A charioteer drives high across winter skies -- Auriga, one of the oddest of the 88 constellations, but one that contains some beautiful sights. It's high in the east at nightfall and passes directly overhead in late evening.
Auriga's weirdness comes from its figure -- a pentagon of stars that represents a man, with a goat and her kids on his shoulder. Mythology says he's a chariot driver, but the constellation doesn't include a chariot or horses. And there's no consensus about how Auriga even got its name.
But the beauty part is easy to see. Auriga is immersed in the glow of the Milky Way -- the band of stars that outlines the disk of our home galaxy. Its brightest star, yellow-orange Capella, is one of the brightest in the night sky. We'll have more about Capella tomorrow.
Auriga also contains several star clusters. The largest, known as M37, contains as many as 2,000 stars. They all formed together, from a single giant cloud of gas and dust, around a quarter of a billion years ago. They're bound together by their gravity. The cluster may be massive enough to hold onto most of its stars as it orbits the center of the Milky Way.
To find Auriga, look high in the east in early evening. Capella is almost due east, to the upper left of the brighter planet Mars, which has a slightly deeper color. M37 is also to the upper left of Mars, but much closer. It's visible through binoculars as a small swarm of stars.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2007
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