Bears in the Sky

Ursa Major on a starry space background with the names of its main stars. Relative sizes and different color shades are based on the spectral star type.

By Deborah Price, IDA Colorado Board of Directors.

While bears are quietly sleeping away the winter in hibernation here on earth, we have a Great Bear in the sky to look up to that guides our way. Ursa Major, the constellation of the Great Bear, appears to continuously wander in a circle around Polaris, our North Star. In actuality, the earth spins on its axis with our north pole directly under Polaris, which gives that rotating appearance as we look to the sky.

Within Ursa Major is an asterism (part of a constellation) many of us know as the Big Dipper. By using the two stars on the right side of the dipper’s cup and drawing a line straight out from there above the cup, we get a pointer to Polaris, helping us to always find north. Polaris is also the tip of the tail of the Little Bear (Ursa Minor).

The Big Dipper is known by many other names throughout the world, and has many stories associated with it. The link below from The Vail Daily explores a few of these stories. As you look to the stars, remember some of these stories from indigenous peoples, other cultures, and past generations. Help keep our skies dark so that we can continue to follow the bear into the future.

Vail Daily article – Curious Nature: The many legends of Ursa Major

Walking Mountains Science Center – Curious Nature: Ursa Major: Same Constellation, Many Legends

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