Looking Up: Cross Poly-Nation

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The Great Swan or...?
Credit earthsky.org
The Great Swan or...?

This week on Looking Up, guest host Bruce Bookout regales us with origin stories and legends about the constellation Cygnus which come from various cultures.

The autumn skies of Southern Colorado are signaled by avian migrations in our cool evenings this time of year.  If you go out after sunset and look directly above you can find the grand constellation Cygnus the Swan in its own migration to the south.

Cygnus is a very recognizable constellation and contains the famous asterism the Northern Cross. The brightest star, Deneb, in the tail of the constellation helps form the Summer Triangle along with Vega and Altair.  Cygnus contains many deep sky objects that are a joy in a small telescope or binoculars: open clusters, nebulas, supernovae remnants and galaxies.  You cannot go afoul spending some time searching through this patch of the sky.

The Maya saw this star group as the great crocodile of the Milky Way with the bright star Deneb as its eye.  The great croc is swimming the Milky Way river with water pouring out of its mouth to bring seasonal rains.

The Navajo envision the powerful supernatural being called the Thunderbird.  While they also envision multiple other sets of thunderbirds in the sky, Cygnus dominates as the primary thunderbird.

To the Chinese, Cygnus was known as the Black Tortoise of the North.

Classic mythology has multiple origins for Cygnus.  The oldest Roman/Greek stories hold that Zeus disguised himself as a swan to seduce Leda, who gave birth to Helen of Troy.  Another legend holds that Orpheus was transformed into a swan after his murder, and was placed in the sky next to his lyre.

Cygnus is considered a seasonal constellation; somewhat of a swansong for the summer.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Cygnus, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Bruce Bookout for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!