What is the Big Dipper really called?

Answered by Tom Adger

The Big Dipper, which is also known as the Plough in the UK and Ireland, is a prominent feature in the night sky. This celestial formation is not actually a constellation on its own, but rather an asterism, which is a recognizable pattern of stars within a constellation. Specifically, the Big Dipper is part of the larger constellation Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear.

The Big Dipper is made up of seven bright stars, six of which are of second magnitude and one, called Megrez (δ), is of third magnitude. These stars together create the shape of a dipper or a plough, depending on the region.

The configuration of the stars in the Big Dipper is quite distinct. Four stars form what is often referred to as the “bowl” or “body” of the dipper, while the remaining three stars form the “handle” or “head”. This arrangement is what gives the Big Dipper its recognizable shape.

In the United States and Canada, the term “Big Dipper” is widely used to refer to this asterism. It has become a popular cultural reference, often associated with navigation and stargazing. The Big Dipper is frequently used as a guide to finding other stars and constellations, as it is easily identifiable and visible throughout the year in the northern hemisphere.

On the other hand, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the same group of stars is known as the “Plough.” This name is derived from its resemblance to a plough, which is a farming tool used for tilling the land. The term “Plough” is deeply rooted in the agricultural history of these regions and has been used for centuries to describe this particular asterism.

It is interesting to note the cultural differences in the naming of this celestial feature. While both “Big Dipper” and “Plough” refer to the same group of stars, the choice of name reflects the unique perspectives and traditions of different regions.

Personally, I have always found the Big Dipper to be a fascinating part of the night sky. Growing up in the United States, I was taught to use it as a navigational tool, as it points towards the North Star, Polaris. This made it easier to locate other constellations and objects in the sky. I also remember learning about its significance in different cultures and how it has been used as a symbol in various myths and legends.

The Big Dipper, also known as the Plough in the UK and Ireland, is a distinctive asterism within the constellation Ursa Major. Its seven bright stars form the shape of a dipper or a plough, depending on the region. The names “Big Dipper” and “Plough” reflect the cultural differences and historical contexts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Regardless of its name, this celestial formation continues to captivate and guide stargazers around the world.