Ursa Major Constellation Myths and Facts

Ursa Major: The Great Bear

Pronunciation: ER-suh MAY-jur
Ursa Major, The Great Bear
Ursa Major as depicted by Johannes Hevelius in his Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia (1687). Source image provided by www.RareMaps.com — Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.
Ursa Major Constellation Profile
Abbreviation: UMa Genitive: Ursae Majoris
Origin: Ancient Location: Northern Hemisphere
Best View (North): Spring Best View (South):
Bordering Constellations: Draco, Camelopadalis, Lynx, Leo Minor, Leo, Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici, Bootes

The Myth Behind the Constellation Ursa Major

Ursa Major “The Great Bear”, is often said to be Callisto, a follower of Artemis and one of Zeus’ conquests.  Callisto in Greek means “most beautiful.” Zeus, taking the form of Artemis so he could get close to Callisto, forced himself on her.  A son, Arcas is born. To protect Callisto from the jealousy of Hera, Zeus turns her into a bear.  Their son is raised by Maia, the mother of Hermes.  Many years later Arcas has become a masterful hunter and comes upon his mother in bear form.  Callisto recognizes her son and tries to greet him but her words only come out as growls.  He is about to kill her when Zeus, taking pity, places them in the stars as Boötes and Ursa Major.  In another version her son is turned a bear and placed into the sky as the constellation Ursa Minor.

Ursa Major Constellation Points of Interest

Interesting Objects in the Constellation Ursa Major
Name Messier NGC Type Visibility
Winnecke 4 M40 Double Star Binoculars
Bode’s Galaxy M81 NGC 3031 Spiral Galaxy Binoculars
Cigar Galaxy M82 NGC 3034 Starburst Galaxy Binoculars
Owl Nebula M97 NCG 3587 Planetary Nebula Binoculars
Pinwheel Galaxy M101 NGC 5457 Spiral Galaxy Binoculars
M108 NGC 3556 Barred Spiral Galaxy Galaxy Small Scope
M109 NGC 3992 Barred Spiral Galaxy Small Scope

Bright Stars in Ursa Major

These are the stars in Ursa Major with a minimum magnitude of 3.0.
Name Bayer Name Magnitude Color Luminosity Distance
Alioth Epsilon Ursae Majoris 1.75  White 127 suns 81 ly
Dubhe Alpha Ursae Majoris 1.81  Orange 415 suns 124 ly
Alkaid Eta Ursae Majoris 1.85  Blue 255 suns 101 ly
Mizar Zeta Ursae Majoris 2.23  White 73 suns 78 ly
Merak Beta Ursae Majoris 2.34  White 70 suns 79 ly
Phecda Gamma Ursae Majoris 2.41  White 71 suns 84 ly
Ta Tsun Psi Ursae Majoris 3.00  Orange 225 suns 147 ly

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