Sweet Swan Of The Milky Way

Sweet Swan Of The Milky Way

I am the cygnet, to this pale faint swan,

 Who chants a doleful hymn to his own death,
And from the organ-pipe of frailty sings
His soul and body to their lasting rest.
Who chants a doleful hymn to his own death,
And from the organ-pipe of frailty sings
His soul and body to their lasting rest.

-William Shakespeare

On this week’s Astronomy Myths and Legends, I’d like to talk about one of the most beautiful constellations in the northern sky, the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Not only is it very bright and easily seen during spring and summer, it is also

The Facts Are These:

Cygnus, Lyra

Name is Latin for “Swan”

Also known as the Northern Cross

Has 9 main stars that make up the body.

Many of Cygnus’ stars are extremely bright; the brightest star Deneb has an apparent magnitude of 1.25, and may be over 196,000 times as luminous as the sun.

Deneb in particular is the 19th brightest star in the sky, and forms part of the Summer Triange, a group of three brigh stars in the Northern Hemisphere, that were used by navigators to locate the Pacific Ocean, and even helped to discover Hawaii!

The tail of the swan is made of two stars known collectively as Albireo, which appears to change color because of the two star’s different hues.

The two stars that make up the tail of Cygnus- Albireo A &B.

The two stars that make up the tail of Cygnus- Albireo A &B.

current night sky over Richmond, VACygnus is usually visible soon after sunset in the Northern hemisphere, around 8:30 PM Eastern Time

You can always find the Cygnus by following the North Star down, past Draco the Dragon. To the left is the Great Square of Pegasus, and to the right is Lyra the lyre, ( a musical instrument from Ancient Greece).

Right ascension- 20.62 h

  • Declination- +42.03°
  • Brightest Star- Deneb- 1.25 Apparent Magnitude
Greek Myths about Cygnus

I was going to tell some of the strange stories behind Cygnus, but I think I’ll let this video do the talking for me. For a more explicit version of the Cygnus myth, go to Mr. Ian Ridpath’s Star Tales.

Chinese– Since Cygnus stretches across the arm of the Milky Way, the Chinese chose to view it as a river and Cygnus as a heavenly bridge between celestial kingdoms, sort of like the one in the photo below.

Other- In Polynesia, Cygnus was often recognized as a separate constellation. In the Society Islands it was called Pirae-tea, in Tonga it was called Tuula-lupe, and in the Tuamotus it was called Fanui-tai. Deneb was also often given a name. In New Zealand it was called Mara-tea, in the Society Islands it was called Pirae-tea or Taurua-i-te-haapa-raa-manu, and in the Tuamotus it was called Fanui-raro. Beta Cygni was named in New Zealand; it was likely called Whetu-kaupo. Gamma Cygni was called Fanui-runga in the Tuamotus.[12] 

So there you go, a little history and mythology about the most beautiful bird in the sky, swimming down a galactic river. We hope you’ll come down to see Cygnus at Primland, especially April 22nd-25th, when it will be bathed in the glow of the Lyrid Meteor Shower.

Happy Stargazing!

-Paul

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