Auriga Constellation Facts, Myth, Location and Stars (The Charioteer)

The Auriga constellation is classified as a part of the modern 88 constellations recognized by current astronomers.

It was recorded as one of the first 48 constellations in the 2nd century CE by Ptolemy.

Auriga, also known as the Chariot, has rich significance around the world including in Greek and Roman mythology.

Auriga is considered a lesser known constellation and is best visible during the Winter months.  

Auriga Constellation Facts

The Auriga Constellation can be found at 6 hours right ascension and 40 degrees declination.

It is a medium sized constellation, measuring 657 square degrees in area.

Auriga is best visible between the latitudes of 90 and -40 degrees.

Auriga Constellation Location 

The Auriga constellation is located north of the celestial equator. It neighbors the well-known constellations of Gemini and Taurus and is most visible in the winter months.

Auriga can be seen almost the entire year in northernmost latitudes because it is circumpolar.

Neighboring constellations include Gemini, Lynx, Perseus, and Taurus.

Notable Stars in Auriga

Auriga is a lesser known constellation, however it borders two very well known constellations from the Zodiac, Taurus and Gemini.

The famous Orion constellation is above Taurus; some legends depict the bull charging at the great hunter.

Auriga is comprised of a pentagon of bright stars.

The brightest star in Auriga is Capella, which is latin for “she-goat.”

Capella is not just a star; it is actually a double binary star system, located 42 light years away.

Capella has a visual magnitude of 0.08, making it the sixth brightest star in the night sky.

Look for three tiny stars next to Capella to locate a cluster known as “the kids” or Epilson Aurigae.

This star is covered with a thick cloud of revolving dust that can create a partial eclipse every 27 years.

Another notable star in Auriga is El Nath, which is also shared with the Taurus constellation.

Menkalinan is the second brightest star in Auriga, with a magnitude of 1.90, and is also a binary star system located 85 light years from Earth.

The third brightest star is known as Mahasim, and has a visual magnitude of 2.65.

Deep Space Objects

The Auriga constellation features three open star clusters: M36, M37, and M38.

M37 is the largest cluster and contains approximately 500 stars.

Another notable deep sky objects in Auriga include the Flaming Star Nebula. 

How to Find Auriga in the Night Sky

The constellation is especially prominent in the winter and spring months.

Star gazers can find Auriga by finding easily recognizable Orion.

Auriga is highest in the night sky in February, appearing to the west or northwest hours after sunset.

Auriga Constellation Myths and Legends

Auriga has long been associated with goatheard and shepherd.

Some traditions depict Auriga as a female goat with kids, guiding a chariot with reins with one hand.

The kids, known by their Latin name of Haedi, are comprised of the stars Eta and Zeta Aurigae.

The goat symbolism continued into Greek myths and traditions, and eventually evolved to also include chariot imagery.

Chinese Constellation

In Chinese astronomy lore, the four brightest stars of Auriga (Capella, Beta, Theta, Iota Aurigae) plus the Beta Tauri star (shared with the Taurus constellation), form “Wuche” or “Wuju” which is symbolic of five chariots for each of the five celestial emperors.

Greek Myths

Auriga is a Latin word that means “Charioteer” and because of this vague term, Auriga has been associated with many Greek myths.

Chariots are prevalent in many Greek stories and are associated with many gods and deities.

Some interpretations are more popular than others.  

Erichthonius

The most common interpretation for Auriga in Greek mythology is most often interpreted to be a chariot driver by Erichthonius, an Athenian king and son of Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalworking. 

Erichthonius, neglected by his blacksmith father, was raised by the goddess Athena.

According to the legend, Athena taught him how to tame horses, which was how he came to have four horses in a single chariot.

For this feat, he was made king and raised into the night sky by Zeus.

Myrtilus

Some observers of Auriga note that depictions of the constellation do not always show a chariot.

This would make the association with Myrtilus stronger.

As the myth goes, Myrtilus was a charioteer for a jealous monarch, King Oenomaus.

Vowing to refuse any suitors for his beautiful daughter, the King challenged all who would ask for Hippodameia’s hand would participate in a chariot race against him (with his magical horses gifted by the god Ares) and if they lost, they would be put to death.

After many deaths, the god intervened on the behalf of Pelops, gifting him a golden chariot and winged horses.

Pelops had also won the heart of Hippodameia.

Myrtilus agreed to assist Pelops further by damaging the wheels of the King’s chariot.

However, Pelops killed Myrtilus when he demanded to join the the couple in their bridal chamber.

Hermes then placed Myrtilus in the sky.

Hippolytus

A third association that the Auriga constellation has with a Greek myth is that of Hippolytus.

His stepmother Phaedra fell in love with him and when Hippolytus rejected her, she hung herself.

Upon her death, his father Theseus banished Hippolytus and as he drove away from Athens, the chariot wrecked and Hippolytus was killed.

The healer Asclepius revived Hippolytus, but was punished for it by Hades.

Phaethon

Phaethon was the son of the sun god Helios.

Phaethon is said to have tricked Helios into allowing him to drive the chariot of fire across the daytime sky.

Phaethon crashed the chariot and was placed in the night sky as punishment.

Conclusion

The Auriga constellation may not be as well known as its celestial neighbors of the Zodiac, but this constellation shines bright in the winter sky nonetheless.

Auriga is known as the Charioteer and is closely associated with a number of Greek myths and heroes that feature chariots.

Auriga contains bright stars, such as Capella, and can easily be located in relation to nearby constellations like Taurus, Orion, and Gemini.

Auriga can be seen at most northern latitudes year round and is best viewed in the winter night skies, especially in February.

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Auriga Constellation Facts

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