Find These Two Bears on a Hot Summer Night
Ursa Major is one of the largest constellations in the sky. It is also known as the Big Bear.
You can find the Big Dipper within this constellation. But the Big Dipper isn't a constellation. It is an asterism, which is a group of stars that form a recognizable shape.
Ursa Minor is also a constellation. It’s known as the Little Bear. Just like Ursa Major, Ursa Minor also contains an asterism within it. That’s the Little Dipper.
Both the Big Dipper and Little Dipper are made up of seven stars. You'll see three in the handle and four in the cup.
The best time to see Ursa Major and Ursa Minor is during the summer months. Go out on a clear night. Look up, and see if you can find these two bear constellations.
Find the Big Dipper first. That one is the easiest to find, because it’s so big.
When you do, take your Uncle Goose Ursa Major block from the Uncle Goose Constellation Blocks.
Look at the Ursa Major illustrations. Can you find all the other stars in the Ursa Major constellation?
Next, find Ursa Minor. Look at the two outer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper. Keep following the line they make north.
When you do, you’ll come across a very bright star. This is Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is the star at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. Take your Uncle Goose Constellation block to see if you can spot all the other stars in Ursa Minor.
Now, why are these two constellations called Ursa Major and Ursa Minor? The answer may lie in Greek mythology.
The word “Ursa” means bear in Greek. “Major” means big. “Minor” means small. That’s how we get the English names Big Bear and Little Bear.
The name Ursa Major is associated with the story of Callisto. Zeus and Callisto had a baby and named him Arcas. In Greek, the name “Arcas” means “born by a bear.”
Hera, the wife of Zeus, became jealous. In one myth, Hera turned Callisto and her baby into bears and threw them into the sky. In another myth, Zeus turned Callisto and Arcas into the sky to prevent them from being killed.
Callisto became Ursa Major, or Big Bear. And her son Arcas became Ursa Minor, or Little Bear.
If you see these two bears at night, you don’t have to be afraid. They’ve been in the sky for tens of thousands of years. Happy stargazing — and happy bear hunting!