Friday, August 3, 2012

Cygnus the Swan

Cygnus the Swan is also known as the Northern Cross since it resembles, well, a cross. It is mostly a summer constellation but does appear standing up on Christmas evenings (as a symbol for the season).  Look for the Swan inside the Summer Triangle.

Deneb is one big star
The swan is located in a rich part of the Milky Way. In some cultures, they considered the Milky Way to be the river in the sky and the swan, a water bird, is naturally flying along it. The Milky Way appears to split near the brightest star Deneb which means “Tail” in Arabic.  Deneb is the farthest star you can see with the naked eye - around 3,000 light years away!

One Greek legend says that the big cheese himself, Zeus, fell in love with a mortal woman named Leda (This was a regular thing for the romantic Zeus. In fact Leda was his third mortal crush that week!). Anyway Zeus decided that sending Leda flowers would be too boring. She deserved a more creative approach. After all she was the Queen of Sparta. So Zeus disguised himself as a swan to gain Leda’s love. This swan would appear at Leda’s window everyday and she thought, “My, there is something strange about that swan. He’s certainly not like the other swans. He seems more dynamic."

Zeus was saying to himself, "Yeah, baby.  I'm a swan.  Check me out." 

Maybe it was the feathers or the way he threw thunderbolts, but as strange as it sounds, Leda fell in love with the swan. Much to her surprise the swan turned back into Zeus and they lived happily ever after - until Zeus met someone else that next week.