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Look Up! Is that a Dragon in the Sky?

Look Up! Is that a Dragon in the Sky?

Look toward the north on any night of the year and you’ll see one of the most prominent constellations in the sky: Draco the dragon.

Draco is of particular interest because it’s not only one of the longest constellations in the sky (though not the absolute longest; that honor goes to Hydra), but also because it is circumpolar. While many other constellations disappear below the horizon at some point during the night, or over the course of a year, circumpolar constellations never set.

Draco begins near the constellation Lyra with a sort of lopsided box made up of four bright stars, including Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation. These four points represent the head. From there, a line representing the dragon’s neck arches straight up before dipping down to curve underneath Ursa Minor. On the other side of “the little bear,” the tail whips back up and curves away.

Sky watchers have recognized Draco for millennia, and most of them, across a vast array of cultures, have described it as some type of dragon or serpent. The Ancient Egyptians were one notable exception to the rule. To them, the constellation was the goddees Tawaret, who had a body made up of the parts of a human, a crocodile, a lioness, and a hippopotamus.

To the Greeks, Draco represented Ladon, the dragon who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides. According to legend, Hercules slew Ladon while stealing one of the apples, which was the eleventh of his famous Twelve Labors. The ancient Romans believed Draco was a dragon slain by Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and poetry, while early Christians saw the constellation as the serpent who tempted Eve.

No matter how you see this impressive constellation, be sure to seek it out next time you’re out sky watching.

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