Versions of the Big Dipper


It is easy to see the Big Dipper as just that, a big dipper or pot; and indeed, to some people in southern France, this group of stars was the Casserole, or sauce pan.

VISUAL 1 (still): Casserole Outline
Casserole Outline
Cultures all over Earth have names and stories about the stars. Usually, these stories are about a group or “constellation” of stars that seem to form a pattern or shape in the sky.

Why do you think that people who lived thousands of years ago made up names and stories about the stars?

Accept all answers, then list the participants’ ideas before going on.

People who lived at different times, in different places, often chose the same groups of stars as constellations, but imagined them to look like the particular animals or gods that were important in their own culture.
Outline of the Great Bear with a long tail.
What we call the Big Dipper was part of a larger constellation, Ursa Major, or the the Great Bear, for the ancient Romans. Many of you have seen bears in the zoo.

Can you imagine a bear? Where is his nose?
Where are his legs?

Point out parts of bear.

What is wrong with this picture of the bear?

Accept ideas from audience.

We can see that what’s wrong with this bear is its long tail.
Roman mythology stories explain the long tail:
Very short version
. Once the king of the gods, Jupiter, fell in love with Callisto, a beautiful young girl. But Juno, the queen of the gods, was very jealous, so she turned poor Callisto into a bear. Jupiter felt sorry for Callisto, so to protect her from hunters, he placed her up in the sky where we can see her every night if we look. To get her into the sky, he grabbed her by the tail and whirled her around and around and flung her up to the sky. That’s why the tail is so long!
Long version. Jupiter, the King of the gods, often fell in love with mortal women of earth, so his wife Juno was often jealous. When Juno found out that Jupiter was favoring a young maiden named Callisto, Juno got so furious that she changed Callisto into a big shaggy bear. Years later, Callisto’s son Arcas was hunting in the forest when his mother, now in the form of a bear, saw him. She got so excited, she forgot she was a bear and she rushed forward to embrace him. Of course, Arcas did not recognize his mother and he leveled an arrow in his bow to kill her. In the last instant, Jupiter intervened by changing Arcas into a bear as well, and then grasping both Callisto and Arcas by their tails, flung them into the sky (stretching out the tails)—where Callisto is now the Great Bear and Arcas the Little Bear. Juno, still not satisfied with her revenge, persuaded Poseidon to forbid the two bears from cooling their feet in the waters of the oceans. This is why Ursa Major and Ursa Minor never sink below the horizon.
To many Native American tribes, the Dipper is also a bear. It is remarkable that many cultures, so very far apart, came up with the same unlikely image for these stars. But the Native Americans did not draw their bear exactly this same way.
Digital Effect: 3 hunters and bear with short tail.
3 hunters and bear with short tail.
VISUAL 2 (still): Plough Outline
Plough Outline
In Berkeley, California, there is an Irish pub called the Starry Plough. It’s name derives from yet another image of the Big Dipper: a plough.

Why do you think that people may have thought of this constellation, which is high in the sky like this in the springtime, as a plough?

Responses might include “it is time to plant,” “it goes round and round like a farmer ploughing his field,” etc. Accept all answers.
If you have lots of time, take another minute or two to tell the following Native American story:

Toggle a panoramic forest scene of your own. Can be used in conjunction with the any story set in a forest (e.g., “The Bear in the Oak Tree Forest”).

The Bear in the Oak Tree Forest
Long ago there was a great oak forest that was enchanted and magical, because every night at midnight the trees in this forest would move around and visit each other. One day a bear wandered into this forest and got so lost, he couldn’t find his way out. He became frightened, and when midnight came, he was terrified to find the trees moving about. The poor bear started racing madly all over and bumping into trees right and left. The trees did not appreciate this intruder at all and one tree was so upset that it started chasing the bear. Because bears generally are faster than trees, this chase lasted almost till dawn. The tree knew that he and all the other trees had to go back to their original places by dawn or the sun would notice that they had moved. So the tree, just at twilight, made one last grasp at the bear with its longest branch and just barely caught the bear by the tail. Then the tree swung the bear up into the sky where we see him now. That is why his tail is so long.To the early people in England, the Dipper was neither a dipper nor a bear, but was a plough, drawn by oxen.
Finally, I’d like to tell you one last story that is a favorite of mine. It is a Native American story, one from the Wasco Indians of the Pacific Northwest, the area we call Oregon and Washington. Tell the following story of the five wolf brothers or, better still use a story from Native American culture of your own planetarium’s region.
VISUAL 4 (still): 5 Wolf Brothers
5 Wolf Brothers
Wasco Indian Version: The Five Wolf Brothers

Once upon a time there were five brothers named the Wolf brothers who made their living by hunting deer. Every night they would make a camp fire, cook some meat and eat together. They shared their food with another man named Coyote (a mythical god-like character). After eating, the brothers would relax and gaze into the sky in a certain area and look puzzled. One night Coyote asked the oldest brother, “What are you looking at?” The oldest brother said, “I won’t tell you—you would think I was foolish.” But on later nights Coyote questioned the other brothers until one night they answered, “We can see two animals moving in the sky but they are so high up we cannot tell what kind of animals they are.” Coyote replied, “Wouldn’t you like to get a closer look at them to see what they are?” To which the brothers replied, “Oh, yes, but none can travel into the sky.” Said Coyote, “Nonsense, it is easy,” and proceeded to collect three quivers full of arrows. Then he took an arrow and shot it straight towards the place in the sky where the brothers said they saw the two animals. The arrow went all the way to the sky and stuck there. Then Coyote shot a second arrow so that its tip stuck into the end of the first arrow. By the time Coyote finished shooting all the arrows, which took all night, there was a string of arrows reaching all the way from the sky to the earth. At dawn the five brothers and Coyote began climbing the arrow ladder. The youngest brothers went first, and Coyote and the oldest brother, carrying their little dog, went last.
After climbing almost all day, they reached the sky and found that the two animals were grizzly bears. The oldest brother shouted, “Stay away! They might tear you to pieces.” But the younger brothers, who didn’t want to appear afraid, crept closer and closer to the bears. The other brothers followed behind. Finally, the grizzly bears looked up and noticed the five Wolf brothers, but the bears did not attack, for they had never seen people before, and were curious. The bears just stood there looking at the brothers and the brothers stood very still looking back at the bears.
Coyote thought, “What a funny picture these bears and the Wolf brothers make just staring at one another. I would like for everyone to be able to see this,” and he proceeded to climb down the arrow ladder, taking out the arrows as he went, leaving the picture in the sky for everyone to see.
DIGITAL EFFECT: 5 Wolf Brothers
Toggle the Five Wolf Brothers and
Two Bears outline on and off.
VISUAL 3 (still): First Man. To the Dine (Navajo), the stars of the Big Dipper was First Man, who played a role in the creation.
First Man.
One way to end the show here is to simply run diurnal motion until the Sun rises.