DRACO the Dragon, Pronounced DRAY-koh,
CEPHEUS the King of Ethiopia, Pronounced SEE-fee-us,
URSA MINOR the Lesser Bear, pronounced UR-sah MY-ner

Chart showing the constellations.

Of these 3 northern constellation, only a small portion of Draco rises from the latitude of northern New Zealand. No part of any of these constellations rise further south in the country.

Draco, the Dragon lies coiled around the north celestial pole. It is an ancient constellation, to which the Greek astronomer Ptolemy, in 150 AD, assigned thirty one, mainly faint stars. Number 5 on his list now named γ Draconis is historically important because it passes close to overhead at Greenwich, and observations of this star led James Bradley in the 1720's to discover the aberration of light. This is the apparent change in position of an object resulting from Earth's orbital motion around the Sun.

γ Draconis, magnitude 2.2, just rises as seen from Auckland and places to the north.

Cepheus is an ancient constellation representing the legendary King of Ethiopia, husband of Cassiopeia and father of Andromeda, also nearby constellations. Ptolemy assigned eleven stars to this constellation. The most famous star is δ Cephei, the prototype of the Cepheid variable stars. These are used as standard candles in finding distances in the universe. This star's fluctuations in light output were discovered in 1784 by the English astronomer John Goodricke, a deaf-mute who died in 1786 at the age of 21

Ursa Minor is an ancient constellation, possibly introduced around 600 BC, by the Greek astronomer Thales. It is also commonly known as the "Little Dipper". Polaris, the Pole Star at present, is conveniently close to the north celestial pole, greatly aiding northern hemisphere astronomers in aligning amateur telescopes. A wobble in Earth's spin called precession will bring Polaris closest to the pole in 2100 AD. In ancient times, when the constellation was named, Polaris was well away from the pole. Later, in Hipparchus's time, 150 BC, Polaris was 12o from the pole.

Chart showing Draco to the north, at about 10 pm in late July. The horizon is for Auckland.

Draco, Cepheus and Ursa Minor.

Constellation Bootes Constellation Cygnus Constellation Delphinus Corona Borealis Constellation Hercules Constellation Serpens Constellation Lyra Constellation Vulpecula Constellation Sagitta

Two stars in Draco which rise at Auckland

β Draconis, Rastaban is a magnitude 2.8 star some 362 light years away. It is about 800 times brighter than the Sun.

γ Dra, Eltanim is a magnitude 2.2, reddish, star. It is about 150 light years away and about 200 times brighter than the Sun. The star only just rises in New Zealand but passes overhead in London. It was through observation of the star (observing with a telescope pointing up his chimney) that James Bradley discovered the aberration of light in 1729. This was the first observational evidence that the Earth moves round the Sun. The Earth's movement causes light from a star to appear to come from slightly different directions as it moves round the Sun.


The most southerly parts of Draco are visible from the North Island of New Zealand, with γ Dra just rising at Auckland. The star transits, that is highest and due north at about 10 pm towards the end of July. The time of transit gets an hour earlier every 15 days.

Only the most southerly tip of Cepheus, containing no bright star, rises for places in the extreme north of New Zealand. It is at its highest, no more than 2° above the horizon from North Cape, at 10 pm in late September.

Ursa Minor, the north pole constellation, remains well below the horizon at all times from the latitude of New Zealand.