Draco

by Shaphan Shank | Jun 4, 2022 | 0 comments

Cat's Eye Nebula, NGC 6543
Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543). Photo © Scott Rosen.

Draco, the Dragon, is a sprawling circumpolar constellation that wraps around the Little Dipper. The Dragon’s head is a small group of four stars that lies a little northwest of the bright star Vega. The rest of the constellation is a chain of stars that goes north from the head before doubling back to the south to curve around the Little Dipper’s bowl. The western end of Draco lies between the Big and Little Dippers.

Draco isn’t heavily populated with great telescopic targets, but the double stars and deep sky objects that do lie within the constellation’s boundaries are widely varied. One of the easiest Draconian targets to find is Kuma, the star in the northwestern corner of Draco’s head. Kuma is a wide double star with nearly identical white component stars separated by about 1 arcminute. The wide separation makes Kuma an ideal target for binoculars.

Another nice double star, Omicron Draconis, lies just northeast of Kuma. To find Omicron Dra, first find Grumium, the northernmost star in Draco’s head, and Altais, the first star in Draco’s body. Omicron Dra lies about 4° southeast of the midpoint between Grumium and Altais. Omicron Dra consists of a yellow-orange primary and a bluish-white secondary star separated by 34 arcseconds. With this wide separation, Omicron Dra looks best at low magnification.

Draco’s best-known deep sky object is the planetary nebula NGC 6543, also known as the Cat’s Eye Nebula. Finding this nebula can be a bit challenging since there are no bright stars near it, but you should be able to locate the nebula by looking directly between the stars 36 Draconis and Omega Draconis. Use low to moderate magnification to find the nebula, then increase the magnification once you’ve found it.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula is relatively bright, but, like most other planetary nebulas, it does not surrender its details to a casual glance. At lower magnifications, this nebula looks like a swollen blue-green star. You will need high magnification and a stable atmosphere to see detail in the nebula.

Draco contains quite a few galaxies that are within reach of a mid-sized telescope. NGC 5907 is one of the best. This galaxy is an edge-on spiral galaxy that lies 3° southwest of the star Edasich, about halfway between the Big Dipper and Draco’s head. Since it is oriented edge-on to Earth, this galaxy looks like a long thin sliver of light, giving it the nickname Splinter Galaxy. Little detail is visible within NGC 5907 besides its overall form, but, as always, large apertures and dark skies will give the best views of this galaxy.

NGC 5907
NGC 5907. Photo © Mt. Lemmon Skycenter, UAZ.
Star map, Draco

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