The DRACO constellation - myths, facts and location

By Jake Riley, SR Senior Editor

Fun Facts

1. Draco means ‘dragon’ in Latin
2. It is one of the five circumpolar constellations of the northern hemisphere
3. One of the largest constellations, albeit not particularly noticeable
4. Hosts the Draco Dwarf galaxy, a satellite of our own galaxy, the Milky Way
5. Also hosts the Cat’s Eye Nebula, the Spindle Galaxy, and the Tadpole Galaxy

An overview

The constellation of Draco makes up a winding pattern of stars that forms up a ‘S’ shaped curve that depicts a dragon, with its head being located just north of the constellation of Hercules and its tail ending between The Big and Little Dippers in Ursa Major and Minor respectively. The constellation consists of 14 main stars, with the brightest being Eltanin, which has a luminosity 500 times greater than that of our sun.

The constellation is one of the ancient constellations catalogued by Ptolemy, and is visible all year round in the northern hemisphere as it never sets below the horizon due to its circumpolar nature.

The myth

The constellation of Draco is often associated with a Greek myth involving a multi-headed dragon named Ladon.

Ladon’s duty was to guard a beautiful orchard called the Gardens of the Hesperides, which was personally cultivated by Hera, the wife of Zeus. The apples that the trees bore fruit to were not considered to be of the ordinary variety, but are golden apples that granted immortality to anyone who consumed them.

The garden was aptly named after the nymphs who cared for the trees in the orchard, though therein also lies the problem of them often stealing some golden apples for themselves.

By placing Ladon in the Gardens of the Hesperides, Hera managed to put an end to the mischief of the nymphs, though the dragon would eventually come across a greater foe who would slay the multi-headed beast, which was nonother than the Greek hero, Hercules, who was given the task of stealing the golden apples.

The constellation

The constellation of Draco is situated in the northern sky’s third quadrant, and is visible between latitudes +90 to -15 degrees. It neighbors the constellations Boötes, Camelopardalis, Cepheus, Cygnus, Hercules, lyra, Ursa Major, and Ursa Minor.

Of the 14 main stars it consists, there exists seven celestial bodies of note: Thuban, a white giant star 399 lightyears from earth; Edasich, an orange giant star with a mass twice that of earth and a diameter 11 times greater; Aldhibah, a blue giant star; Nodus Secundus, a yellow giant star; Grumium, an orange giant star; Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation; and Rastaban, which has a luminosity around 1,000 times greater than that of the sun.

Want to learn about other constellations aside from Draco? Find out more about Microscopium or Canes Venatici. Alternatively, you can simply click here for a full list of constellations.