Starwatch: Finding Draco a fun challenge for an evening under the stars

  • By Mike Lynch Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, November 6, 2008 4:20pm
  • Life

Some constellations in the skies over Everett are easy to see and some are not. Draco, the Dragon, is not the easiest of constellations to find, but once you do, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

It’s certainly one of the larger constellations in the heavens, but the problem is that its stars aren’t all that bright. The best way to find Draco is to visualize it more as a snake, rather than as a dragon.

This time of year, the snake-like dragon is found in the western skies, so face the west and look for the brightest star you can see. That will be Vega, high in the western sky and the brightest star in the small constellation Lyra.

Look a little to the right of Vega for a modestly bright trapezoid of four stars that outline the head of the dragon. This is where you find Draco’s brightest star, Eltanin, and as you’ll see, it’s not all that bright.

Your Draco challenge is well under way. From Draco’s head, hold your fist at arm’s length. At about two of your fist-widths to the upper right you’ll find two faint stars fairly close to each other.

These less-than-brilliant stars mark the end of the dragon’s neck. Finding those two stars is, I think, the key to seeing the rest of Draco. From those two stars, the main section of Draco’s body coils downward. Look for a more or less vertical crooked line of more modestly bright stars that stretch down about 21/2 fist-widths. From there you’ll see a fairly faint but distinct horizontal line of stars that kinks off to the right that depicts the tail of Draco.

You’ll notice that the Draco’s tail lies just above the much fainter Big Dipper. Hopefully, using my description and the star map, you can find Draco. It kind of looks like a reversed letter S.

Many ancient civilizations, including the Chinese, Sumerians and Egyptians, had stories about the dragon constellation.

The Greeks had several versions, the most familiar involving the dragon that guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides in an orchard sacred to Hera.

One of the 12 labors assigned to Hercules was to steal some of these apples, which he did — in some versions by killing the dragon, in others by lulling it to sleep with music.

Hera later placed her faithful guardian in the heavens.

Draco certainly is not one of the easiest constellations to find, but looking for it and finding it will really sharpen your stargazing skills. The full moon we have this week will also add to the challenge.

Wind down from your busy day and look for Hera’s loyal celestial dragon.

The Jupiter-Venus show: All this month, the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn will be approaching each other in the low southwestern sky during the later part of evening twilight. Venus is the brighter of the two, located to the lower right of Jupiter. By November 30th they will be only two degrees apart. It’ll be quite a show in the next several weeks. Don’t miss it.

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and author of the book, “Washington Starwatch,” available at bookstores and at his Web site

The Everett Astronomical Society welcomes new members and puts on public star parties. The Web site is

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