Monday, September 12, 2011
The Big Dipper. Stars and Lore
The Big Dipper is probably the easiest to recognize and most popular asterism. It is a part of the larger constellation, Ursa Major and is known as an asterism, a pattern of stars.
Throughout history and in different parts of the world, it goes by many names:
The Plough in Ireland and Great Britain
Butchers Cleaver in Northern England
Sapt Rishis "Seven (Great) Sages" in Hindu
Seven Gods in Mongolia
Charles' Wain (Wain meaning wagon) or Charlies Wagon
The "Big Dipper" may have originally derived from Africa. Freed slaves were told to follow the "drinking gourd" north to freedom.
An Arabic story tells of the four bowl stars as being a coffin followed by three mourners, Alkaid, Mizar and Alioth.
The Stars: from right to left
Dubhe (Alpha Ursa Majoris) the second brightest star in the Dipper, red giant, along with Merak the two "Pointers" (stars which when aligned point toward Polaris), multiple star with Dubhe B and Dubhe C, not part of the Ursa Major Moving Group, name comes from Arabic for Bear, official state star of Utah, Chinese called it "Heavens Point", also previously known as "Ak" meaning the "Eye" the prominent star in the system
Merak (Beta Ursa Majoris) Arabic name for "Loin", a spectroscopic double star, the Chinese called it "an armillary sphere", Hindus refer to it as Pulaha, it's spectrum is Sirian, close to it on the west is the Owl Nebula, along with Dubhe one of the "Pointers", also known as
Phecda, Phacd, Phad, Phekda (Gamma Ursa Majoris) Arabic for "Thigh", white "colorless" star meaning that it appears the same relative brightness in a photograph as it does to the eye.
Megraz (Delta Ursa Majoris) meaning the "Root of the Tail", the faintest of the seven stars, in China it was Kwan and Tien Kuen "Heavenly Authority", slightly variable
These four stars, which constitute the Bowl of the Dipper were called by the Arabs "the coach of the children of the litter". They form the hind quarters of the Bear, the frame of the Bier, the Plough and the Wain.
Alioth (Epsilon Ursa Majoris) has been known by many name variations: Allioth, Alioth, Aliath, Alabieth, Aliare, Aliore, in China it was Yuh Kang, nearly marks the radiant point of the Ursid meteor shower on Nov. 30, a spectroscopic binary
Mizar (Zeta Ursa Majoris) along with Alcor is a stellar sextuple star system with Mizar being a quadruple system and Alcor being a binary, brilliant white and pale emerald, these two stars used to be the "test" or "riddle" by which people would test their eyesight, earlier named Mirak from Arabic which means "girdle", also known as Mizat and Mizar, "the Necks of the Maidens"..referring to the Mourners of the Bier, the first double star to be discovered and photographed
Mizar and Alcor are often referred to as the "Horse and Rider", in North Germany the Rider is supposed to start on his journey before midnight and to return twenty four hours later, his wagon turning around with great noise.
Alcor one of the few stars with no Greek numeral designation, also called Suha- the Lost, Forgotten One or Neglected One, an Arab proverb "I show him Suha and he shows me the moon", also referred to as "Winter" and "the Little Letter", Greeks identified this star with the lost Pleiade "Electra" who had wandered away from her companions and had been changed into a fox, a Latin title was "the Little Starry Horseman" and in England "Jack on the Middle Horse", in Germany it represented Hans the Waggoner rewarded for assisting the Saviour. Alcor in Japanese mythology was knwon as the "lifespan Star" as it was believed that one who could not see this star would pass away by years end.
Alkaid, Elkaid or Benatnasch (the Governor of the Daughters of the Bier) Eta Ursa Majoris, brilliant white star, marks the radiant point of one of the richest meteor streams....the Ursids of Nov. 10th, "a Revolving Light" in China, the 35th brightest star in the night sky