်) is a general term for a crustacean, such as prawn, shrimp, crab, lobster, etc.[30]

While its Western name come from the star pattern's resemblance to a kitchen ladle, in Filipino, the Big Dipper and its sister constellation the Little Dipper are more often associated with the tabo, a one-handled water pot used ubiquitously in Filipino households and bathrooms for purposes of personal hygiene.[citation needed]

In the earliest Indian astronomy, the Big Dipper was called "the Bear" (Ṛkṣa, ऋक्ष) in the Rigveda, but was later more commonly known by the name of Saptarishi, "Seven Sages."[7]

Inuit traditions Edit

In Inuit astronomy, the same grouping of stars is referred to as "the Caribou" (Tukturjuit). Many of the stars within the constellation "were used as hour hands on the night sky to indicate hours of the night, or as calendar stars to help determine the date in fall, winter, or spring."[31]

In North America Edit

The asterism name "Big Dipper" is mostly used in the United States and Canada. However, the origin of the term is disputed.[32] A popular myth claimed the name originated from African-American folk songs, however, more recent source challenges the authenticity of the claim.[33]

In an 1824 book on the history of the constellations' mythology, Jacob Green [fr] contrasted the "Dipper or Ladle" descriptors used in the United States with "Charles's Wagon or Wain" which were common in England.[34] Descriptions of "the dipper" appear in American astronomy textbooks throughout the 19th century.[35][36][37]

Stars Edit

Within Ursa Major the stars of the Big Dipper have Bayer designations in consecutive Greek alphabetical order from the bowl to the handle.

The Big Dipper's bowl and part of the handle photographed from the International Space Station. Mizar and Alcor are at the upper right.
The Big Dipper (Ursa Major) photographed by Prof. Chen Hualin in Dakawa, Morogoro, Tanzania at midnight on February 16, 2018
(l yrs)
α UMa Dubhe 1.8 124
β UMa Merak 2.4 79
γ UMa Phecda 2.4 84
δ UMa Megrez 3.3 81
ε UMa Alioth 1.8 81
ζ UMa Mizar 2.1 78
η UMa Alkaid 1.9 104

In the same line of sight as Mizar, but about one light-year beyond it, is the star Alcor (80 UMa). Together they are known as the "Horse and Rider". 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 binary (1617) and the first-discovered spectroscopic binary (1889).

4D proper moving in -/+ 150 000 years.  3D red cyan glasses are recommended to view this image correctly.

Five of the stars of the Big Dipper are at the core of the Ursa Major Moving Group. 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,[citation needed] 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 Edit

Guide to using Big Dipper to locate Arcturus, Spica, and Polaris

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:

  • Polaris, 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 RegulusLeonis) and AlphardHydrae). A mnemonic for this is "A hole in the bowl will leak on Leo."
  • Extending a line from Phecda (γ) to Megrez (δ) leads to ThubanDraconis), which was the pole star 4,000 years ago.
  • Crossing the top of the bowl from Megrez (δ) to Dubhe (α) takes one in the direction of CapellaAurigae). A mnemonic for this is "Cap to Capella."
  • CastorGeminorum) 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 ArcturusBoötis) and SpicaVirginis). A mnemonic for this is "Arc to Arcturus then speed (or spike) to Spica."

Additionally, the Dipper may be used as a guide to telescopic objects:

  • The approximate location of the Hubble Deep Field 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 and M82.
  • 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 (η) through the pole star will point to Cassiopeia.

Cultural associations Edit

The "Seven Stars" referenced in the Bible's Book of Amos[38] may refer to these stars or, more likely, to the Pleiades.

In addition, the asterism has also been used in corporate logos[39] and the Alaska flag. The seven stars on a red background of the Flag of the Community of Madrid, Spain, are the stars of the Big Dipper Asterism. The same can be said about the seven stars pictured in the bordure azure of the Coat of arms of Madrid, capital city of Spain.[40]

The asterism's prominence on the north of the night sky produced the adjective "septentrional" (literally, pertaining to seven plow oxen) in Romance languages and English, meaning "Northern [Hemisphere]".

"Follow the Drinkin' Gourd" is an African American folk song first published in 1928. The "Drinkin' Gourd" is thought to refer to the Big Dipper. Folklore has it that escaped southern slaves in the United States used the Big Dipper as a point of reference to go north.[41][42]

A mythological origin of the asterism was described in a children's story which circulated in the United States in various versions.[43][44] A version of this story taken from the pacificist magazine Herald of Peace was translated into Russian and incorporated into Leo Tolstoy's compilation A Calendar of Wisdom.[45][46]

The Constellation was also used on the flag of the Italian Regency of Carnaro within the Ouroboros.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ Stern, David P. (23 April 2008). "Finding the Pole Star". Goddard Space Flight Center. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  2. ^ Rao, Joe (9 May 2008). "Doorstep Astronomy: See the Big Dipper". Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  3. ^ Holbrook, J. C.; Baleisis, Audra (2008). "Naked-eye Astronomy for Cultural Astronomers". African Cultural Astronomy. Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings. pp. 53–75. Bibcode:2008ASSP....6...53H. doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-6639-9_5. ISBN 978-1-4020-6638-2.
  4. ^ Olson, R. J. M.; Pasachoff, J. M. (1992). "The 1816 Solar Eclipse and the Comet 1811I in Linnell's Astronomical Album". Journal for the History of Astronomy. 23: 121. Bibcode:1992JHA....23..121O. doi:10.1177/002182869202300204. S2CID 125474099.
  5. ^ John C. Barentine (4 April 2016). Uncharted Constellations: Asterisms, Single-Source and Rebrands. Springer. pp. 16–. ISBN 978-3-319-27619-9.
  6. ^ Nemiroff, R.; Bonnell, J., eds. (21 April 2013). "Big Dipper". Astronomy Picture of the Day. NASA.
  7. ^ a b Witzel, Michael (2001), "Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts" (PDF), Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, 7 (3): 72, archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-05-23
  8. ^ "But whence came the same idea into the minds of our North American Indians? Was it by accident? or is it evidence of a common origin in the far antiquity of Asia? The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal, — indeed the contrary; yet they called them Okuari and Paukunawa, words for a "bear", before they were visited by the white men, as is attested by Le Clercq in 1691, by the Reverend Cotton Mather in 1712, by the Jesuit missionary La Fitau in 1724, and by the French traveler Charlevoix in 1744. And Bancroft wrote in his history of our country: [...] In justice, however, to their familiarity with a bear's anatomy, it should be said that the impossible tail of our Ursa was to them either Three Hunters, or a Hunter with his two Dogs, in pursuit of the creature; the star Alcor being the pot in which they would cook her. They thus avoided the incongruousness of the present astronomical ideas of Bruin's make-up, although their cooking-utensil was inadequate. The Housatonic Indians, who roamed over that valley from Pittsfield through Lenox and Stockbridge to Great Barrington, said that this chase of the stellar Bear lasted from the spring till the autumn, when the animal was wounded and its blood plainly seen in the foliage of the forest." Allen (1899), p. 423. c.f. Richard H. Allen (28 February 2013). Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning. Courier Corporation. pp. 423–. ISBN 978-0-486-13766-7.
  9. ^ Bradley E Schaefer, The Origin of the Greek Constellations: Was the Great Bear constellation named before hunter nomads first reached the Americas more than 13,000 years ago!, Scientific American, November 2006, reviewed at The Origin of the Greek Constellations Archived 2017-04-01 at the Wayback Machine;[unreliable source?] Yuri Berezkin, The cosmic hunt: variants of a Siberian – North-American myth. Folklore, 31, 2005: 79–100.
  10. ^ Julien d'Huy reconstructs the following Palaeolithic state of the story: "There is an animal that is a horned herbivore, probably an elk. One human pursues this ungulate. The hunt proceeds to the sky. The animal is alive when it is suddenly transformed into a constellation-- It forms the Big Dipper" d'Huy Julien, Un ours dans les étoiles: recherche phylogénétique sur un mythe préhistorique, Préhistoire du sud-ouest, 20 (1), 2012: 91–106; A Cosmic Hunt in the Berber sky: a phylogenetic reconstruction of Palaeolithic mythology, Les Cahiers de l'AARS, 15, 2012.
  11. ^ Homer. "Book XVIII". The Iliad. Translated by Samuel Butler.
  12. ^ "Merriam-Webster dictionary". Retrieved 2017-06-06.
  13. ^ Scott, Walter (1805). The Lay of the Last Minstrel. James Ballantyne. Canto First. XVII.
  14. ^ a b Hinckley Allen, Richard (1963). "Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning – "Ursa Major"".
  15. ^ Bågenholm, Gösta. "Astro ordlista: Karlavagnen" [Astrological glossary: The Big Dipper]. 150 ord och begrepp inom astronomisk navigation (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 3 December 2005. "Som pendang till Karlavagnen kallas Lilla björn (latin Ursæ Minoris) för kvinnovagnen..." — as an appendix to the Men's Wagon, the Little Bear is called the Women's Wagon
  16. ^ Hellquist, Elof (1922). Svensk etymologisk ordbok [Swedish etymological dictionary] (in Swedish). Karlavagnen: "I stället sammansatt" ... – "Instead composed from the appellative karl [man] in opposition to Icelandic kvennavagn [women's wagon]"
  17. ^ Cleasby, Richard; Vigfússon, Guðbrandur (1874). An Icelandic-English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 674.
  18. ^ Kaisa, Häkkinen (2007). Nykysuomen etymologinen sanakirja (in Finnish) (4th ed.). WSOY. ISBN 978-951-0-27108-7.
  19. ^ Hämäläinen, Pirjo (11 November 2013). "Otavassa on orjan merkki". Kansan Uutiset (in Finnish). Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  20. ^ Mykrä, Sakari. "Kahdensadan nimen kontio". (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 9 February 2013. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  21. ^ Stjernehimmelen (
  22. ^ "Beidou". AEEA (Activities of Exhibition and Education in Astronomy) 天文教育資訊 (in Chinese). 15 June 2006.
  23. ^ "Gan and Shi's Celestial Book". foreignercn.
  24. ^ "Tự điển - bắc đẩu thất tinh".
  25. ^ "古人对北斗七星的认识". Sohu News. 14 March 2017.
  26. ^ See their individual pages.
  27. ^ Huỳnh, Tịnh Của (1895). Đại Nam quấc âm tự vị [Dictionnaire annamite] (in Vietnamese). Sao bánh lái: "các vì sao chòm, giống hình cái bánh lái ghe" ... – "asterisms which resemble the rudder of a wooden boat."
  28. ^ Phương Giang (6 February 2019). "Về từ nghìn trùng khơi". Báo Quảng Nam. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  29. ^ KBBI Archived 2014-05-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  30. ^ Abel, Paul; May, Brian (2015-01-15). How to Read the Solar System: A Guide to the Stars and Planets. Pegasus Books. ISBN 978-1-60598-755-2.
  31. ^ Penprase, Bryan E. (2011). "Northern Circumpolar Sky from Around the World: The Arctic Inuit Sky". The Power of Stars. New York, NY: Springer. pp. 42–46. ISBN 978-1-4419-6802-9.
  32. ^ "The Big Dipper". futurism.
  33. ^ Jacob Green (1824). Astronomical recreations, or, Sketches of the relative position and mythological history of the constellations. Philadelphia: Anthony Finley. p. xiv. Retrieved 2023-08-18.
  34. ^ Amos Pettengill (1826). A view of the heavens. p. 48. Retrieved 2023-08-17.
  35. ^ L. N. Fowler (1848). Familiar Lessons on Astronomy; Designed for the Use of Children and Youth in Schools and Families. p. 115.
  36. ^ Hannah Mary Bouvier (1857). Bouvier's familiar astronomy; An introduction to the study of the heavens. p. 213. Retrieved 2023-08-17.
  37. ^ Amos 5:8.
  38. ^ Allen P. Adamson; Martin Sorrell (2007). Brandsimple: how the best brands keep it simple and succeed. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-4039-8490-6. For an example see Iridium Satellite LLC.
  39. ^ Juan López-de-Hoyos (1583). Declaración de las armas de Madrid. El Observatorio D.L. (1995). ISBN 84-86353-43-2. Read the exact paragraph in which this issue is described in the Spanish version of Coat of arms of Madrid.
  40. ^ Joel Bresler. "Collection Story". Follow the Drinking Gourd: A Cultural History. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
  41. ^ "Follow the Drinking Gourd". Owen Sound's Black History. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
  42. ^ Sara Eliza Witse (1885). Stories for kindergartens and pimary Schools. p. 62-67. Retrieved 2023-08-17.
  43. ^ Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1906). For the Children's Hour. p. 132-133. Retrieved 2023-08-17.
  44. ^ Leo Tolstoy (1919). The Pathway of Life. p. 102-103. Retrieved 2023-08-17.
  45. ^ Peter Sekirin (2000). Divine and Human and Other Stories. p. 20. ISBN 9780310223672. Retrieved 2023-08-17.