By Mike P. Usher
We rarely look northwards, but this is the only time of year Draco the Dragon rises high enough to be barely visible here in the deep south. It’s a rather faint constellation, which combined with it’s far northerly location make Draco tough to spot in South Florida during most of the year. You may wish to go out an hour earlier or a week later than indicated to avoid the bright rising Moon.
Mythologically speaking, Draco represents Ladon, the snake or dragon guarding the Golden Apples. Hercules slew the dragon as he needed the apples for his own purposes. Another myth has it being the dragon killed by Jason during his quest for the Golden Fleece. The medieval Arabs saw the ring of stars in the constellation as the Mother Camels instead of a dragon’s head.
Draco is also the home of the Draconids meteor shower on or about October 8 each year. While usually it’s not one of the better meteor showers, at rare intervals outbursts of thousands of meteors per hour have been observed in 1933, 1946 and 1998.
Also in our chart tonight is Cepheus, father to Andromeda and husband to Cassiopeia. In mythology he was a King of Aethiopia, but as head of his own household he was a failure. Unable to control his wife, she took actions that ultimately led to the attempted sacrifice of their daughter to a sea monster.
There are a couple of nice binocular objects in Cepheus, including the closest open cluster to the north celestial pole; but perhaps the most visually interesting object is a star. Mu Cephei, also known as Herschel’s Garnet Star, is a very deep red color. It’s too faint for the naked eye to see any color in it, but you may be able to glimpse some color with your binoculars. On the chart Mu Cephei is the dot closest to the cluster IC 1396. Erral, better known as Gamma Cephei, is scheduled to be the next pole star after Polaris starting about the year 3000 with closest approach about the year 4000.
Now take a look at the bowl of the little dipper; it’s a great measure of the true darkness of the sky. If you can see all four stars of the bowl congratulations! You are in a dark sky site. If you can see but one, you are in a light – polluted location.
See you next time!
Mr. Usher is President of the Everglades Astronomical Society which meets the second Tuesday each month during the summer at 7:00PM in the Books-A-Million, at the Mercato, Naples.