The Great Bear – Big Dipper

The Great Bear, also known as the Big Dipper, is one of the most recognizable asterisms in the night sky.

Astronomical Significance

Constellation: The Big Dipper is part of the larger constellation Ursa Major, or the Great Bear. It consists of seven bright stars that form a distinctive “dipper” shape.

Stars: The seven main stars of the Big Dipper are:

  1. Alkaid (Eta Ursae Majoris)
  2. Mizar (Zeta Ursae Majoris)
  3. Alioth (Epsilon Ursae Majoris)
  4. Megrez (Delta Ursae Majoris)
  5. Phecda (Gamma Ursae Majoris)
  6. Dubhe (Alpha Ursae Majoris)
  7. Merak (Beta Ursae Majoris)

Navigation: Historically, the Big Dipper has been used for navigation. The two outer stars of the bowl, Dubhe and Merak, are known as the “pointer stars” because they point towards Polaris, the North Star, which is a key star for finding true north.

    Cultural and Mythological Significance

    Greek Mythology: In Greek mythology, Ursa Major is associated with the nymph Callisto. According to the myth, Callisto was transformed into a bear and placed in the sky by Zeus.

    Chinese Mythology: In Chinese astronomy, the Big Dipper is known as the “Bei Dou” (北斗) and has significant cultural importance. It is considered part of the Northern Celestial Hemisphere and is associated with various myths and legends, including those related to the Yellow Emperor.

    According to some versions of the myth, the Yellow Emperor’s mother saw a great flash of light from the Big Dipper, which led to his conception, emphasizing his celestial and divine origin.

    Native American Mythology: Many Native American tribes have their own stories and legends about the Big Dipper. For example, some tribes see it as a bear being chased by three hunters.

    Hindu Mythology: In Hindu astronomy, the Big Dipper is known as “Saptarishi,” representing seven great sages (rishis) who are venerated in various texts and traditions.


      Constancy: The Big Dipper is circumpolar in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning it is visible all year round and never sets below the horizon. This constancy has made it a symbol of reliability and guidance.

      Transformation and Change: Many myths associated with the Big Dipper involve themes of transformation and change, reflecting the changing seasons and cycles of nature.

      Cultural Identity: The Big Dipper’s prominence in various cultures underscores its role in shaping human understanding of the cosmos and our place within it.

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