Draco – the dragon

July 16, 2017

Astronomy

Draco the dragon is a long, thin, dim, winding constellation that separates the two dippers. His neck curls back as though he is glancing behind, and his head is being stepped on by Hercules.

According to the Romans, Draco was killed and placed in the sky by their goddess, Minerva. To the Greeks Draco was killed by their hero, Hercules. Kill a dragon and you’re a member of the family. Fail and suddenly you were always an orphan.

Meanwhile the Arabs pictured this area of the sky as a whole damn story board. They call it the Mothers of Camels. A couple of the stars are depicted as laughing hyenas which are about to attack another star which is a baby camel. What the hyenas are just finding out is that four other stars are some rapidly approaching big angry momma camels, about to kick some sorry hyena asses. See who lolz now, suckahs.

Thubin is in the middle of the dragon and it is an interesting star on a number of levels. For one thing, every 26,000 years or so it takes a turn at being the north star. The last time the earth’s pole pointed that general direction was roughly from the early stages of Stonehenge, until well after the building of the pyramids of Giza. So basically the dawn of civilization, 4000 BC to 1800 BC.

In those days, the stars of Draco looked like a long t-handle centered on Thubin, like a big lever for spinning the sky. You see, it was the dragon that started the sky spinning around us in the first place, by turning that handle. Why would he do that? To kill us of course. Every time those constellations spin completely around, you are a year older. All Draco has to do is wait, and guard the handle. Tired of having birthdays? Kill the dragon and stop the sky.

Omicron Draconis is notable for being the north pole star of Mercury, a handy tip if you are planning a visit.

The Cat’s Eye nebula looks like a cat’s eye, but nebulous. It’s obviously a planetary nebula created by an aging star casting off its outer garments, but probably complicated by the assistance of a younger companion star. These May-September stellar relationships are fairly common so sooner or later one was going to get weird.

The galaxy M102 might actually be M101. Or then again it might be the Spindle Galaxy, which is close enough to cause confusion, even though they look nothing alike. Messier’s notes on it are a bit Messier than we would like. So it’s your choice. I would play it safe and log them both. While you are at it, see if you can find NGC 5866, The Draco Dwarf. At first glance it looks simple enough, it’s a bunch of older stars and an overall general lack of dust. But measurements show an unusually high concentration of dark matter.

We don’t know what dark matter is but we know it’s bossy and we know the Draco Dwarf has a lot of it. Draco Dwarf’s stars are being bossed around by dark matter more than any other known group of stars.

The chess opening “Sicilian Defense, Dragon Variation” was named after Draco because the pawn positions roughly pattern the stars of the constellation. It’s one of those strategies where black’s king hides in the corner and sends the clergy to do his dirty work. If the bishops fail you can always cite their lack of piety. Knock over the board and ask the pope for forgiveness.

Carpe Noctem

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