Looking Up: Enter The Dragon

Jan 21, 2019

From Urania's Mirror, or a view of the heavens, engraved by Sidney Hall, 1824. This was a famous series of cards depicting constellations and with holes punched in them to represent the stars when held up to the light
Credit By Firkin / open clipart / public domain

This week on Looking Up Bruce Bookout is back, and he has a dragon 'tale' to tell.

Our Colorado skies contains a constellation that coils around the north celestial pole.  Let’s briefly discuss the dragon constellation – Draco.

The name Draco literally means “Dragon”, translated from Latin. Draco was one of the Giants, who battled the Olympic gods for years. In the course of this battle, Draco was killed by the goddess Minerva who then cast him into the sky. Draco’s body became twisted up and froze in the North Celestial Pole before it could right itself.

In traditional Arabic astronomy, Draco is not depicted as a dragon. Instead, they saw it as part of a greater constellation, which they called the “Mother Camels”. This consisted of two hyenas attacking a baby camel. This baby was protected by four female camels. A tripod of stars in Draco, represented the nomads who owned the camels and were camped nearby.

In ancient Egypt, Draco’s primary star (alpha Draconis) was known as “Thuban”, which means “head of the serpent”. When designing the Pyramids, the Egyptians made sure all pyramids were to have one side facing north, with an entrance passage geometrically aligned so that Thuban would be visible at night. Thuban was the northern pole star from 3942 to 1793 BCE. Due to the effects of precession, it will once again be the pole star by about 21,000 CE.  There is so much more to Draco, but I don’t want this story to drag-on

This intriguing trio of galaxies is sometimes called the Draco Group, located in the northern constellation of (you guessed it) Draco.
Credit Credit & Copyright: Giovanni Benintende / nasa.gov

If you’d like to take a closer look at Draco, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties!