All About The Cygnus Constellation
The constellation Cygnus was first catalogued by Ptolemy, the ancient Greek astronomer, in the 2nd century. Today, the constellation is one of 88 that are recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
Often called one of the most beautiful constellations in the sky, Cygnus is fairly easy to spot in a dark night sky. It’s also home to several deep space objects and is at the center of several fascinating tales.
What Does the Constellation Cygnus Represent?
Cygnus represents a swan. In mythology, Cygnus had many different identities, but many believe that he was probably Zeus in disguise.
Leda, who was the mother of the Gemini and Helen of Troy, had beauty beyond compare. Zeus could not resist her, but he feared that she wouldn’t be able to win her love as himself. So, he took on the disguise of Cygnus, the beautiful swan, and won her love.
In another version of the tale, two gods were racing their chariots in the sky when they go too close to the sun. Their chariots started to melt, and the two friends plunged towards earth. One fell through the trees and landed safely on the ground. The other landed in a river, and was knocked unconscious.
The friend who fell through the trees wanted to save his friend in the river, but he didn’t know how to swim. He called out to Zeus and begged him to turn him into a swan, so he could dive to the bottom of the river and rescue his friend.
Zeus, so moved by his courage and devotion to his friend, granted his wish. The friend dove to the bottom of the river and brought his friend back to safety. When the swan died, Zeus was so moved by his bravery that he placed him in the sky as a reminder of friendship.
Another tale has Cygnus as poor Orpheus, the muse and musician of the gods who was transformed into a swan when he died to be placed in the sky with his favorite lyre.
The Greeks weren’t the only ones to identify and create tales about this constellation.
Hindu astronomers associated Cygnus with Brahma Muhurta, or “Moment of the Universe.” Many other cultures around the world have their own tales and names for this constellation.
By Till Credner - Own work: AlltheSky.com
How Many Stars are in the Cygnus Constellation?
Cygnus has many stars, including six bright stars that consist of nine main stars. Another 84 Bayer-designated stars can be found within the confines of this constellation. The most prominent stars in Cygnus include:
The most famous star in the constellation, and it also happens to be the brightest. Deneb is derived from the Arabic word “dhaneb,” which comes from the phrase “Dhanab ad-Dajaja,” meaning “the tail of the hen.”
Deneb is a blue supergiant that’s about 1,400 light years away. Not only is it the brightest star in Cygnus, but it’s also one of the brightest stars known. Deneb is more than 60,000 times brighter than our sun, and it’s one of the largest white stars that we know of.
The star is also part of a trio, along with stars Vega and Altair, which create the Summer Triangle.
Another cool fact about Deneb: It’s slated to become the Northern star in 9800. The earth’s axis wobbles over thousands of years, and as its position changes, so does the star that points to it. Deneb will take over in the future as our Northern star.
Gamma Cygni (Sadr)
Sadr gets its name from the Arabic word for “chest.” Its Latin name is Pectus Gallinae, which means “the hen’s chest.”
Sadr is a white supergiant that’s approximately 1,800 light years away. It’s easy to spot in the Northern Cross thanks to its brightness.
Epsilon Cygni (Glenah)
Glenah is an orange giant that’s 72.7 light years away. It’s 62 times brighter than the sun.
The star Albireo is located on the swan’s head. While it appears as a single star, it’s actually two. Albireo sits about 380 light years away.
Delta Cygni (Rukh)
Rukh is a three-star system located 165 light years away. It consists of a blue-white giant, yellow-white star and an orange giant.
Deep Space Objects in Cygnus
The Cygnus constellation is also home to several deep space objects, including:
Located 800 light years away, Messier 39 is an open star cluster that is hundreds of millions of years old.
Another open star cluster that sits about 4,000 light years away. Messier 29 can be seen with binoculars and found just southeast of Gamma Cygni.
Cygnus X-1 Fireworks Galaxy
The Fireworks Galaxy is a spiral galaxy that’s 22.5 million light years away.
Kappa Cygnid Meteor Shower
In late August (around the 20th), look for the Kappa Cygnid meteor shower, which has a fall rate of about 12 meteors per hour.
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Where is the Constellation Cygnus Located?
Cygnus is easy to spot in the dark night sky. The easiest way to find it is to look for the five stars that create a cross shape. These are known as the Northern Cross, and they make up the majority of the Cygnus constellation.
The Northern Cross is visible all year, but its position changes with the seasons.
Cygnus is bordered by several constellations, including Pegasus, Cepheus, Lyra, Draco, Lacerta and Vulpecula.
Specifically, Cygnus is located at latitudes:
+90 degrees and –40 degrees
When Can You See Cygnus Constellation?
Cygnus is best seen in the summer and early fall around September from the Northern Hemisphere.
Cygnus is a beautiful constellation that’s fairly easy to find, especially if you’re in an area with no light pollution. With so many deep space objects and bright stars, this is one constellation that is certainly worth exploring.