Aur - Auriga the Charioteer

Intro and Visual description

Auriga 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).

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. 

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.

Origin and History

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

Skylore, Literature and Culture

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)