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Ursa Major, the Big Bear ⬅︎

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Ursa Major, the Big Bear, is a well-known constellation. At our latitude, it is circumpolar which means that it appears to circle the bright star Polaris without ever setting. In spring evenings, Ursa Major appears upside-down above Polaris. Spring is a great time for exploring Ursa Major since it is close to zenith so there is less of the twinkling that distorts our view of the stars.

Most people are familiar with the part of Ursa Major known as the Big Dipper. It is an asterism -- an unofficial grouping of stars. It is called the Big Dipper only in the USA and Canada. It has many different names. For example, it is the Plough in England, the Great Wagon in Germany, the Seven Sages in India, and the Northern Dipper in China.

The stars of the Big Dipper appear as if they all belong together. They do. They make up a star cluster known as the Ursa Major Moving Group. In this way it is like the famous Pleiades star cluster in Taurus. It appears large in our sky because it's the closest cluster to us.

Look closely at the stars of the Big Dipper and notice that one looks different. Mizar appears to have a bulge. People with good vision will see a second, dimmer star next to Mizar, called Alcor. There are stories about how people in ancient times used these two stars to test their vision. But look at them with a telescope and you'll see three stars instead of two. The night sky is full of surprises.

Ursa Major has some popular deep space objects (DSOs). Most are galaxies. See the links below.
Viewing Ursa Major, the Big Bear
LevelEasyRatingBest ViewingMid-February to early May
FindTap View Map above. In Spring, face north and look up.
Use the map above to find the main stars of Ursa Major including the Big Dipper asterism. Try drawing the constellation with stars, lines and labels. See if you can split Mizar and Alcor as two stars.
With binoculars many more stars will be visible. There are some larger, brighter galaxies that can be viewed in binoculars from a dark site. See the links below. Take time to explore.
▶︎ Constellations of Spring  ▶︎ Ursa Major  ▶︎ Bode's and Cigar Galaxies,  Owl Nebula,  Pinwheel Galaxy