A pair of eyes stares down from the northeast as night falls right now — the eyes of Draco, the dragon. They’re above brilliant Vega, one of the night sky’s most prominent stars.
The brighter of the eyes is the star Eltanin, the dragon’s leading light. The name means “the serpent,” because the star once represented the entire dragon.
Eltanin is an orange giant. It’s a good bit bigger, heavier, and brighter than the Sun. That makes it easy to see even though it’s more than 150 light-years away.
It should get a lot easier to see in the coming millennia. That’s because Eltanin and the Sun are moving closer together. In about one and a half million years they’ll be at their closest — just 28 light-years apart. Assuming Eltanin hasn’t changed much by then, it’ll be the brightest star in the night sky — about as bright as the current champ, Sirius.
The other eye, Rastaban, is just above Eltanin. Its name means “head of the serpent.” It’s more than twice as far as Eltanin. It’s also a giant, but a much bigger and brighter one — a thousand times as bright as the Sun. So it’s only a little fainter than Eltanin despite the extra distance. It’s about the same color as the Sun, though — yellow-white.
The rest of Draco curves to the left and above the dragon’s eyes, and curls around Polaris, the North Star. The eyes stare in the opposite direction — toward Hercules, who killed the dragon before both of them were placed in the heavens.
Script by Damond Benningfield