Draco Constellation

Draco is one of the largest constellations in the sky, with . The Big Dipper forms the tail and the back half of the torso of the big bear. The handle of the saucepan is the tail and the pan forms half of the torso. The constellation is visible year around in the northern hemisphere and is such considered a circumpolar constellation as it appears to rotate around the north star.

Draco constellation is one of the original 48 constellations listed by the Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy, who lived under Roman rule in Alexandria in the 2nd century. These constellations formed the basis for the modern list agreed by the IAU. Constellations from the southern hemisphere, unable to be seen from the Mediterranean, represent the majority of additions to the list.

As the earth moves in its orbit around the sun, each night you are looking at a different portion of the sky. When looking at stars it is important to be aware of what is within your view. Northern hemisphere stargazers can group constellations into 3 groups; circumpolar, summer and winter constellations. The circumpolar constellations are in the north sky, appear to move around the north star and are visible throughout the year. The constellations in the south sky are only visible for part of the year and are grouped as either summer or winter constellations. Each is visible from between 4 to 10 months.

It is important to be aware of the specific time of year and hour of the night when deciding what to look for. These pages below show the constellations in each group so you can find the constellations that interest you.

CIRCUMPOLAR (year around)Ursa MajorCassiopeiaUrsa Minor – Draco – Cepheus
WINTER – Pegasus – Pisces – Aries – AurigaTaurusOrionCanis Major  – Canis MinorGemini – Lynx – CancerLeoWinter Hexagon
SUMMERVirgoLibraScorpius – Bootes – Hercules – Lyra – Ophiuchus – Sagittarius – Aquila – Cygnus – Capricornus – Aquarius

Or use this guide to easily see which constellations are easiest to find right now:

BEST CONSTELLATIONS TO FIND THIS MONTH

 

Draco Quick Facts:

Symbolism: Dragon/Serpent 

Neighbouring constellations: Ursa Major*, Ursa Minor*, Bootes*, Leo (south), Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus, Cepheus*

Brightest star: Eltanin, 2.24 magnitude (72nd brightest star in night sky)

Stars brighter than 3 magnitude: 3

Primary stars: 14 (4 that form the head of the serpentine, and 10 that form the body)

Latitude: 50 – 70 degrees north 

Northern Hemisphere Season: Circumpolar (year round)

*circumpolar constellations do not maintain the same coordinal direction to each other as they all rotate around the north star Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor. The direction however can always be determined from the constellation with feet of the bear always facing away from the north star.

Draco constellation sky

Which months can you see Draco constellation?

Ursa Major can be seen all year but can be found high in the sky at 21:00 from April to June:

  • Early evening viewers (pre 21:00) can find the constellation from February in the north east sky until July in the north west sky. Ursa Major will be visible overhead from April to June.
  • Mid evening viewers (21:00-23:30) can find the constellation from January in the north east sky until June in the northwest sky. Ursa Major will be visible overhead in from March to May. 
  • Late evening viewers (after 23:30) can find the constellation from December in the north east sky until May in the north west sky. Ursa Major will be visible overhead from January to April.
  • Early morning viewers can find the constellation from November in the north east sky to February in the north west sky. Ursa Major will be visible overhead from from December to January.

As time passes the constellation will gradually appear earlier in the day with ranges below showing the window of opportunity in each month. Ursa Major sits between 30-65 degrees north latitude. Therefore, the further south your position the lower it will appear in the north sky. At its maximum range it is possible to see Ursa Major at latitudes between +90 and -20. Above latitudes of 45 degrees north the constellation remains above the horizon at all times.

Best time to see Draco:

Present throughout night from May to July

Best visible at 21:00 in July

January: visible 15 degrees above the northern horizon from 01:00. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. It is 45 degrees above the northern horizon at sunrise.

February: visible 15 degrees above the northern horizon from 23:00. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. It reaches near to its peak 50 degrees above northern horizon at sunrise.

March: visible 15 degrees above the northern horizon from 21:00. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. It reaches its peak 55 degrees above northern horizon at sunrise.

April: visible 15 degrees above the northern horizon from 20:00. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. It reaches its peak 55 degrees above northern horizon at 04:00 before lowering to 50 degrees by sunrise. 

May: visible 30 degrees above the northern horizon at sunset. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. It reaches its peak 55 degrees above northern horizon at 02:00 before lowering to 50 degrees by sunrise. Making it visible throughout the night.

June: visible 45 degrees above the northern horizon at sunset. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. It reaches its peak 55 degrees above northern horizon at 24:00 before lowering to 40 degrees above the north western horizon at sunrise. Making it visible throughout the night.

July: visible at its peak, 50 degrees above the northern horizon at sunset. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. It reaches its peak 55 degrees above northern horizon at 22:00 before lowering to 25 degrees above the north western horizon at sunrise. Making it visible throughout the night.

August: visible at its peak, 50 degrees above the northern horizon at sunset. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. It reaches its peak 55 degrees above northern horizon at 22:00. The constellation sets at 04:30 at the northern horizon.

September: visible near its peak, 50 degrees above the northern horizon at sunset. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. Setting at 02:30 at the northern horizon.

October: visible at its peak, 50 degrees above the northern horizon at sunset. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. Setting at 00:30 at the northern horizon.

November: visible 40 degrees above the north western horizon at sunset. The constellation rotates anticlockwise around the north star. Setting at 21:30 at the northern horizon.

December: visible briefly after sunset and before sunrise but not visible through most of the night. It appears 30 degrees above the northern horizon at sunset, slightly west of due north. The constellation sets at 19:30. It appears again above the northern horizon slightly east of due north at 03:00. It reaches a height of 30 degrees by sunrise.

Trajectory: The constellation is between 50-70 degrees north, placing it around 30 degrees from Polaris. The constellation will rotate around the northern star maintaining its distance. As such viewers can expect it to follow an arch from the north east horizon arching across the north east sky until it reaches its peak high in the north sky, then following a parallel arch in the north west sky until it reaches near to the north west horizon. Those at very high northern hemisphere latitudes may also be able to view it cross low in the north sky to complete its rotation. Its peak trajectory in Wadi Rum is 55 degrees above the northern horizon and is viewable in the evening from July and August.

Not the right time for Draco? Have a look what constellations you can see tonight.

Great bear constellation

How to find Draco constellation?

Difficulty to find: Medium – Difficulty to interpret: Easy to Medium – Locating asterism: Big Dipper (saucepan)

How to find the Big Dipper or or to find the saucepan is the first question we need to answer as that will be how we identify the Ursa Major constellation. Fortunately it is considered an easy formation to find because its location is consistent throughout the year.

Step 1: Make sure you are familiar with what time of night the constellation will be in the sky for the time of year you are looking. Use the guide above to confirm the cycles and the appropriate area of the sky

Step 2: The constellation will always be in the north sky so orient yourself with a clear view of the sky to the north

Step 3:

Use The Big Dipper. If you’re following the guide above and are looking at the right direction at the right time, The Big Dipper should be visible in your view. If not, follow the guide specified for Ursa Major and The Big Dipper. The first star of the big dipper is parallel to the brightest star of Draco, Eltanin. If you go in a direct line 90 degrees away from the direction of the saucepan, a bit more than the full length of the saucepan you will find Eltanin. From there, you can form the head of the body with the surrounding stars. From the head, the body continuous parallel to the saucepan’s handle. The first curve of Draco is also parallel to the last star in the saucepan. From the first curve the body continuous down until you reach a parallel point to Eltanin; the head of the serpent. From thereon the body continuous almost parallel with the saucepans handle and finishes almost exactly parallel to where the saucepan finishes.  

Use Cassiopeia: 

Use Ursa Minor: 

Use Bootes:

 

Learn how to form the shape of Draco constellation

The Big Dipper forms the tail and the back half of the torso of the big bear. These 7 stars are the brightest in the constellation and are critical reference points for identifying the others. To assist with explaining the location of the remaining stars we will confirm the name of each star.

To aid in identifying the shape of the bear it should be understood that the bear is depicted walking on all four legs like a dog. It is also convenient that in this constellations many of the distances are very similar as with the saucepan. Finally the nose and feet although less bright than the big dipper are prominent so the extremeties are easier to recognise. 

Identify the 7 stars of the Big Dipper or Saucepan asterism

  • Alkaid is the end of the handle and also the tip of the saucepan
  • Mizar is the midpoint of the handle and the midpoint of the tail
  • Alioth is the base of the handle and the base of the tail
  • Megrez is the corner of the pan that attaches to the handle and the lower end of the bears back
  • Phecda is the base of the pan closest to the handle and the back underside of the bear where the back legs pertrude from
  • Merak is the base of the pan furthest from the handle and the mid underside of the bear
  • Dubhe is the top of the pan furthest from the handle and the middle of the bears back
  • The 4 stars of the pan forms the back half of the torso. These 7 stars are the brightest in the constellation and are critical reference points for identifying the others.

Finding the 9 other stars that complete the Ursa Major Constellation

Step 1: The remainder of the torso

The front part of the torso is relatively simple to identify with the pan extending out to form an elongated body.

  • The upper back of the bear continues in a straight line from the top of the pan for the same distance between the initial 2 stars away from the handle
  •  The chest of the bear similarly continues in a straight line from the base of the pan for a similar distance.

These stars extend the existing rectangle of the pan out into a longer rectangle around double the size to represent the torso of the bear.

Step 2: The nose

  • The nose is a relatively bright star and can be found by continuing on the same path as the torse forward the same distance again (half the length of torso). The nose is the tip of the head and when connected to the two nearest stars of the torso with imaginary lines represents the head

Step 3: The front legs

  • To star that indicate the front leg comes away from the chest star at a 90 degree angle from the torso and head, The first star representing the knee is a similar distance as has been the case with the existing stars in the constellation
  • The next star marking the foot of the bear slightly changes direction 30 degrees to the west but is again a similar distance from the knee

Step 4: The back legs

These 4 stars represent the back legs with the top part of the leg following a common path and then separating

  • The back legs are long and extend down from Phecda in the direction opposite to Megrez. The first star is again a similar distance to that previously used and direction can additionally be aided as it is parallel to the front leg and perpendicular to the body

From this star the legs split

  • If you continue in a straight line 3 times the previous length you will find one back foot
  • the other part of the leg branches out 45 degrees southwest or in the direction opposite the handle, this leg has a knee once again using the initial distance that is consistent for this constellation.
  • Continue in a similar direction and a similar distance to identify the other foot.
Draco constellation

Draco in the Ancient World

Greek and Roman mythology

The are several myths associated with the dramatic Draco constellation, but the most common one is related with the neighbouring Hercules constellation. In greek mythology Hera received golden apple trees as a wedding gift when she married Zeus. She planted them in the garden of Hesperides (nymphs of the evening in Geek mythology) and asked the nymphs to guard her apples. She also placed  the dragon Ladon next to the tree to guard it so that the nymph wouldn’t eat the apples. However, Heracles, or Hercules which is his Romanised name, got tasked to steal the apples as one of his 12 labors, a punishment he had received. Hercules killed Ladon with a poisoned arrow and stole the golden apples. Hera was very saddened by the dragon’s death and therefore depicted him in the sky. and there we can still find him today, forever depicted not far from his predator. 

In Roman mythology, Draco was one of the Giant Titans who fought with the Olympic gods for ten years. He was killed by the Minerva, the Roman god for wisdom and warfare. Thereafter he was thrown up into the sky, where he froze around the North Pole.  

Other cultures

The Draco constellation doesn’t exist in Arab mythology. Instead what is depicted in the same spot in the sky, are two hyenas attacking a baby camel, protected by four female camels. The nomads owning the camels are camped nearby. They are represented by Upsilon, Tau and Sigma Draconis, which represents a cooking tripod. A view that is common in Wadi Rum!

Draco constellation mythology

Main stars of Draco

Eltanin (+2.24m, 154ly, 110k suns, #72)

Eltanin is from Arabic meaning the ‘The great serpent’. It is the 72nd brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.24. The distance from earth is 154 light years. It is 110 000 times the size of the sun. Eltanin represent the top of the front head in the Draco constellation. 

Athebyne  (+2.73m, 92ly, double star, #120)

Athebyne is from the Arabic for ‘the two wolves’. It is the 120th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.73. The distance from earth is 92 light years. It is a double star. Athebyne is in the middle of the constellation, and is the last star before the second curve of the serpentine. 

Rastaban (+2.79, 380ly, double star, #129)

Rastaban derives from Arabic, meaning ‘head of the serpent’. It is the 129th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.79. The distance from earth is 380 light years. Rastaban is a double star consisting of a bright giant star orbited by a dwarf companion.  Rastaban marks the lower part of the front of the serpentine’s head.

Altais (+3.07, 97ly, 1k suns, #187)

Altais is from Arabic for ‘the goat’. It is the 187th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +3.07. The distance from earth is 97 light years. It is 1330 times the size of the sun. Altais is the first star after the head of the serpentine, and the last star before the first curvature of the serpentine.

Aldhibah (+3.17m, 330ly, double star, #203)

Aldhibah is from the Arabic for ‘the wolf’. It is the 203d brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +3.17. The distance from earth is 330 light years. It is a double star. Aldhibah marks the body of the serpentine. If the snake’s body is divided into three parts divided by he curves, Aldibah is in the middle of the second part.

Wadi Rum is one of the best locations in the world to see the full beauty of the stars, combining high altitudes, clear skies and no light pollution. You may be surprised how many stars are visible to the naked eye. Come with us and spend a night under the stars!