According to Hipparcos, Epsilon Ursae Majoris is 81 light-years (25 parsecs) from the Sun. Its spectral type is A1p; the "p" stands for peculiar, as its spectrum is characteristic of an α2 Canum Venaticorum variable. Epsilon Ursae Majoris, as a representative of this type, may harbor two interacting processes. First, the star's strong magnetic field separating different elements in the star's hydrogen 'fuel'. In addition, a rotation axis at an angle to the magnetic axis may be spinning different bands of magnetically sorted elements into the line of sight between Epsilon Ursae Majoris and the Earth. The intervening elements react differently at different frequencies of light as they whip in and out of view, causing Epsilon Ursae Majoris to have very strange spectral lines that fluctuate over a period of 5.1 days. The kB9 suffix to the spectral type indicates that the calcium K line is present and representative of a B9 spectral type even though the rest of the spectrum indicates A1.
Epsilon Ursae Majoris's rotational and magnetic poles are at almost 90 degrees to one another. Darker (denser) regions of chromium form a band at right angles to the equator.
It has long been suspected that Epsilon Ursae Majoris is a spectroscopic binary, possibly with more than one companion. A more recent study suggests Epsilon Ursae Majoris's 5.1-day variation may be due to a substellar object of about 14.7 Jupiter masses in an eccentric orbit (e=0.5) with an average separation of 0.055 astronomical units. It is now thought that the 5.1-day period is the rotation period of the star, and no companions have been detected using the most modern equipment.
Epsilon Ursae Majoris has a relatively weak magnetic field, 15 times weaker than α Canum Venaticorum, but it is still 100 times stronger than that of the Earth.
The traditional name Alioth comes from the Arabicalyat al-hamal ("the sheep's fat tail"). In 2016, the International Astronomical Union organized a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) to catalog and standardize proper names for stars. The WGSN's first bulletin of July 2016 included a table of the first two batches of names approved by the WGSN; which included Alioth for this star.
In Chinese, 北斗 (Běi Dǒu), meaning Northern Dipper, refers to an asterism equivalent to the Big Dipper. Consequently, the Chinese name for Epsilon Ursae Majoris itself is 北斗五 (Běi Dǒu wu, English: the Fifth Star of Northern Dipper) and 玉衡 (Yù Héng, English: Star of Jade Sighting-Tube).
^ abcJohnson, H. L.; et al. (1966). "UBVRIJKL photometry of the bright stars". Communications of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. 4 (99): 99. Bibcode:1966CoLPL...4...99J.
^Evans, D. S. (June 20–24, 1966), Batten, Alan Henry; Heard, John Frederick (eds.), "The Revision of the General Catalogue of Radial Velocities", Determination of Radial Velocities and their Applications, University of Toronto: International Astronomical Union, 30: 57, Bibcode:1967IAUS...30...57E
^ abGray, R. O.; Corbally, C. J.; Garrison, R. F.; McFadden, M. T.; Robinson, P. E. (2003). "Contributions to the Nearby Stars (NStars) Project: Spectroscopy of Stars Earlier than M0 within 40 Parsecs: The Northern Sample. I". The Astronomical Journal. 126 (4): 2048. arXiv:astro-ph/0308182. Bibcode:2003AJ....126.2048G. doi:10.1086/378365.