Spot Auriga the charioteer (and goat tender) in the winter sky | 1/26/1978 | Joe Rao
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This week, if you venture outside at around 8:30 p.m. local time and look high overhead, you'll see one of the brightest stars in the sky, a golden-yellow jewel that bears the name Capella. In the star brightness rankings, Capella is No. 6. The name is Latin for "she-goat" or "nanny goat," and that indeed is what this star is known for. It marks the position of a small female goat.

Now, before we get too far afield, it should be noted that Capella is the brightest star in the constellation Auriga. And who was Auriga, you may ask? You could say that he was the "Ben-Hur of the nighttime sky."


A charioteer.

And yet, if that's so, how do we end up with his brightest luminary representing of all things, a goat?

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Auriga - Star - Patterns - Origin - Mix

Auriga is one of those star patterns whose exact origin is a hopeless mix of antique conceptions. The Greek and Roman legends made Auriga a famed trainer of horses and the inventor of the four-horse chariot. The charioteer is thought to represent Hephaestus, the crippled god of fire, who invented a chariot to move his body about.

But the most ancient legends had Auriga pegged as a goatherd and a patron of shepherds. Later on in the winter and into spring, at a time when shepherds spend nights out in the fields with their flocks, Auriga is prominent, high in the west-northwest sky. And it may have been that Capella and its surrounding retinue of stars may have been welcomed among pastoral and nomad tribes. This might explain the identification of some of its stars with a mother goat and her kids; the mother goat's front legs are often depicted perched on Auriga's right...
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