History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations

Ursa Minor

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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Asterisms | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Ursa Minor Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page C8v: (Figure 2) | Hyginus, 1482, page D1r: (Figure 3) | Hyginus, 1517, page E1r: (Figure 4) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page UrsaMinor: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1661, page A: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1697, page B4r: (Figure 7) | Bayer, 1697, page B4v: (Figure 8) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 9) | Aspin, 1825, page Draco: (Figure 10) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data

Description

Use the pointer stars of the Big Dipper to find Polaris, the tip of Ursa Minor’s tail. The whole sky seems to rotate around Polaris once a day, since it is located near the north celestial pole. The two other bright stars of Ursa Minor represent the far edge of its dipper, and lie nearer to the Big Dipper.

You can learn, as did ancient sailors and western cowhands on the night watch, to tell the time of the night by the position of the Big Dipper. Due to the daily rotation of the earth, the dipper rotates around the north star every twenty four hours. As the night hours pass and the Earth turns on its axis, the stars turn in circles around Polaris, which appears to stand still. Some constellations are close enough to Polaris that they never set below the horizon. These are the circumpolar stars. Most stars are farther away from Polaris, and fall below the horizon. These appear to rise in the east, cross overhead, and set in the west, much like the Sun.

Constellations come, | and climb the heavens, and go, | And thou dost see them rise, | Star of the Pole! | and thou dost see them set, | Alone, in thy cold skies, | Thou keep’st thy old unmoving station yet.

From ancient times sailors have known that the altitude of Polaris above the horizon is the same as one’s latitude on Earth. For example, my latitude in central Oklahoma is 35 degrees north, and I find Polaris 35 degrees above the northern horizon. Similarly, to sail west at a constant latitude Columbus kept the north star at a constant altitude above the horizon.

Skylore and Literature

See Ursa Major.

Modern Culture

Origin and History

Ursa Minor is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.

Asterisms

  • Guardians of the Pole
  • Little Dipper

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature

Images

Figure 1 Figure 1 - Return to Text

UMi Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Hyginus, 1482

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Figure 3 Figure 3 - Return to Text

Hyginus, 1482

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Hyginus, 1517

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Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Figure 9 Figure 9 - Return to Text

Bode, 1801

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Figure 10 Figure 10 - Return to Text

Aspin, 1825

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Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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