Big Dipper Asterism

Big Dipper

The Big Dipper asterism consists of 7 bright stars of the constellation Ursa Major, with 6 of the 7 bright stars being second magnitude stars and 7th star, Megrez, is of third magnitude. 4 of the 7 stars define a “bowl” or “body”, with the 3 remaining stars defining the “handle” or “head”.

Within Ursa Major the stars of the Big Dipper have Bayer designations in consecutive Greek alphabetical order from the bowl to the handle.

Table Showing Stars And Apparent Magnitude

Alkaid is the most eastern star in the Big Dipper asterism and is not member of the Ursa Major moving group. It is the third-brightest star in the constellation and one of the brightest stars in the night sky. Mizar is a second-magnitude star in the handle of the Big Dipper asterism in the constellation of Ursa Major, which forms a well-known naked eye double star with the fainter star Alcor, and is itself a quadruple star system. Megrez is the dimmest of the seven stars in the Big Dipper asterism. Phecda is a stable anchor point by which scientists use to study and classify other stars.

The constellation of Ursa Major has been seen as a bear, a wagon, or a ladle by many cultures and distinct groups. The “bear” tradition is Indo-European, but apparently the name “bear” has parallels in Siberian or North American traditions. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, this pattern is known as the Plough. In German, it is known as the “Great Wagon,” and sometimes called the “Great Bear.” In Chinese astronomy and Chinese constellation records, the Big Dipper being called “Beidou,” which literally means Northern Dipper.

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