When we’re talking about constellations in the night sky, the conversation soon turns to the Great Bear and it’s smaller companion the Little Bear, better known as Ursa Minor.
Now, Ursa Minor has had many different nicknames throughout it’s lifetime, as it’s shape can be interpreted in many different ways. Whilst some refer to it as the Little Bear, another common name for Ursa Minor is the Little Dipper, in comparison to the Big Dipper aspect of the Ursa Major constellation. Let’s look at some information about the Little Dipper.
- Bordered By; Draco, Cepheus, Camelopardalis.
- Named after; The Little Bear
- Declination; 65.40° to 90°°
- Brightest Star; Polaris
- Best seen; Northern Hemisphere, Year Round
- Size rank; 56th
- Constellation family; Ursa Major
- Pronunciation; ERR-SER
What is Ursa Minor named after?
The name of Ursa Minor goes back to the ancient Greeks. They date back to Greek’s like Homer, the author of The Iliad, who mentioned the names of the constellations that look like bears. However, the original bear was of course Ursa Major, with Ursa minor being referred to and the secondary bear.
Who Founded the Ursa Minor Constellation?
Ursa Minor goes all the way back to the Babylonians, who named this constellation the Wagon of Heaven, after it’s wagon-like appearance. We usually credit Thales as the founder of these constellations, although Thales was from a Phoenician family, so it’s likely that they were passed down to him from his elders. These constellations were used as navigational aids, due to their proximity to the North. Int he past, Ursa Minor has taken many different names, being compared to a ladle in shape, and also referred to as the dog.
How can I see the Ursa Minor constellation?
Fortunately for those in the Northern hemisphere, this constellation is very easy to see throughout the majority of the year. This is because it never sets below the horizon, so it stays in visibility constantly.
Major Stars of Ursa Minor
When we’re looking up at Ursa Minor, there are many different stars within the constellation. Lets have a look at the main ones, of course starting with the main one, Polaris.
- Polaris (α) – Polaris is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation, and it’s one of the most well known stars within our universe too. You’ll often see it referred to as the North star, or the North pole star. This is because of it’s close proximity to the North celestial pole. It is comprised of a triple star system, made up of a yellow supergiant and two smaller stars. We credit William Herschel with being the first person to discover Polaris – this is the same person who discovered Uranus.
- Kochab (β) – Kochab, also known as Beta Ursae Minoris, is the second brightest star in this constellation and makes up one of the four corners of the bowl of the Little Dipper. Kochab and Polaris are routinely used by astronomers to set up their telescope. It is a giant star with a luminosity of 130x that of the Sun.
- Pherkad (γ) – Pherkad, also known as Gamma Ursae Minoris, is the third brightest star in this constellation. It forms part of the bowl along with Kochab, and mentions of this star go all the way back to Greek astronomer Ptolemy.
- Yildin (δ) – Delta Ursae Minoris, or Yildun, is one of the less bright stars in this constellation, but it is well known to astronomers. It is visible to us on Earth without a telescope, and has an estimated age of approximately 372 million years.
All in all, whether you refer to this constellation as Ursa Minor, the Little Bear or the Little Dipper, it’s a great place for kids to start their stargazing journey. It is very easy for kids to find it at it’s located in the North, and it’s visible throughout the whole year.