Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ursa Major - Great Bear above my Prairie House

I was delighted to see the Big Dipper bright in the West when I looked out this week at the night prairie sky. 

I took a series of photographs, and the next day realized I'd captured Ursa Major, the Great Bear — the lovely nymph Callisto cast into the heavens to circle the North Star.

The Big Dipper is likely the first constellation that anyone learns  except that it's not a constellation at all, but instead, an asterism that makes up an unlikely tail and other parts of sprawling Ursa Major

The Big Dipper is extremely easy to find in our Northern sky. The Great Bear's body and legs are also fairly simple on a clear, dark night.

And her muzzle, I can see, too — a bright star called Muscida, at the far right end of the line formed across the bowl of the dipper, then the top of the bear's body and off into the fainter clusters of sky objects.

After peering at the image for a while, I can also see her eyes.

As for her ears and the exact shape of her head, I'll need a very dark night to figure those out. (And yes, "her." Ursa Major is a female bear, and Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper, may or may not be her son.)

The Big Dipper is marked in red, the bear's body and legs
in purple, and a rough outline of her head, in green.
(See her muzzle and eyes?)
 © SB  

I think, however, that my outline of this constellation looks more like a horse than a bear, perhaps because of the Big Dipper's handle, which creates that long, elegant tail. It may also be because the fainter stars that help bulk out this shape are not visible within the city.

But now, when I go back and look at the first photograph with just the stars, and half close my eyes, I start to see and feel the presence of the Great Bear in our northern sky.

What are these stars? Ursa Major, the Great Bear (with the Big Dipper) 
Location: Backyard, looking West, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: 10:55 p.m., July 18, 2012.


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