In mid-July, if you have a dark sky, try looking for the constellation Draco the Dragon. On the evening of July 15, 2014, that means looking northward at early evening tonight, before the waning gibbous moon rises. After that July 15 moonrise, the moon will rise roughly an hour later each night, affording you more hours of darkness for making your acquaintance with the celestial Dragon.
The chart at the top of this post – showing Draco – covers a lot more sky than our charts usually do. This long and winding star figure can be found in the northern sky. Look for the Dragon’s tail to snake in between the Big and Little Dippers.
I always notice the two stars in the Dragon’s head when looking at the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. If you’re familiar with the Summer Triangle, draw an imaginary line from the star Altair through the star Vega to find the Dragon’s eyes glaring at you from high overhead on July evenings and at nightfall in August. These two stars are Rastaban and Eltanin – lovely, romantic names for the Dragon’s stars.
Draco is a circumpolar constellation as seen from northerly latitudes. In other words, it circles around and around the North Star, Polaris.
Another noteworthy star in Draco is Thuban, which is high in the sky in the evening at this time of year. Thuban is an interesting star because – around 3000 B.C. – Thuban used to be the North Star.
The constellation Draco, by the way, has been associated with a dragon in many cultures. A Babylonian myth links Draco to the dragon god Tiamat, who was subdued by the god of the sun.