Finding Auriga – The Charioteer
To find the Charioteer first of all find the Plough. Then draw a line through the upper two stars of the Plough away from the handle to find the bright star Capella and the constellation of Auriga. The five main stars of Auriga are sometimes called The Pentagon because of the shape they make in the night sky.
In Greek mythology, Auriga is identified with the hero Erichthonius. Erichthonius was the inventor of the quadriga, the four-horse chariot, created in the image of the Sun’s chariot. It was this chariot that helped him win the battle for Athens. Subsequently Zeus put him in the night sky in recognition of his ingenuity and heroic deeds.
Traditional illustrations of Auriga represent it as a charioteer. He holds a goat over his left shoulder and has two kids under his left arm. The Greeks associated Capella with the mythological she-goat Amalthea, who breast-fed the infant Zeus. Just under Capella there is a small triangle of stars known as the Kids.
Open Star Clusters in Auriga
An open star cluster is a group of up to a few thousand stars of roughly similar age. There are over 1,000 open star clusters in the Milky Way
Open star clusters are formed from the same molecular cloud and bound together by gravity. They usually only survive for a few hundred million years. After that they break up following close encounters with other clusters and clouds of gas as they orbit the Milky Way.
Almost any pair of binoculars will allow you to spot the Auriga clusters as faint patches of light against the background stars of the Milky Way.
The Pinwheel cluster (Messier 36) is the youngest of the three clusters at 25 million years. It can be found just to the east of M38 within the same binocular field. There are over 60 stars in this cluster which lies about 4,300 light years away from Earth.
Messier 37 is the brightest of the three clusters and is one binocular field to the east of M36. It contains over 500 stars and is between 350 and 550 million years old.
Messier 38 is called the Starfish Cluster because of it’s conspicuous “X” shape as seen through a telescope. It can be found just to the west of M36. It is about 4,200 light years away and around 220 million years old.