I’ve always thought it strange they call it “the Big Dipper.” It looks nothing like a dipper of any size whatsoever. Or maybe its name has nothing to do with its form — it’s just the name of the guy who discovered it: Ol’ Big Dip.
Recent shot of the Big Dipper I took from Martha’s Vineyard
In fact, just about every culture has come up with an equally ridiculous name for it.
“The Plow in the Stars” — I would need some help from someone who knows more about farming to understand the resemblance.
“The Big Bear” [latin: ursa major] — a pseudomorphism that only makes sense if you imagine the bear has an extraordinarily long, prehensile tail; in short, it looks like a bear if you have no idea what a bear looks like. I’d have accepted raccoon, red panda, or dog (undocked tail, of course).
“The Wagon of so-and-so..” — not a single thing vaguely wheel-like and yet they call it a wagon. Or maybe they named it “The Wagon” at some difficult time before the invention of the circular wheel.
Compared to these other names, “Big Dipper” is–surprisingly–good. Perhaps the most interesting explanation of its name regards its movement throughout the year. Depending on what latitude you live at, the Big Dipper appears to wheel around in the sky, and, if you live near the Pacific as I do, it seems to dip below the horizon and ladle up some tremendous serving of oceany soup.
Whoever came up with these names suffered from a serious failure of imaginative power; or perhaps too much imaginative power. I propose a new name for the big dipper — let’s just call it what it looks like:
Photocredit to: Astronomy Picture of the Day
A question mark. The great big question in the sky. The cosmic question mark. What is the question, precisely?–a good question! A question that is much better than “who the hell could possibly think that constellation looks like a bear?”
The cosmic question asks why? and how? It might very well be an interrobang [‽], carrying with it all the implications of wonder, surprise, frustration, and cosmic confusion — it is the most visible of the constellations — that ever looming, lingering question above all our heads that, though for some time we might ignore, continues to wheel and turn in an eternal circle:
Haiku to Rename the Big Dipper
Ol’ Big Dipper asks
The ancient cosmic question:
“Who’s hungry for soup?”
“..burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”