Auriga represents the driver of a horse-drawn chariot. According to one myth, he is Erichthonius, a legendary king of Athens. However, there is no explanation in mythology for his depiction in the sky with a goat and its kids on his left arm. The goat is marked by the constellation's brightest star, Capella (a latin name, meaning She-Goat), while the kids (also known as Haedi, another Latin name) are depicted by Zeta and Eta Aurigae. In Greek and Roman times, the figure's right foot was represented by a star now assigned to Taurus, Beta Tauri.
Points of Interest
Alpha Aurigae (Capella)
The sixth brightest star in the sky, at magnitude 0.1. To the naked eye, it appears yellowish. It is, in fact, a spectroscopic binary, consisting of two yellow-colored giants that orbit each other every 104 days. It lies 42 light-years away.
One of the most extraordinary variable stars in the sky. It is an eclipsing binary, consisting of a brilliant white supergiant orbited by an odd dark companion that passes in front of it every 27 years, the longest known period between eclipses of any variable star. The star's brightness is more than halved by the eclipse, from magnitide 2.9 to 3.8, and it remains dimmed for over a year. From their observations of the last eclipse, which lasted from 2009 into 2011, astronomers have concluded that the mystery partner is a hot, blue star obscured from view by a large disk of dark dust and gas seen almost edge-on.
An eclipsing binary, consisting of an orange giant orbited every 2.7 years by a smaller blue star. During an eclipse, which lasts 40 days, the star's brightness drops from magnitude 3.7 to 4.0.
M36, M37, and M38
Just visible with the naked eye and easy to see with binoculars, these three open clusters lie 4,000-4,500 light-years away. In a binocular field of 6 degrees or more, all three can be seen as misty patches. The smallest of the trio, M36, is the easiest to spot, a small telescope resolving its brightest stars. M37, the largest of the clusters at about two-thirds the width of the full Moon, contains more stars but they are fainter. M38 is the most scattered cluster; a small telescope reveals that many of its stars form chains.