Constellation - Auriga

Constellation - Auriga


Click the image for a more detailed picture.

Auriga, the charioteer is a large constellation that is best seen in winter in the northern hemisphere sitting above Orion. It contains the sixth brightest star, Capella, the she-goat. Capella is actually a binary star system. The two stars are closer than we are to our Sun and they orbit each other every 104 days. Auriga was described by Ptolemy in his original 48 constellations.

Situated on the Milky Way this constellation is awash with star fields and some very fine open star clusters. There are three meteor showers associated with Auriga. The Zeta Aurigids peak around January 1st and are known to contain rare fireballs. The Delta Aurigids peak around October 6th. The main meteor shower is the Aurigids which peaks on September 1st and has a rate of around 5 per hour.


There are many myths associated with Auriga, the charioteer. None seem to explain the reason why he is often pictured with a she-goat. One myth is that Auriga was named after Erichthonius who was raised by Athena. He is said to have invented the chariot and went on to become King of Athens. Hence, Zeus placed him in the night sky. 

Take the Tour:

Number Object Description Magnitude Surface Brightness
1 M37 Open Cluster 5.6 11
2 M36 Open Cluster 6 12
3 M38 Open Cluster 6.4 12
4 C31 Diffuse Nebula 10 UNK

Each image is the size of a full moon for size comparison.



Messier 37 is an open star cluster located about 4,500 light years away. It was discovered by Hodierna before 1654. This is the brightest of the Auriga open star clusters. It is thought to contain about 500 stars. There are over a 12 red giant stars due to the estimated age of this cluster being around 500 million years.



Messier 36 is another open cluster. It can be found about 4,100 light years away. It was discovered by Hodierna before 1654 also. It contains about 60 stars. The interesting thing about this cluster is that it would appear just like the Pleaides if it were closer to us. Imagine two jewel boxes of the northern night sky. That would be a sight to behold. Look out for the one star that is much brighter than the rest. This star is 360 times brighter than our Sun. This is best viewed in low power.



Messier 38 is an open star cluster. It is found 4,200 light years away. It can be viewed in the same field as M36. This group of about 100 stars is interesting because it appears to be two open clusters interacting with each other. The brightest stars of this cluster form a rather nice cross a bit like the much larger constellation of Cygnus. It was discovered by Hodierna before 1654.

C31, The Flaming Star Nebula:


Caldwell 31 or IC 405 is an emission and reflection nebula. The central star is a variable star and interestingly, is thought to have originated from the area of Orion's belt. It has the name flaming star nebula as the dust lanes look like smoke as if its burning. This nebula is visible in small telescopes. It is found about 1,500 light years away.

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