The Whispering Woods Dragon Lore Course
The Dragon Constellation: Draco
Due to its northerly location, in most northern latitudes Draco never sets. Its head is a group of stars lying north of the bright star Vega, its long body winds towards Cepheus, then turns westward between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor).
Draco’s tail ends with a star (Giansar) that lies just east of the line between the Pointers of the Big Dipper and Polaris. It is the 8th largest constellation in area. The details of each star are outlined below:
Thuban – Also known as Alpha Draconis, which is Arabic for dragon. Thuban is now unremarkable, but it was the polestar several thousand years ago. Egyptian temples were oriented to Thuban, which lies in the middle of the long tail of the dragon, now more than 25° from the celestial North Pole. Spectral type A0 III; magnitude: 3.7; distance 230 ly.
Rastaban – Arabic for “head of the dragon”. Spectral type:G2 II; magnitude: 2.8; distance: 265 ly. Rastaban is the just barely the third brightest star in the constellation, behind Eltanin and Eta Draconis.
Eltanin – Eltanin is the brightest star of Draco and is also located in the dragon’s head. Ancient Thebes, the “city of the dragon,” had a temple dedicated to this star. Spectral type: K5 III; magnitude: 2.2; distance 100 ly.
Altais – Arabic for “serpent”. Also known as Nodus II. Spectral type: G9III; magnitude: 3.1; distance 115 ly.
Nodus – Nodus means “knot” in Arabic. Spectral type: B6III; magnitude: 3.2; distance 315 ly.
Edasich – Translates as “male hyena”. Spectral type: K2III; magnitude: 3.5; distance 155 ly.
Giansar – This comes from the Persian word denoting the node (the point at which a planet or other body crosses the ecliptic of the Moon’s orbit. Spectral type: M0III; magnitude: 3.8; distance 210 ly.
There are a number of myths behind the constellation Draco, due to its resemblance to a dragon.
In the most famous of the myths, Draco represents Ladon, the hundred-headed dragon that guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides.
The eleventh of The Twelve Labours of Heracles was to steal the golden apples.
Heracles killed Ladon with a poisoned arrow, allowing him to freely take the golden apples. According to the legend, Hera later placed the dragon in the sky as the constellation Draco. Due to its position and nearby constellations in the zodiac sign of Libra (i.e. Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, and Boötes), the group of constellations can be seen to tell the tale of the eleventh labour.
In another legend, Draco represents the dragon killed by Cadmus before founding the city of Boeotia. In a third legend, it represents the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece and was killed by Jason.
By astronomical chance, the Dragon’s Head and Dragon’s Tail mark the positions of the lunar nodes, those points where the paths of the solar and lunar orbits intersect and where solar and lunar eclipses may occur.
The Dragon’s head (Caput draconis,) refers to the ascending node, the Dragon’s tail (Cauda draconis, ) the descending node. In several cultures, an eclipse was attributed to the disappearance of the moon or sun as they were swallowed by a dragon.
The fact that the stars of this circumpolar constellation never set plays an important part in its mythologies.
The Pharaoh Khufu ruled ancient Egypt around 2550 BCE and was buried in the largest of the Giza pyramids when he died. During his time, Thuban was the pole star, (because of Earth’s precession) around which all other stars revolved. Khufu’s burial chamber was fashioned deep inside the Great Pyramid. Two skinny shafts bore outward from the chamber.
For decades, scholars thought they were airshafts. But in the 1960s, astronomers found that they have an astronomical purpose. It was found that one of the shafts pointed directly towards Thuban. The other was aimed at the belt of Orion, which symbolized Osirus.
The stars close to the pole never set. The Egyptians described these stars as “imperishable” or “undying.” Khufu expected that when he died, he would join not only with the Sun, but with Thuban as well, maintaining order in the celestial realm, just as he had on Earth.
During the time that Draco’s star Thuban was the pole star, it would have appeared to ancient sky watchers that the Earth revolved around Draco.
Dragons and other similar creatures often played a role in creation myths. In these stories the gods would often battle such creatures for control of the Earth. When defeated, the dragons were flung up into the skies.
Roman myth calls this dragon Ladon and he guarded the golden apples on a tree in a garden tended by the Hesperides, the daughters of Atlas.
Hercules was sent to obtain the apples while under pledge to Eurystheus. He learned from Nereus that he could not pluck the apples himself, but must get help from Atlas.
Hercules shot and killed Ladon with an arrow, making way for Atlas to enter and pluck the golden apples. The goddess Hera was greatly distressed by the death of Ladon and placed the dragon in the heavens.
A Greek legend tells the story of Draco as a horrible dragon that guarded a sacred spring and slew the soldiers of Cadmus (first king of Thebes) who had been sent to gather water. Cadmus then fought the dragon and won.
After the dragon died, Athena appeared and told Cadmus to sow the ground with the creature’s teeth. The teeth immediately sprang up as a group of armed soldiers who helped Cadmus found Thebes.
A Babylonian creation story tells of Tiamat, who turned herself into a dragon but was later defeated and split into two parts. One part became the heavens and the other, the Earth.
A Chinese tale sees the stars as the dragon who eats the Sun or Moon (possible represented by the North Star Polaris) in an eclipse.
During a real eclipse, ancient Chinese would make as much noise as possible, banging on pots and pans to try and scare away the dragon which was eating the Sun or Moon.
A Norse creation myth tells of a dragon that gnaws at the roots of Ygdrasil, the tree that covers the world.
Because Thuban was the pole star 5000 years ago the ancient Egyptians keenly observed it. Some of Draco’s stars were part of their constellation of Hippopotamus and some were of the Crocodile.
They appear on the planisphere of Denderah and the walls of the Ramesseum at Thebes. The hieroglyph for the Hippopotamus was used for the heavens in general while the constellation is supposed to have been a symbol of Isis Rathor, Athor, or Athyr, the Egyptian Venus. Draco’s stars were also said to represent the falcon headed god Horus.
Around 800 BC, the prehistoric Adena people who lived in the Ohio area of the United States created Serpent Mound which is believed to mirror the constellation Draco.
This huge mound is nearly a quarter mile long.
The Persians have regarded Draco as a man-eating serpent called Azhdeha. In early Hindu worship, Draco is given the form of an alligator known as Shi-shu-mara. α Alpha Draconis, Thuban (14h03m +64° 37’0 has a magnitude of 3.64 and is a class A0 star about 215 light years distant. Thuban is a spectroscopic binary. The star is also along the Earth’s precessional path and was the pole star 4800 years ago.
β Beta Draconis, Rastaban (17h29m.3 +52° 20′) means the “head of the snake.” Arabian lore calls Rastaban and Eltanin the Dragon’s eyes.
Rastaban has a magnitude of 2.78 and is a class G2 white giant, about 400 light years distant. Rastaban is a binary system with the companion being 11.5 magnitudes.
γ Gamma Draconis, Eltanin (17h55m.4 +51° 30′) is a 2.2 magnitude yellow giant class K5 star about 110 light years away. The surface temperature is 3,800 degrees K and the luminosity is 145 times that of our Sun.
η Eta Draconis (16h24m +61° 31′) and its neighbor Zeta were sometimes known by the Arabs as the Two Wolves or Ravens. The star has a magnitude of 2.7and is a yellow giant class G8 star about 65 light years distant. The star has a very faint companion difficult to detect with anything but large telescopes.
ν Nu Draconis (17h32m +55° 10′) is a dim but attractive double star. It is found in the head of the dragon, about 5 degrees from Eltanin and 3 degrees from Rastaban.
The pair has a separation of 62.3 arcseconds. Both stars are blue-white main sequence stars of magnitudes 4.88 and 4.87. The pair is 93 light years distant.
1. Draco represents the dragon killed by Cadmus before founding the city of ____________.
2. Khufu expected that when he died, he would join not only with the Sun, but with ________ as well.
3. Draco’s tail ends with a star called ____________.
4. Ancient Chinese would make as much noise as possible, banging on pots and pans to try and scare away the dragon which was eating the _____ or _______.
5. Eta Draconis and its neighbor Zeta were sometimes known by the Arabs as the two _______ or __________.
6. Circa 800 BCE, the prehistoric Adena people who lived in the Ohio area of the United States created ________ _______.
7. The Pharaoh Khufu ruled ancient Egypt around 2550 BCE and was buried in the largest of the Giza pyramids when he died. During his time, _________ was the pole star.
Author & Researcher: Crick
Website: The Whispering Woods