The Big Dipper

The god Zeus hid the nymph Callisto from his wife Hera by changing her into a bear. Her son, Actas, did not know she was now a bear and while hunting one day came across Callisto. To keep Actas from accidentally killing his mother, Zeus placed them together into the sky as the Big and Little Bear (we know them better by the names Big and Little Dipper).

  • Iroquois Indians: A long time ago, far away (New York State) some Indian were chasing a bear through the forest.

    The Indians ran into three giants who attacked and killed all the Indian, except for three.

Then, the three survivors and the bear were transported into the sky, where the chase continues to this day. The bear is formed by the four stars in the cup of the dipper, and the three stars in in the handle represent the three Indians.

  • Zuni Indians: For most of the year, the great bear guards the western lands from the frozen gods of the north.

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    In the winter, however, the bear goes into hibernation, leaving the land to be ravaged by the frozen breath of the ice gods. Then the bear wakes in spring and drives the frozen gods back to the north, where they belong.

  • Basque (region of Spain): Once apon a time in the land of the Basques, a man was robbed of two oxen by two theives. Very angry, the man sent his servant, his housekeeper, and his dog out to chase the thieves.

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    After a while, the impatient man joined the chase. As punishment for his impatience, the man and everyone else in the story were taken up into the sky. The first two stars in the cup of the dipper are the two oxen, the other two stars are the two thieves; in the handle of the dipper are the servant, the housekeeper, and the master, who is the final star.

The dog is the faint star, Alcor.

  • Chinese: Chinese astronomers called this constellation the “Jade Balance of Fate. ” Chinese peasants called it the “Grain Measure. “
  • Arabian: The Arabians saw a coffin and mourners in this constellation. The coffin is formed by the four stars of the dipper’s cup; the mourners, sons of the deceased, are the three stars in the handle. The three stars here are following the North Star seeking vegeance, for it is that star that killed their father.
  • German: To the Germans, this constellation was a “Grosse Wagen” (big wagon).
  • English:King Arthur was said to live in the part of the sky marked by the Big Bear. It later became “King Arthur’s Chariot” slowly circling the pole. Irish: They refer to this group of stars as “King David’s Chariot. ” When viewing the Big Dipper it is important to know it is made up of 7 stars. Those stars are:
    1. Alkaid
    2. Mizar
    3. Dubhe
    4. Merak
    5. Alioth
    6. Phecda
    7. Megrez

Alkaid (going from east to West of Big Dipper) is a main sequence star (or dwarf), and not part of the Ursa Major constellation. Mizar, the second star, is the brightest star of the Big Dipper, and a multiple star system.

It has 2 double stars Mizar A and Mizar B. Without a telescope, another star can be seen right above it, a dwarf star called Alcor, which is not part of The Big Dipper. Whether or not Alcor is Mizar’s companion star is still being speculated. Dubhe and Merak are called pointer stars because they point towards the North Star (Polaris). Alioth is the third star on the handle of The Big Dipper, an Ap star, and the brightest of Ursa Major. Phecda, a main sequence star, is located on the bottom left of The Big Dipper. Megrez is located on the upper left of the cup. It is also a main equence star. Ursa Minor, known as The Little Dipper, is considered to be the son of Ursa Major. There are different variations in Greek mythology of how Ursa Major and Ursa Minor became constellations. One version is that the God, Zeus had seduced a young maiden named Callisto. Callisto became pregnant and had a son, Actas. Zeus’ wife, Hera, became so enraged when she found out, she turned Callisto into a “Great Bear”, to take away her beauty. Callisto’s son grew up to become a strong hunter. He was out hunting one day and saw the bear his mother had become.

Callisto was so excited at seeing her son she had forgotten she was a bear, and ran to him. Actas was just about to kill her, when Zeus, taking pity on the boy, changed him into a “Little Bear” and placed him in the sky next to his mother, becoming the Big and Little Bear constellations. In the Latin language, Big Bear and Little Bear translates to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Most of us have to look hard to see any resemblance of a bear, but the names of the constellations came from the imaginations of our ancestors, not from a scientific standpoint.

Cite this page

The Big Dipper. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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