Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, is one of the oldest constellations known to the ancient Greeks and is most famous for containing the bright North Star, Polaris. This star has helped civilizations over the years to navigate their way across uncharted seas.
How to spot Ursa Minor
Because the huge Polaris star is located at the tip of the tail of the Little Bear, you can easily spot the constellation in the northern hemisphere. If you know how to locate the Plough of the Great Bear, simply look upwards towards the next brightest star and you will find Ursa Minor. Alternatively, look downwards from Polaris and locate the Little Dipper with its seven stars that make up the tail and back of the Little Bear. Ursa Minor is visible all year round in the northern hemisphere. The summer months of June and July offer the best viewing when the constellation is at its brightest. Because it rotates around Polaris, Ursa Minor never dips below the horizon.
According to Greek Mythology, Arcas was the son of Callisto, a beautiful woman who was a companion of Artemis, the Goddess of Hunting. She had taken a vow of chastity but the great God Zeus noticed her and deceived her into breaking her vow. After falling pregnant she was banished into the wilderness by Artemis to give birth to her son, Arcas. The wife of Zeus, Hera, was furious when she heard of her husband’s folly and turned poor Callisto into a bear, wandering alone in the wild. As fate would have it, Arcas came across the bear and not knowing that it was his mother, was about to kill her. Zeus stopped him by creating a massive whirlwind that swept them both into the skies to become Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Great Bear and the Little Bear.
The two Bears are intrinsically linked both mythologically and in the sky. Both point towards the North star and circle around it. Both contain Dippers, which are asterisms of seven stars forming a pattern that looks like a ladle and bowl. The brightest star in the constellation, Polaris, is 433 light years away from Earth.