Ursa Major: Biblical Constellation

How many of the eighty-eight constellations are mentioned in the Bible? Ursa Major, the “Great Bear” is one of them:

Job (9.9) asks:

(W)ho made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south(?)

And later God replies (38.31-32):

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?

Lawnchair astronomers know the difference between a constellation and an asterism. The former is an official designation by the International Astronomical Union of a region of the celestial sphere–note the yellow dashed boundaries on the wikipedia chart above. Asterisms are unofficial patterns, and the “Big Dipper” is one of them. Some asterisms can be discerned only through binoculars or a telescope.

The Big Dipper includes the seven brightest stars of Ursa Major (green-lined above) but that asterism is only part of the bear.

Many people know that if you can find the Big Dipper in the northern skies, you can use the two stars on the far right as a pointer to find Polaris, the north star.

If you decide to take a night to watch the skies, you’ll notice as the evening progresses that Ursa Major moves in an arc. It really only seems to move. You’ll be registering that our (round) Earth rotates on its axis and you’re actually experiencing the ground beneath your feet moving under the fixed stars of night.

Job and his contemporaries thought of the four “dipper” stars as the bear. The Bear’s children? The “tail” stars: Alkaid, Alcor, and Alioth. How do we know? Bears don’t have tails, do they?

Van Gogh is thought to have painted Ursa Major in the south, but I doubt this really depicts the constellation. He probably wasn’t painting at night, but from memory. The relative brightness is wrong, too.

There are lots of cool things to see in Ursa Major: galaxies, nebula, star clusters, multiple star systems, but the post would easily climb to a few thousand words. Even if you’re without a telescope, you can use Ursa Major to guide your way in the northern skies.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, constellations. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Ursa Major: Biblical Constellation

  1. KiwiNomad06 says:

    I know this has nothing to do with constellations… but I have stood at the bend in the River Rhone in Arles where van Gogh is said to have painted ‘Starry Starry night, and it was a perfectly magical place to stand!

  2. Todd says:

    Van Gogh was able to capture the magic like none other.

  3. 1jThank’s.7l I compleatly disagree with last post . ivr
    ламинированный паркет 6j

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