Mizar, Alcor and the Much Overlooked Plough


Northern natural navigators look at the Plough pretty much every night that is not completely overcast and yet we could argue that it gets overlooked. As the best known signpost for the North Star, our eyes tend to jump to its seven stars, line them up and then move on from the pointers to that friendly star, Polaris.

This morning I thought it would be nice to give it credit for being more than just a signpost. It is Ursa Major, the Great Bear and has featured in literature and art for as long as words and pictures have been recorded. Homer, Shakespeare and Van Gogh have given it the time of day.

The first thing we can do if we want to give it a second thought is to look to the middle star in the Plough (saucepan to some) handle. This can be seen clearly as a double star. It consists of the brighter Mizar and fainter Alcor. I took this photo early this morning, my fingers aching as I pried the frozen gate latch from over a post. One must suffer for one’s art. If you click on it and look at the expanded version you will see the double star.

Plough big dipper constellation

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