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If Gallup took a poll to find the best-known star pattern in the night sky, the odds are the winner would be the Big Dipper.
Perhaps surprisingly, though, the dipper isn’t a constellation. Instead, it’s an asterism — a star picture that may be a part of a constellation, or that may not be related to any constellation at all. The stars of the dipper, for example, are part of Ursa Major, the great bear — they represent the bear’s body and tail. But the bear incorporates many other stars besides the dipper — and a dipper has little to do with a bear.
But in some cultures, there’s a link between bears and the seven stars of the Big Dipper.
A Kiowa story, for example, says that eight children — seven sisters and a brother — were playing at the edge of the Black Hills one day. The boy was suddenly struck by powerful magic. He was transformed into a bear and began to chase his frightened sisters.
A tree called to them, and when they climbed into its branches it grew to an enormous size. The angry bear scratched and clawed at the tree, gouging deep grooves in its bark. But the sisters were borne safely into the sky, where they became the stars of the Big Dipper.
The petrified stump of that mighty tree is known as the Bear’s Lodge — the Kiowa name for a stump-like mountain in Wyoming that’s also known as Devil’s Tower. Each night, the sisters look down upon it — from the safety of that most popular of star pictures, the Big Dipper.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014