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in latin, “ursus” means bear, while in greek the word is “arktos”, hence the name arctic (“bearish”) which describes the far northern region of the earth where the constellation of ursa major (“greater she-bear”) dominates. the constellation can be seen by observers located between +90° and -30° of latitude, and together with the adjoining constellation of ursa minor (“the smaller she-bear”), these two conspicuous northern constellations are circumpolar are therefore visible throughout the year from the northern hemisphere.
ursa major is the 3rd largest constellation, taking up 3.102% of the night sky, and is readily distinguished by means of a remarkable cluster of seven bright stars in the northern heavens, forming what is familiarly termed “the dipper”. it is also referred to as the “plough” or “frying pan”, with four of its stars forming a pan shape, and the other three a handle. however, this beautiful arrangement of stars forms less than half of the entire constellation known as ursa major.
ursa major’s seven brightest stars in order of visual magnitude are as follows:
polaris is located very close to the north celestial pole and has also been extremely useful as a directional compass, as well as determining latitude, as the north star is always elevated as many degrees above the horizon as the observer is north of the equator. the stars merak and dubhe in ‘the dipper’ are called the pointers, because they always point northwards toward polaris.
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