Re: [thefixedstars] NASA Picture of the Day
Mark A. Holmes
--- On Sun, 6/26/11, Diana K Rosenberg <fixed.stars@...> wrote:
From: Diana K Rosenberg <fixed.stars@...>
Subject: [thefixedstars] NASA Picture of the Day
Date: Sunday, June 26, 2011, 8:58 PMMark sent:Thank you Mark!This is from my book: (alignments often get messed up in transmission, so apologies ahead of time if that happens)
URSA MAJOR, The Great Bear
URSA MINOR, The Little Bear
How shall we hide from the bear that is moving all around the world?
Let us crawl underground! Let us cover our backs with dirt that the
terrible great bear from the north of the world may not find us!
- Kwakiutl Indian chant
The most prominent seven stars of Ursa Major were, in ancient Euphratean civilizations, the constellation "The-Long-Chariot" (Sumero-Akkadian Mar-gidda), particularly connected with Mul-lil, Lord of the Under-world and the Night-world, and in this aspect was called Wul-mo-sarra "The Lord-the-Voice-of-the-Firmament;" Margidda itself is described as "The Lord-of-the-Ghost-World." According to Brown, "High enthroned in the north, by its splendor it awed and ruled the wandering phantoms and powers of darkness." "The Bear" was the Mediterranean name for the larger, extended figure (the Greeks called Ursa Major Helike or Helice).
Of Ursa Minor, the four stars that form his body, Beta, Gamma, Eta and Zeta (Kochab, Pherkad, Anwar al Farkadain and Alifa al Farkadain) were, earlier, in the ancient Euphratean star list, Giszalibri-giski, " Temple of the Four in the place of the height of heaven," the Semitic Lib-uzzi-mati, "Place of the Crown of the Land." Astronomer Thales of Miletus (7th-6th-century BCE ) was said to have introduced the figure to the Greeks as one used by sea-faring Phoenicians as a closer guide to true north than Ursa Major. There is another tradition that Thales himself may have formed the smaller bear from stars that had been the wings of Draco the Dragon.
And goodly Odysseus rejoiced as he set his sails to the breeze.
So he sate and cunningly guided the craft with
the helm, nor did sleep fall upon his eyelids, as he
viewed the Pleiads and Boötes, that setteth late, and
the Bear, which they likewise call the Wain, which
turneth ever in one place, and keepeth watch upon Orion,
and alone hath no part in the baths of Ocean. This star
Calypso, the fair goddess, bade him to keep ever on the
left as he traversed the deep...
- Homer, The Odyssey, V, 269-277, ca 800 BCE
trans: S H Butcher, Andrew Lang
For centuries poets have plagiarized Homer's observation that the Great Bear does not descend into the waters as the other constellations do (although, because of precession, Ursa Major is now lower in the sky than it once was); here is Chaucer, in his translation of Boethius:
Ne the sterre y-cleped "the Bere," that enclyneth his
ravisshinge courses abouten the soverein heighte of the
worlde, ne the same sterre Ursa nis never-mo wasshen in
the depe westrene see, ne coveiteth nat to deyen his
flaumbe in the see of the occian, al-thogh he see other
steers y-plounged in the see...
In ancient India , the seven brightest stars of Ursa Major were the seven Rishis, semi-divine sages, transmitters of divine knowledge, whose wives were the Pleiades; Agni, God of Fire, desired the wives; only Arundhati (Alcor, 80 Ursae Majoris) remained faithful to her husband. (Dubhe was the sage Krathu, Merak was Pulaaha, Phekda was Pulasthya, Megrez was Athri, Alioth was Angirasa, Mizar and Alcor (16 Virgo) were Vasistha and his faithful wife Arundhathi, and Alkaid was Marichi). To the Greeks, Ursa Major had been Callisto, a companion nymph of virgin goddess Artemis (Diana), seduced by Zeus. Artemis noticed Callisto was with child; furious, she changed the nymph into a bear and shouted to her dogs to hunt her down. Zeus saved Callisto by catching her up to heaven, setting her image in the stars (some say it was Zeus' jealous wife Hera who changed the nymph into a bear). Callisto's child Arcas ("Bear"), saved from his mother's fate, became the ancestor of the Arcadians; he was later put with his mother in the stars as Ursa Minor. There is evidence, however, that the little bear was originally a Phoenician constellation later adopted by the Greeks; neither Homer nor Hesiod (ca 800 BCE ) mentioned it in their poetry. Aratus (after Eudoxos) had a different tale; he said the bears represent two nymphs who raised Zeus in a cave at Dicte on Crete (Zeus' mother hid him from his father Cronus to prevent him from the fate of his siblings - Cronus ate his children, fearing they would overthrow him); in gratitude, Zeus placed his two nurses in the sky as the two bears. Aratus called Ursa Major "Helike" or "Helice" which means "twister" because of its motion around the pole; he called Ursa Minor "Cynosura" or dog's tail (from an old conception of the figure as Callisto’s dog); from this we get the word "cynosure" which means "guiding star." A great puzzlement has been the question of why these bears have tails--real bears have none! The familiar "Big Dipper," called the "Plough" or "Wain" in England , "Wagen" in Germany and "Casserole" in France , an asterism within the greater figure of Ursa Major, is figured on Alaska ’s state flag. This bright 7-star asterism was called, from the earliest times we have record of in ancient Greece , both Bear and Wain (wagon). The tip of Ursa Minor's tail is, of course, Polaris, the Pole Star, covered in Chapter 3. To early Arabs, stars of the Big Bear's paws were the Leaps of the Gazelle; the Little Bear was a fish; in Egypt , Ursa Minor was a hippopotamus.
It is remarkable that Ursa Major, in whole or in part, was also known as a bear in Indian tribes of the N American continent, especially the Seneca, Delaware, Passamaquoddy and Fox of the Northeast, the Micmac of Nova Scotia, and among tribes of the Plateau region, from British Columbia to the Great Basin in the Northwest, supporting the theory of an early land-bridge linking Asia and North America.
The sky is just the same as earth, only up above, and older
- Micmac narrator of The Never-Ending Bear Hunt
In prehistoric times, especially among northern peoples, ursus, not the lion, was the "king of the beasts" and an important ritual animal, considered a mediator between heaven and earth and the ancestors of humans. Because they hibernated in winter and emerged with new cubs in the spring, bears were associated with death, reawakening and rebirth, and thus were savior figures of great power and potency, important in initiation ceremonies. In ancient Greece they were sacred to Artemis; young girls wore bearskins during their schooling, to protect them against early sexual involvement. In Greek and Latin the word for bear was feminine, and in Russia, Ursa Major is bolshaya medveditsa - great mother bear, probably because of the female's motherly qualities (it was generally believed in the ancient world that bear cubs were born amorphous and licked into their proper form by their mothers); female bears are notoriously fierce in protecting their cubs:
I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her
whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart...
- Hosea: XIII, 8
African slaves of North America of the 17th-19th-century had their own vision of Ursa Major - to them it was "The Drinking Gourd" (perhaps the source of our "Big Dipper"?). When escaping slaves, traveling at night, needed a guide to keep them on the path north to freedom, members of the Underground Railway told them to "follow the drinking gourd" - for Ursa Major is always in the North. They sang:
Keep on traveling that mighty road to freedom,
` Follow the drinking gourd.
Thus the "Big Dipper" became a symbol of freedom and hope. On July 4-5, 1861, as Lincoln called Congress to a special session to deal with the rebellion of the slave-holding Confederate States, the brilliant Great Comet of 1861, which had just enveloped Earth in its 24-million-mile tail, reached the peak of its northern declination, streaking through the bowl of the "Drinking Gourd." The time had come.
Approximate spans (2000), based on IAU boundaries: Ursa Major: 14Can36, through Leo and Virgo to 3Libra (Lahiri: 20Gem45 through Cancer and Leo to 9Virgo); Ursa Minor: 23 Gemini to 19 Virgo (Lahiri: 29Taurus through Gemini and Cancer to 25 Leo)