A charioteer drives high across the sky on winter evenings, with a mother goat perched on his shoulder and her kids on his wrist -- the constellation Auriga. It's a bizarre bit of stellar imagery that's pretty much impossible to pick out -- the stars just don't seem to link up to make such a fanciful pattern. But the constellation is easy to find because it contains one of the brightest stars in the night sky -- a star with an interesting history of its own.
The star is Capella, the she-goat. The yellow-white star is in the northeast at nightfall, and high overhead around midnight. It's the sixth-brightest star system in the night sky, so it's hard to miss.
Its brightness and position in the night sky have made Capella an important star in many cultures.
An example is the ancient Mexican city of Monte Alban.
One of the city's temples was used for astronomical observations -- a job that was important for maintaining order on earth and in the sky.
The temple was built more than 2,000 years ago, and some of its structures align with the point on the horizon where Capella made its first dawn appearance. That appearance happened on one of the two days of the year when the Sun passed directly overhead -- dates that were vital to the city's ritual life. So Capella might have acted like a warning flag, alerting the city's leaders that the time for the year's most important ceremonies was at hand.
More about Capella tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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