This is a good time of year to trace Draco the Dragon, which winds around the Little Dipper in the northern sky. A circumpolar constellation as seen from mid-northern latitudes and further north, Draco never sets below the horizon. Its stars continually circle once a day around a point next to the North Star and keep missing the straight horizon, though most of us have a hill or trees that block the view low in the sky. Its orientation between 10 p.m. and midnight in mid to late June has the dragon figure upright. The stars of the tail begin between the bowl of the Big Dipper and the North Star. The tail then wraps up and around the Little Dipper’s bowl. The North Star is the star at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper (also known as Ursa Minor the Little Bear).
On the right side of the Little Dipper’s bowl as seen at this time, are the dragon’s feet. From these stars, the long neck rides up, ending with four stars marking the dragon’s head.
According to one ancient myth, Draco represented the monster that guarded the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides. Hercules had a desperate encounter with the beat, finally slaying it and taking the apples.
This has nothing to do with astronomy, but ever notice how mythical dragons resemble the great dinosaurs whose fossil bones now fascinate us? Although common teaching states dinosaurs died out long before man was around, ancient dragon myths appear in diverse cultures around the globe and were fabled creatures long before paleontologists put together dinosaur skeletons. Perhaps some species lived a lot longer than is normally claimed. Could it be we have a dinosaur constellation in the sky?
At any rate, the stars themselves know nothing of our stories. Among notable stars in the constellation is Thuban (Alpha Draconis), which was considered the North Star around 5,000 years ago. It is in the “tail.” The axis of the Earth makes a slow wobble, pointing differently through the ages and causing generations that pass, to name new “north stars” as well as “south stars” at the opposite end. Thuban is of the 3rd magnitude and is about 215 light years away.
The star Eltanin (Gamma Draconis) marks the dragon’s snout. It seems to be sniffing the very bright star Vega, which is 12 degrees away (well up in the east at this time).
Sunday, June 21 at 10:38 a.m. EDT marks the arrival of summer in the northern hemisphere.
First-quarter moon is on June 24.
Be sure to look in the west during evening twilight for the beautiful pairing of the planets Jupiter and Venus (the brighter one). The crescent moon passes them on June 19 and 20, making a stunning view. Be sure to send me a photograph, and let me know where you took it! Venus and Jupiter will appear closest on June 30/July 1.
Keep looking up!

Peter W. Becker is managing editor of The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. He welcomes notes at