History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations

Auriga

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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Asterisms | Special Stars | Star Clusters | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Auriga Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page 2r: (Figure 2) | Hyginus, 1482, page 2v: (Figure 3) | Hyginus, 1517, page F2r: (Figure 4) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page Auriga: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1661, page M: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1697, page E4r: (Figure 7) | Bayer, 1697, page E4v: (Figure 8) | Bayer, 1697, page F1r: (Figure 9) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 10) | Bode, 1801, page r: (Figure 11) | Aspin, 1825, page Auriga: (Figure 12) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data

Description

Lies in the Milky Way, with many binocular and telescopic objects, between Gemini, Perseus and Taurus, at the top of the Winter Hexagon. Auriga looks like a pentagon, if one includes Alnath, which is also the tip of one of Taurus the Bull’s horns (Alnath was once Gamma-Aurigae, but is now officially Beta-Tauri).

Skylore and Literature

Erichthonios, a son of Vulcan and legendary king of Athens, invented the four-horse-drawn chariot to compensate for his being lame.

Cicero, De natura deorum, II.110, trans. of Phenomena by Aratos of Soli (ca. 220 B.C.):

Hidden beneath the Twins’ left flank will glide | Him. Helice (Ursa Minor) confronts with aspect fierce; | At his left shoulder the bright She-goat stands. | A constellation vast and brilliant she, | Whereas the Kids emit a scanty light | Upon humankind.

In Middle Earth, Auriga was known as Anarrima (Sun-crown or Sun-border). Some have speculated that Anarrima might refer to Corona Borealis, but Middle Earth documents state that Anarrima was near Orion, and Corona Borealis isn’t. (Rachel Magruder)

Modern Culture

Origin and History

Auriga is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.

Asterisms

  • Kids: three stars make a small triangle near Capella (their Mom).
  • Winter Hexagon

Special Stars

Capella, the She-goat (alpha-Aurigae) is the top of the Winter Hexagon, and appears overhead in winter for northern observers like Vega does in the summertime (except Capella is yellowish and Vega is bluish). Capella and Vega are equadistant from Polaris, on opposite sides; watch for both of them in the evening skies of April. Declination: +46 degrees north; Capella is the northernmost of first magnitude stars. Distance: 45 LY. From spectrographic evidence, Capella is known to be a pair of yellow-giant stars very close together. The Capella star system also includes a pair of dim red dwarf stars.

Epsilon-Aurigae, or Almaaz, is the Kid star closest to Capella. Distance: 4600 LY. Usual magnitude: 3.0. It is an eclipsing binary, with an unseen companion that comes in front of Almaaz every 27 years. For one year Almaaz fades to 3.8 magnitude before recovering. Watch for the next fade in 2009, reaching its faintest between 2011 and 2012!

Star Clusters

Three open clusters are within range of binoculars:

M36 (open cluster), mag. 6.5.

M37 (open cluster), mag. 6.2. 3600 LY.

M38 (open cluster), mag. 7.0.

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature

Images

Figure 1 Figure 1 - Return to Text

Aur Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Hyginus, 1482

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Hyginus, 1482

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Hyginus, 1517

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Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bode, 1801

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Bode, 1801

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Aspin, 1825

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Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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