Meaning: The Dragon

Draco Outline
Print out the star map from Sky and Telescope

Things to look for:
Thuban – this used to be the North Star… in 2800BC

Messier objects:

Note: [x.x] indicates visual magnitude

Pronunciation: dray’ koe
Associated Asterisms: The Head, the Lozenge
% of the sky: 2.63%
Visible Stars: 79 stars brighter than magnitude 5.5
Draco stars
Draco chart

Draco, the Dragon is the eighth largest constellation and as many will not know it, it perhaps deserved more attention. It is surrounding by constellations that trip off the tongue like Boötes, Cygnus, Hercules, Lyra, and both Ursa Minor and Ursa Major and so should be more than a ‘dark’ patch of sky between them. It hasn’t always been so overlooked as it contains 18 named stars; Pegasus covers greater area and only has 8 named stars. The Head or Lozenge as referred to in the asterism list is the head of the beast above Lyra and Boötes and consists of 4 stars Eltanin (γ Dra), Rastaban (β Dra), Al Rakis (ν Dra) and Grumium (ξ Dra); Eltanin and Rastaban are two of the brightest stars in the constellation. Again the normal Greek letter naming of stars by brightest has had an off day as Thuban (α Dra) is much dimmer.

William Herschel discovered the Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), a planetary nebula in Draco in 1786. It is 9th magnitude and like other planetary nebula, appears blue/green. 

Draco is circumpolar and so visible all year round from our northern latitude. It is also the home of the north ecliptic pole and so planetary wanderers are far off. However, Draco is blessed with multiple meteor showers each year:

  • Draconids – 28th Jun;
  • ο Draconids  – 16th Jul;
  • October Draconids – 9th Oct.


Draco mythology

Rastaban and Thuban share the same name derivation of Head of the Serpent. The constellation is ancient in origin and was included in Ptolemy’s 44 constellation shapes.  In Greek mythology, Dragons that may have inspired the constellation’s name include Ladon, the dragon who guarded the golden apples of the HesperidesHeracles killed Ladon to steal the golden apples during his 12 labours.