The Cygnus constellation, representing a swan, also includes the Northern Cross and is one of the easiest constellations to find in the night sky.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the most interesting facts about the Cygnus constellation.
Cygnus Constellation Facts, Myth, Location and Stars
1. Cygnus is the 16th largest constellation in the sky
It isn’t the largest, but it does occupy a lot of space – 804 square degrees, to be exact. You can find it in the 4th quadrant of the northern hemisphere.
Cygnus is also fairly bright and easy to see, even in moderate light pollution.
One of its stars, Deneb, also known as alpha Cygni, is easily recognizable at the tail of the Cygnus constellation.
With an apparent magnitude of 1.25, it is the 16th brightest star in the sky.
2. The Northern Cross is a part of Cygnus
The Northern Cross is a famous asterism (group of stars, smaller than a constellation) that is easy to spot.
The head of the cross is Deneb, and the other stars are some of the brightest in the Cygnus constellation.
The Cygnus swan includes more stars than the northern cross, but they are both essentially the same collection of stars viewed differently. Deneb is the head of the cross, but the tail of the swan.
3. Cygnus means Swan and it is associated with myths about Swans
The Cygnus constellation represents the shape of a swan, and the history and symbolism have always surrounded the Greek classics and the famous (or infamous swans) in their stories.
Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, loved to transform into a swan. He generally took this form when he was feeling amorous.
In one story, he turned himself into a swan to seduce a queen named Leda, even though she was already married to King Tyndareus.
Leda slept with both her husband and the swan Zeus on the same night, and she became pregnant.
When she gave birth it was to 2 sets of twins. One set of twins, Pollux and Helen, were immortal because their father was Zeus.
The other twins, Castor and Clytemnestra, were mortal because their father was King Tyndareus.
Queen Leda’s immortal daughter as a result of her tryst with Zeus became Helen of Troy.
There is also the story of Cycnus and Phaeton. Phaeton was the mortal son of the sun god, Helios.
The 2 friends were racing their chariots through the skies one day and got too close to the sun.
They were burned and they fell to earth. Cycnus survived the crash, but Phaeton sank to the bottom of the Eridanus river.
Cycnus couldn’t save Phaeton as a human, but he knew that if he could turn into a swan he could dive to the bottom and rescue his friend. He prayed to Zeus, promising that he would give up most of his life and live only as long as swans live if he could momentarily turn into a swan to save Phaeton.
Zeus granted the request and was so impressed by Cycnus’ devotion that he put him in the sky as a flying swan.
4. In Chinese myth, Cygnus is a bridge across a heavenly river.
Chinese astrology calls the Cygnus constellation “Tianjin” (a bridge) over “Tianhe” (the milky way).
The Chinese legend of the “magpie bridge” is one of the enduring stories in Chinese mythology that explains the Cygnus constellation.
In this story, a fairy named Zhi Nu sneaks into human society and marries a human man named Niu Lang, even though it is forbidden for fairies and humans to be together.
When the queen of heaven found out that they had broken the rules and gotten married in secret, she took Zhi Nu with her to heaven and created a river – the milky way – to separate the two.
According to the legend, once a year all of the magpies in the world assemble and make a bridge over the river to help Zhi Nu and Niu Lang be together again.
5. Cygnus has at least 10 stars with planets orbiting them.
There are certainly many more planets in this constellation, but with the limited technology we have, we know that at least 10 of these stars have planets.
6. There are 2 Messier objects in Cygnus
Messier 29 is an open cluster with an apparent magnitude of 7.1, about 4000 light-years away.
It is closest to the star Gamma Cygni.
Messier 39 is located about 800 light-years away, with an apparent magnitude of 5.5.
It is closest to the star Pi-2 Cygni.
7. Cygnus has some notable stars:
Deneb (Alpha Cygni) – The brightest star in the Cygnus constellation is also the 19th brightest star in the sky, with an apparent magnitude of 1.25.
Sadr (Gamma Cygni) – Sadr means “chest” and it is located in the center of the northern cross. This supergiant star has an apparent magnitude of 2.23 and is located about 1800 light-years away.
Albireo (Beta Cygni) – The head of the swan is the 5th brightest star in the Cygnus constellation, and is about 380 light-years away. Albireo is a binary star with both yellow and blue component stars.
8. The Cygnus constellation includes the Veil Nebula and the North American nebula
The “wings” of the swan are where you can see some of the deep space objects in the Cygnus constellation. These beautiful nebulae are included on both sides of the northern cross.
9. You can see the Cygnus constellation in the summer.
The best time to see it for yourself in the northern hemisphere is in June and July, when it is directly overhead from about 1 am to dawn.
In the winter months, it is visible after 6 pm but fades into the horizon by 10 pm.
In the southern hemisphere, one of the best times is July or August, when you can see Cygnus after about 10 pm in the northeastern sky.
The Swan Constellation – Cygnus
The Cygnus constellation is one of the easiest to see with the naked eye and includes some of the brightest stars in the sky.
It is a large constellation with some interesting myths surrounding it and is perfect for amateur astronomers.
If you want to see it for yourself, July through August is the best time, whether you are in the northern or southern hemisphere.
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