Draco is a pretty well-known constellation. Or at least its name is. Just about anything that’s called “the dragon” is going to attract people’s attention.
But the star pattern itself is tough to follow. It’s a meandering trail of stars that curls around the Little Dipper. But most of the stars are faint, so you need dark skies to see them. From light-polluted cities, Draco is more of a stealth dragon — hard to see in the skies above.
In Greek mythology, the dragon protected a magical apple tree planted by Hera, the wife of Zeus, the king of the gods. One of the 12 labors of Heracles — better known by his Roman name, Hercules — was to steal some of the apples. To do so, he had to kill the dragon. Hera placed the dead creature in the sky.
The head of the dragon is marked by a four-sided figure. It’s high in the northwest as night falls, far to the upper left of the Pole Star, Polaris. A couple of the stars in the head are fairly bright, but the other two are faint.
In the skylore of ancient Arabia, the four stars were mother camels. They were protecting a baby camel, which was represented by an even fainter star at the center of the quartet. The baby was being threatened by jackals or hyenas — a pair of stars that stands below the camels in early evening.
Look for the long, sinuous body of the dragon curling to the left and upper left of Polaris as darkness falls. It rotates down toward the northern horizon during the night.
Script by Damond Benningfield