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A Dragon, and a former pole star

Tonight, if you have a dark sky, you’ll be able to pick the constellation Draco the Dragon winding around the North Star, Polaris.

First find the Big Dipper high in the north on June evenings. The two outer stars in the Dipper’s bowl point to Polaris, the North Star, which marks the end of the Little Dipper’s handle.

The Little Dipper is relatively faint. If you can find both Dippers, then your sky is probably pretty dark. And you’ll need a dark sky to see Draco. You’ll have to let your eyes and imagination drift a bit to see the entire winding shape of the Dragon in the northern heavens.

Draco as depicted in an old star altas.  The constellation of the Dragon winds around the sky's north pole.

Draco in an old star altas. The constellation of the Dragon winds around the sky’s north pole.

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But if you can find both Dippers, you’ll fairly easily pick out another noteworthy star in Draco. This star is Thuban, which I always find by remembering it’s between the Big and Little Dippers. Thuban is famous for having served as a pole star around 3000 B.C. This date coincides with the beginning of the building of the pyramids in Egypt. It’s said that the descending passage of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Gizeh was built to point directly at Thuban. So our ancestors knew and celebrated this star.

The stars Eltanin and Rastaban lie in the head of Draco. Look ahead to the June 8 chart to learn to identify them near the brilliant blue-white star Vega.

By the way, around June 7, 2016, the thin waxing crescent moon is in the west after nightfall. It won’t appreciably intrude on the darkness of night for another few nights. So go out to a dark location tonight and look for the faint Dragon! You’ll enjoy it, when you see it.

At nightfall and early evening, see if you can spot the two bright Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux close to the moon. The green line depicts the ecliptic - Earth's orbital plane projected onto the sky's dome.

At nightfall and early evening, see if you can spot the two bright Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux close to the moon. The green line depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the sky’s dome.

Bottom line: You’ll have to let your eyes and imagination drift a bit to see the entire winding shape of Draco the Dragon in the northern sky.

How to find the Big Dipper

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Deborah Byrd

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