Ursa Minor, the little bear, is the northern most constellation. It contains the “North Star”, also called Polaris or Cynosura which is only 1 degree from being true north in the sky. It is a yellow-white binary of 2.2 magnitude. It is easily located with the pointer stars of the Big Dipper.
The pouring edge of the Little Dipper is marked by Kochab and Pherkad. Together they are guards or wardens of the pole.
Commonly referred to by its distinctive asterism, the “Little Dipper”, Ursa Minor has been an essential celestial marker to navigators for many centuries. Polaris is located at the tip of the dipper’s handle and will lead travelers directly north.
Ursa Minor was catalogued in the 2nd century by Ptolemy, but its recorded history is much older. It is known to have been recorded in Greece in the5th or 6th century BC and was called the “dog’s tail”. It may have been introduced to the Greeks by the Phoenicians.
Early Chinese kings and emperors followed the stars for guidance, so celestial objects were meticulously recorded. Scientific observations took place for 4000 years which led to many important astronomical discoveries. The first detailed star catalogs may have been produced between the 4th and 2nd century BC.
The Babylonians called the constellation the “Wagon of Heaven”.
The Inuit astronomers called Polaris Nuutuittut, meaning “never moving”.
Polaris, the North Star, was used for navigation in very ancient times by the Polynesians as well.
Many constellations lie in the Milky Way region where there are large numbers of stars brightening the sky. Ursa Minor and Ursa Major are far from the Milky Way and so the major stars lie on the very dark background. The constellation is extremely prominent in the night sky in part because there are very few stars there.
When you buy a star kit to name a star in Ursa Minor, the star will not be visible with the naked eye. The constellation itself will be very easy to locate, however, so you will always know there is a star shining down from this area of the sky.
The Ursids meteor shower is a holiday favorite for star gazers originating from the constellation Ursa Minor. It begins around December 17th and tapers off Christmas Eve, December 24th. The peak night of viewing is around December 22nd.
The nearest constellations to Ursa Minor are Camelopardalis, Cepheus and Draco.
Right Ascension: 03:06
Diameter (°): 16
Area (square °): 256
Opposition: May 09
Size Rank: 56th
Brightness Rank: 38th
Genitive: Ursae Minoris
Major or notable stars in Ursa Minor
Polaris – North Star – α Ursae Minoris (Alpha Ursae Minoris)
Kochab – β Ursae Minoris (Beta Ursae Minoris)
Pherkad – γ Ursae Minoris (Gamma Ursae Minoris)
Yildun – δ Ursae Minoris (Delta Ursae Minoris)
Akhfa al Farkadain – ζ Ursae Minoris (Zeta Ursae Minoris)
Anwar al Farkadain – η Ursae Minoris (Eta Ursae Minoris)
ε Ursae Minoris (Epsilon Ursae Minoris)
Deep Sky Objects in Ursa Minor
Ursa Minor Dwarf (PGC 54074, UGC 9749)
Mythology of the Constellation Ursa Minor
The most famous myths about Ursa Minor come from ancient Greece.
An older myth tells us that Cronus, the father of Zeus, killed all of his children because they we prophesized to murder him and take over the universe. His wife Rhea hid their youngest, Zeus, with the nymphs Ida and Adrasteia. In return, when Zeus filled the prophesy and killed Cronus, the nymphs were sent to the stars. Ida became Ursa Minor and Adrasteia became Ursa Major
In another myth, the seven stars of the little dipper represent the seven daughters of Atlas. The daughters, known as the Hesperides, tended the garden of Hera where the golden apples grew.
The prevailing option is that Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are the nymph Callisto and her son, Arcas. They were transformed into bears by the enraged and imperious Hera (Juno) and afterward sent to the heavens by Zeus (Jupiter) so they wouldn’t be destroyed by Callisto’s former huntsman companions and their dogs.