We are at the letter D in our A-Z tour of heavenly bodies. There are only three constellations that begin with a “D”, the most popular being Draco or the Dragon. This constellation doesn’t stand out like the dippers or Orion. Most of the stars are rather dim and although the constellation is huge, wrapping itself around the North Pole, it is hard to follow the stars to make out the dragon as it squeezes in between the two dippers (or the Bears or Ursa Major and Minor). However, it is visible most of the year for those of us in the northern latitudes, but it is probably best seen in summer when it is higher in the sky. For southern readers, Draco will remain elusive.
There are several legends that are associated with Draco. In one, Ladon the dragon guards the apples of Hesperides, which is under Atlas’ control. Hercules final feat that will free him is to snatch one of these “golden apples.” By tricking Atlas, Hercules fetches an apple and in the summer when the dragon is at its zenith, Hercules can be seen standing over the dragon.
There's another legend set in primordial times when the Titanic gods fought against the Olympic gods. In this story, Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, caught the dragon by its tail and tossed it up on the dome of stars in the sky where it swings around and around the pole (kind of like a record turning on a turntable). Some say the dragon got tangled up and was unable to free itself and, being near the pole, froze there.
|The Dragon and Bear|
Most everyone has heard of the North Star, but I’m pretty sure even the oldest of my readers can't recall a time when that star set in the Little Dipper didn’t stand over the Celestial Pole. But the North Star has not always maintained this prominent position over the pole. A mere five thousand years ago, Thuban (or alpha-draconis), a star within Draco’s tail, was the star that appeared over the pole. The star does move, just very slowly. Although I’m pretty sure I won’t live to see it, twenty-some thousand years from now, the dragon will again claim the north point in the sky.