Mapping The Night Sky Using Ursa Major

Mapping The Night Sky Using Ursa Major

Ursa Major is an important reference point for locating several surrounding constellations.

Ursa Major: This translates from Latin as ‘The Big Bear.’ The 7 brightest stars in this constellation form a distinctive shape, known separately as the plough or big dipper, although the entire constellation is spread over a greater area of the sky. It is the most famous of all Northern constellations and is circumpolar in England and the Northern United States.

Ursa Minor: This translates as ‘The Little Bear’ and the 7 main stars of this constellation form a shape similar to Ursa Major, but with the tail of the bear pointing in the opposite direction. Ursa Minor has been more universally observed than any other constellation, on account of the importance of Polaris, also known as the North Star. A line through the last two stars of Ursa Major, also known as ‘the pointers’, leads to the Polaris, which has been used to tell location and time for thousands of years.

Cassiopeia: A line through the last star at the handle end of the big dipper and through Polaris will lead onto a conspicuous W shaped group of stars called Cassiopeia. This constellation depicts the mythological queen Cassiopeia, who was punished for her boastfulness by being condemned to eternally circle the sky on her throne, sometimes hanging upside down. The milky way runs through this constellation.

Ursa Major MapBootes: Following the tail of the Plough down for 30 degrees leads onto Bootes, which is Greek for ‘The Ploughman’. It contains the beautiful orange-red giant star Arcturus, which translates as the “Bear Watcher.” At magnitude −0.05, it is the third brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius and Canopus.

Leo: This can be found by following the line on the map through Ursa Major. Leo is one of the most beautiful constellations in the zodiac group and is so striking as to be unmistakable. It lies south of the Ursa Major, and its brightest star Regulus is white, and one of the stars from which longitude is reckoned.

Gemini: Following the line shown on the map we come to the Zodiacal constellation Gemini, the twins. Gemini is characterized by two nearly parallel rows of stars. The northern row if extended would reach Taurus, the southern one Orion. The two brightest stars in this constellation are Pollux and Castor. Castor is a fine double for a telescope, and Pollux has three little attendant stars.