Ursa Minor


Often known as either the "little dipper" or "little bear" there are many legends connected with this constellation and the pole star, Polaris. Indeed the name Ursa Minor does mean the lesser bear, but not every culture saw it as such. There is a beautiful Native American legend which tells a story of a group of hunters who got lost in the forest. They prayed to the spirits to send them help to find their way home. Suddenly a small girl appeared to the hunters and said she was the spirit of the pole star. She led them home and thereafter the star Polaris was known as the star that does not move. When they died the hunters were transported into the sky where they forever follow the pole star.

For the Observer

Sky Chart of North Circumpolar Stars

Alpha Ursa Minoris, Polaris (2h 32m +89°16') Polaris is probably the most famous star in the northern hemisphere. It can always be found in the same area of sky. Contrary to popular assumption, it is not a very bright star, with a magnitude of 2.0. In physical properties, Polaris is a white supergiant class F7 star, 350 light years distant. It is also a double star, the companion is has a magnitude of 8.8. The stars are a physical pair. In addition, Polaris is a cepheid variable star. Its magnitude ranges between 1.9 and 2.0 over a 4 day period.

Beta Ursa Minoris, Kochab (14h 51m +74°09') Kochab is a 2.1 magnitude yellow giant class K4 star. The star is 110 light years from Earth.

Gamma Ursa Minoris, Pherkad (15h 20.4m +71°50') is a 3.0 magnitude white class A3 star. It is about 240 light years distant. It is a true variable, but the magnitude changes by only .1 and is not detectable to the eye.

Copyright © 1995 - 2003
Kathy Miles, Author, and Chuck Peters, Systems Administrator