Starwatch: Look carefully if you’re dragon hunting

Starwatch: Look carefully if you’re dragon hunting

By Mike Lynch

Special to The Herald

With Halloween approaching, I thought it only appropriate to feature a monster constellation. Draco the Dragon would certainly qualify.

Draco isn’t easy to see. It’s large, but its stars are faint. It is doable though, and once you find it you’ll feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

The best way to find Draco is to visualize it more as a coiled snake than as a dragon.

In October it’s found in the northwestern Snohomish County sky. The best thing to do is face the western sky and look for the brightest star you can see. That ‘s Vega, the brightest star in the small constellation Lyra the Harp. 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 (but it’s not even that bright of a star).

Your Draco challenge is well under way. From Draco’s head, hold your fist out 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 snake 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 two and a half fist widths at arm’s length. 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 Draco’s tail lies just above the much fainter Big Dipper.

Hopefully, between my description and the star map you can find Draco. It kind of looks like a reversed letter S.

Sharpen your stargazing skills and take the Draco challenge. This is a good time to do it since the moon and all its natural pollution will wash out the evening sky this coming week. You can do it!

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis, He is author of “Stars; a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations” published by Adventure Publications.

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