SkyEye

Ursa Major

The Greater Bear

Abbreviation: UMa
Genitive: Ursae Majoris

The constellation of Ursa Major

Interestingly, this constellation is known as a bear in many diverse civilisations. In Greek mythology, Zeus, the king of the gods, lusts after the beautiful nymph Callisto. Hera, Zeus's long-suffering wife, isn't best pleased and turns Callisto into a bear. Callisto, in ursine form, comes across her son Arcas who nearly shoots her but Zeus averts tragedy by turning them both into bears and placing them in the sky. Callisto is the greater bear and Arcas the lesser.

The most striking part of the constellation is the asterism of seven stars known as 'The Big Dipper' in North America and 'The Plough' in the British Isles. It is the 'Northern Ladle' in many Asian cultures and a wagon or cart in northern Europe. Five of the seven stars are thought to have a common origin and are moving through space together. They are called the Ursa Major Moving Group. Dubhe and Alkaid are not members of the group.

Notable Features

Designation Name Description
α UMa Dubhe This is a member of the asterism called 'The Big Dipper' or 'The Plough'. With Merak, it is one of the 'Pointers to the Pole'.
β UMa Merak This is a member of the asterism called 'The Big Dipper' or 'The Plough'. With Dubhe, it is one of the 'Pointers to the Pole'.
γ UMa Phecda This is a member of the asterism called 'The Big Dipper' or 'The Plough'.
δ UMa Megrez This is a member of the asterism called 'The Big Dipper' or 'The Plough'.
ε UMa Alioth This is a member of the asterism called 'The Big Dipper' or 'The Plough'.
ζ UMa Mizar This is a member of the asterism called 'The Big Dipper' or 'The Plough'. It was the first telescopic binary to be discovered. As it turns out, each component of the binary star is also binary, discovered through spectroscopy. Four stars for the price of one!
η UMa Alkaid This is a member of the asterism called 'The Big Dipper' or 'The Plough'.
ι UMa Talitha
λ UMa Tania Borealis
μ UMa Tania Australis
ν UMa Alula Borealis
ξ UMa Alula Australis
ο UMa Muscida
47 UMa Chalawan Two exoplanets have so far been found in orbit around this star.
80 UMa Alcor Alcor is a faint companion of Mizar and anyone with normal eyesight and dark skies should be able to see. Alcor is actually a binary star and is gravitationally bound to its companion Mizar, making this a six-star system!
HD 81688 Intercrus This star has a family of one exoplanet.
Gliese 411 At just over 8 light years distant, this star is one of the closest stars to the Sun, but it is just a little too faint to be seen with the naked eye.
M40 This is actually the binary star Winnecke 4 and thus, is an unusual object to be accorded a Messier designation.
M81 Bode's Galaxy This spiral galaxy is bright and easy to see in a small telescope, making it a popular target for amateurs.
M82 Cigar Galaxy Nearby is this irregular galaxy, the prototype starburst galaxy.
M97 Owl Nebula This planetary nebula has been known by this name since 1848 when the Third Earl of Rosse drew a picture of it which was said to resemble an owl.
M101 Pinwheel Galaxy This face-on spiral galaxy is a good telescopic target if the sky is very dark. It is thought to be 70% larger than the Milky Way.
M108 A telescope is necessary to view this barred spiral galaxy.
M109 Another barred spiral galaxy, this one is known to have at least three companion galaxies.