Monday, October 21, 2013

Ursa Major over #Konitsa, #Epirus, #Greece

Ursa Major, originally uploaded by vegaslyra.

The constellation Ursa Major contains the group of stars commonly called the Big Dipper. The handle of the Dipper is the Great Bear's tail and the Dipper's cup is the Bear's flank. The Big Dipper is not a constellation itself, but an asterism, which is a distinctive group of stars. Another famous asterism is the Little Dipper in the constellation Ursa Minor.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you can use the Big Dipper to find all sorts of important stars:

If you draw an imaginary line from Merak through Dubhe out of the cup of the dipper (see the picture above) and continue five times as far as Dubhe is from Merak, you will arrive at Polaris, the North Star.
Now draw an imaginary line along the handle of the dipper and continue the arc across the sky. Eventually this will lead you to the very bright star, Arcturus in the constellation Boötes. If you continue the arc further, you will reach Spica in Virgo. You can remember this by saying "Arc to Arcturus and Speed to Spica."
If you follow the other two stars in the cup of the dipper (Megrez and Phecda) down below the cup, you will get to Regulus.html, the brightest star in Leo.
According to some Native American legends, the bowl of the Big Dipper is a giant bear and the stars of the handle are three warriors chasing it. The constellation is low in the sky in autumn evening sky, so it was said that the hunters had injured the bear and its blood caused the trees to change color to red.

Although the whole of Ursa Major is difficult to see without very dark skies, the Big Dipper is one of the most recognizable patterns in the northern sky. In other cultures it was identified as a wagon or cart, a plow, a bull's thigh, and (to the Chinese) the government.

The Big Dipper was also a very important part of the Underground Railroad which helped slaves escape from the South before the Civil War. There were songs spread among the slave population which included references to the "Drinking Gourd." The songs said to follow it to get to a better life. This veiled message for the slaves to flee northward was passed along in the form of songs since a large fraction of the slave population was illiterate.

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