Auriga, the Latin word for “The Charioteer”, is one of the original 48 constellations named by the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Said to be shaped like the helmet of the chariot driver and is viewable from about 40° south of the equator and throughout the northern hemisphere.
The upper arm of Orion points to Auriga. To find the constellation, look to the north of Taurus and Gemini in the winter sky. The seventh brightest star in the sky, Capella, with a magnitude of .1, is in the Auriga constellation.
Capella, the she-goat, is in the Charioteer’s left shoulder, brilliant yellow in color. The Flaming Star (I.C. 405) is in Auriga and can be seen with binoculars in the winter. The best month for viewing the Auriga constellation is in January.
Auriga belongs to the Perseus family of constellations, together with Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Lacerta, Pegasus, Perseus, and Triangulum.
Auriga contains three Messier objects – M36 (NGC 1960), M37 (NGC 2099), and M38 (NGC 1912) – and has eight stars with known planets.
Right Ascension: 05:28
Diameter (°): 15
Area (square °): 657
Opposition: Dec 14
Size Rank: 21st
Brightness Rank: 6th
Major stars in Auriga
Capella – α Aurigae (Alpha Aurigae)
Menkalinan – β Aurigae (Beta Aurigae)
Mahasim – θ Aurigae (Theta Aurigae)
Kabdhilinan (Hassaleh) – ι Aurigae (Iota Aurigae)
Almaaz – ε Aurigae (Epsilon Aurigae)
Haedus II – η Aurigae (Eta Aurigae)
Sadatoni (Haedus) – ζ Aurigae (Zeta Aurigae)
Prijipati – δ Aurigae (Delta Aurigae)
Al Hurr or λ Aurigae (Lambda Aurigae)
γ Aurigae (Gamma Aurigae)
Deep sky objects in Auriga
Messier 36 (M36, NGC 1960)
Messier 37 (M37, NGC 2099)
Messier 38 (M38, NGC 1912)
The Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405, SH 2-229, or Caldwell 31)
Mythology of the Constellation Auriga
The Greeks gave various accounts for this constellation. Some supposed it to be Erichthonius, the fourth king of Athens, son of Vulcan and Minerva, whose many inventions earned him his place among the constellations.
Auriga was described as looking like a monster, which did not make him very popular. He was also wise, he invented the chariot and the book.
Maybe that is why it has been said “don’t judge a book by its cover.” It is written that Auriga was excellent in his management of horses. Both Virgil and Dryden wrote about him. According to Dryden:
“Bold Erichthonius was the first who join’d Four horses for the rapid race designed And o’er the dusty wheels presiding sate.”
Other writers say Boötes invented the chariot, and that Auriga was the son of Mercury and charioteer to Oenomaus, king of Pisa. He so excelled in charioteering that he outraced everyone in Greece. But neither of these fables account for how he came to have a goat and one of her kids as his companion.
They are said to be the goats of Almathaea and her sister, Melissa, who fed Jupiter goat’s milk during his infancy. As a reward for their kindness, Jupiter laced them in the arms of Auriga. Mythology has become clouded over the centuries and is at fault for this confusion.
Other mythologists insist that since it was Boötes who invented the chariot, Auriga does not appear with one. There is also the story of how Auriga’s daughter, Hippodameia, arranged for Auriga to lose his chariot and his life.
Hippodameia was very beautiful and had so many suitors that her father devised a way to dispose of them. He decreed that anyone who wanted to marry her first had to win a chariot race with him. If the suitor lost he would be put to death. Naturally, that slimmed down the number of boyfriends hanging around the palace.
Then, along came Pelops. Hippodameia was very taken with this god-like lad and spoke to her father’s charioteer, Myrtilus. She promised Myrtilus to love him if he fixed the race. Myrtilus pulled some of the spokes off of her father’s chariot.
Not only did Auriga lose the race, he lost his life as well. Hippodameia married Pelops who took over the kingdom of Arcadia, the peninsula which we now call the Peloponnesos of Greece.