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Cygnus, along with the Summer Triangle, is one of the highlights of the summer sky. The distinctive cross that forms the body and wings of the Swan make it very easy to find high over head on any night during the mid-summer months.
Cygnus is also sometimes, though not often, called the "Northern Cross" because of its shape. It's a lot more imaginative, though to call it The Swan, though, because swans are known for their grace and beauty. Swans also played an important part in ancient mythology, as sometimes the mythological gods would tranform themselves into swans to attract the attention of an attractive goddess or queen. Still another example of the lengths that some men will go to to attract the attention of a beautiful woman.
The Summer Triangle
The Summer Triangle is another sign that lets us know that Summer is in full swing here in the Northern Hemisphere. On any clear summer evening, the distinctive triangle formed by Deneb, Altair and Vega gives us another good reason to go outside and enjoy the beauty of the night sky.
The last star in Cygnus' tail is Deneb, which is one corner of the Summer Triangle. After you have found Deneb, which should be easy to do, take a minute to appreciate this giant star. This is another of the supermassive stars that dwarf our small Sun. Deneb is more than a hundred times larger than our Sun and much, much brighter although its great distance keeps us from seeing just how bright it is.
After you have found Deneb, use our chart to locate Vega and Altair, which form the other two corners of the Summer Triangle. Vega is one of the very brightest stars on the sky, so it should be very easy to find whether you live in the city or the country. Vega was also a star in the movie "Contact", which was based on the novel by Carl Sagan. In the fiction movie, Vega was the star that was the source of radio signals detected here on Earth.
When Can I See Cygnus?
Cygnus is visible in the early morning hours from March through September. You can find the Swan in the East before dawn beginning in March, which is a sign that summer is on the way. It continues its journey across the morning sky until September when it drops from view in the West.
Cygnus is visible during the evening hours starting in May and continuing on through December. The very best time to see it is during the mid-summer months, when it will be easy to find almost directly overhead on any clear summer night.
- Chris Dolan's Cygnus Page
- Chris Dolan's Orion page has lots of technical information about the stars that make up Cygnus
- Richard Dibon-Smith's Cygnus Page
- Richard Dibon-Smith's Cygnus page has all the versions of the legends behind Cygnus as well as an excellent reference to its stars and other interesting celestial companions.
There is an Adobe® Acrobat® file (42k) for Cygnus. You can view the file online by clicking
here. You can save the file on your computer by right-clicking on the link.
You will need the free Adobe® Acrobat® ReaderTM to view the file.