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Constellations: Draco -- The Dragon of many Stories


When Hera married Zeus, she gave him three golden apples as a wedding gift. Zeus treasured the apples and kept them in the Garden of Hesperides for safekeeping. Atlas owned the garden, and a fierce dragon named Ladon carefully guarded the golden apples.

Meanwhile, Herakles worked hard to accomplish his twelve labors, purging the sin of murdering his family. His 11th labor involved obtaining the golden apples. Ladon the dragon was a faithful guard, allowing only Atlas to approach him. Knowing this, Hercules made a deal with Atlas. We all have seen the pictures of Atlas forever holding the world on his shoulders. You may not know that Atlas grew tired of the task. Hercules offered to carry it for him while Atlas stole the apples, and Atlas delighted to oblige (Atlas forgot about his obligation to Zeus).

Ladon was napping when he heard the footstep of Atlas. He glanced at his master and went back to sleep. Atlas took the apples, and realized he no longer had to carry the Earth on his shoulders. He told Hercules he would deliver the apples himself. Hercules read Atlas' mind perfectly; he was a bit smarter than Atlas (more of an insult to Atlas than a complement to Hercules). He told Atlas he didn't mind carrying the globe, but first he would need to get a shoulder pad to rest it on. Atlas took back the globe without suspecting Hercules. Hercules quickly took the golden apples, laughed at Atlas, and left the garden. Too late Atlas realized the deception.

Hera and Zeus were enraged because the dragon failed to protect the golden apples (after all the dragon was the guardian of the apple, not Atlas). To punish the dragon, Hera placed the creature among the chilly circumpolar constellations to guard the heavens forever, never resting, never setting (the constellation sets here in Hawaii however....).

Click here for Herakles' twelfth and last labor.


Each map can be clicked on to produce a 909x1199 version of it. They sport red labels, which look good on screen, but which disappear when used with red flashlights. Each map, therefore has a second link to a map better suited for printing in a graphics program, and using in the field. While they are quite large, they are all about 30-35k, and so are easy to view at today's modem speeds. The first map is a wide area view of the constellation, suitable for naked eye browsing. The next views are binocular width, showing stars to mag. 10, deepsky objects to mag. 12.9, and labeling deepsky objects to magnitude 12.

Interactive, wide area map of Draco

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Click the map for a 909x1199 version of the above. Click here for a map better suited for use in the field.

Northeast Section

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This a more detailed view of the constellation. The map displays stars to magnitude 10, and deepsky objects to magnitude 12. Click here for a map better suited for use in the field.

Southeast Section

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Click here for a map better suited for use in the field.

South-Central Section

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Click here for a map better suited for use in the field.

Base of the Tail

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Click here for a map better suited for use in the field.

Tip of the Tail

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Click here for a map better suited for use in the field.


Image thumbnail 116k GIF NGC6543 (Best 50, Caldwell 6) is a pretty mag. 9 planetary nebula described as very bright, small (5.8'), and brightening to the middle. It lies 5.1° ENE of Zeta Draconis. A bigger telescope than amateurs normally use (the Hubble) took this picture. Notes on the image follow.

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope color image shows one of the most complex planetary nebulae ever seen, NGC 6543, nicknamed the "Cat's Eye Nebula." Hubble reveals intricate structures including concentric gas shells, jets of high-speed gas and unusual shock-induced knots of gas. Estimated to be 1,000 years old, the nebula is a visual "fossil record" of the dynamics and late evolution of a dying star.
Map Printable Map

Image thumbnail 29k JPEG Image thumbnail 6k GIF
NGC6503 (Best 49) is a spiral galaxy located 1.9° SSW of Psi2 Draconis. Described as fairly bright (mag. 11), large (7.0'x2.4'), and moderately extended (p.a. 122°), a 9th magnitude star (SAO8937) lies 4' eastward. Jere Kahanpää made these observations with an 8" at 133x: A galaxy of moderate brightness, size average - small. Shape difficult to determine as the outer parts are very faint. Easy to find at 63x but very faint.

Image to the left is from the Digital Sky Survey. Image to the right is by Jere Kahanpää.
Map Printable Map

Image thumbnail 35k Labeled JPEG. NGC5907 (Best 48) is an edge on spiral galaxy located in the southern main "body" region, 2.9° SSW of Edasich (Iota Draconis). It anchors a number of other galaxies all located within 1.5° of each other. Dreyer describes it as quite bright (mag. 11.3), very large (12.4'x1.4'), very moderately extended (p.a. 155°), and very gradually, then fairly abruptly brightening toward the middle.

NGC5879 lies 1.1° to the north-west. Dreyer says it is quite bright (mag. 12), small (4.2'x1.3'), extended (p.a. 0°), with a much brighter middle round nucleus. He calls it "resolvable," but any mottling requires very dark skies and large aperture.

NGC5866 lies 1.4° WSW of NGC5907. It is a possible candidate for M102 (M101 in Ursa Major is the other one) and it matches Messier's description. Dreyer calls it very bright (mag. 11.3), quite large (4.6'x1.9'), fairly moderately extended in position angle 146°. It brightens gradually toward the middle. An 8" shows a stellar nucleus at higher magnifications. The galaxy shows a fairly easy dark lane in 12" on dark, steady nights.

A pair of galaxies lies 51' south of NGC5907. The first, NGC5908 (mag. 13, 3.3'x1.2', p.a. 154°), lies 13' ESE of the second, NGC5905 (mag. 12.6, 4.0'x2.6', p.a. 134°).
Map Printable Map More info. M102 125k JPEG

Image thumbnail 88k JPEG NGC4319 is the brightest galaxy, located in the lower center of this image. More generally, you find it 5.6° north of Kappa Draconis. Dreyer calls it fairly bright (mag. 13), fairly small (3.1'x2.3'), very little elongated, with a pronounced, bright nucleus in its bar. The mag. 14.5 quasar Markarian 205 lies just south of the galaxy's nucleus. It is a background object.

NGC4386 sits .3° to the NE. Dreyer says it's fairly bright (mag. 12.6), quite large (2.8"x1.7'), little elongated, with a pronounced center.

NGC4291 lies 6' NW of NGC 4319. It is fairly bright (mag. 12.3), very small (2'x1.7'), round, with little brightening toward the middle. Three stars follow it (i.e. lie to the east) in the field.

From the Digital Sky Survey.
Map Printable Map

Image thumbnail 65k JPEG NGC4236 (Caldwell 3) is a very faint (mag. 9.7) extremely large (23'x6'), spiral galaxy, elongated in PA 162°. The core is much brighter than the rest. It sits 1.5° WSW of Kappa Draconis. From the Digital Sky Survey.
Map Printable Map


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