himself, riding across the heavens where the hero Perseus, King
Cepheus, and the other characters from the Roman myth also can
be found. You will remember that it was Neptune who called up
Cetus to ravage the coast in response to the insult the Sea-Nymphs
received from the vain Cassiopeia. Neptune ruled the oceans as
Jupiter ruled the heavens and Pluto ruled the realm of the underworld
and of the dead. All three of these deities were sons of the Titan
Some, however, say that the constellation is Erichthonius, son
of Athena, who was lame and invented the four-horse chariot in
order to move around more freely. The name Auriga is Latin for
Or, so another story goes, the principal star of the constellation,
Capella, is Amalthea, the she-goat that nursed the infant Jupiter.
Capella, from the Latin for little goat, is known as the Shepherd's
Star. From the earliest times the stars of Auriga have portrayed
a charioteer holding his reins while carrying a goat and its two
kids. Three small stars southwest of Capella are known today as
Strangely, in China the stars of Auriga were considered the five
chariots of the five emperors. These were the star gods whose
thrones were in Leo and in Cepheus. The Babylonians also pictured
a chariot in this part of the sky.
Capella is the northernmost of all the first-magnitude stars,
the sixth brightest of all the stars. It is one of the stars of
the asterism known as the Winter Oval or Hexagon, lying between
Castor and Aldebaran. It is a yellow giant at a distance of 45
light years and has a luminosity 160 times that of the Sun. It
is a spectroscopic binary pair, its components closer to each
other than Earth is from the Sun. At a distance of a thousand
AU, a pair of red dwarf stars are also a part of the Capella system.
In 1995, this stellar system was the first
target for a new technology known as COAST, the Cambridge Optical
Aperture Synthesis Telescope, a coherent array of four telescopes
operating in the red and near infra-red, using Michelson interferometry
on baselines of up to 100m to give images with a resolution down
to 1 milliarcsecond. Other methods, such as adaptive optics, when
used on existing single telescopes, have limiting resolutions
no better than about 10 milliarcseconds.
Of the Kids, the star closest to Capella is Epsilon Aurigae and
for a hundred-fifty years it has been one of the most observed
and controversial of all the stars. It is an eclipsing binary
pair, lying about 4000 light years from us. Only one of the stars
is visible. When it is eclipsed by its partner every 27 years,
this star remains at a diminished luminosity for a year. Several
theories are proposed to explain the mystery of the facts. One
suggestion is that the unseen star may be 2000 times the diameter
of the Sun; another possibility is that the eclipsing body is
not a star, but a vast shell of dust and gasa prototype
star. Other theories also help to keep astronomers bewildered.
Generally visualized as a large pentagon joined to El Nath, the
tip of the northern horn of Taurus, the bull, Auriga boasts of
four galactic clusters of stars. Three are Messier objects M36,
M37 and M38. There is also NGC 1907, a smaller cluster just south
M38 (left) lies
about five degrees north of El Nath, the bright star that Auriga
shares with Taurus. This cluster contains about 100 stars within
an area 20 minutes in diameter. It may be barely visible to the
Discovered in 1749, M36 (center) is a compact group of 60 stars.
It can be found by looking 1.6° south and 1.5° east from
Then from M36, go 1.7° south and 3.4° east to find M37
(right). This is one of the finest of all open clusters, with
perhaps 150 stars down to 12th magnitude. Twelve red giants are
among these stars. The cluster is about 200 million years old.
This is the largest and brightest of the clusters in Auriga.
Conrad Jung's photos were taken with a CCD camera attached to
his 80mm f/5 finderscope. Each image is oriented with north at
the top and each exposure was about 45 seconds.