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A GUIDE TO THE NIGHT SKY TONIGHT

Each month we will feature an easy-to-recognise pattern in the sky - a dot-to-dot picture called a constellation. If you go outside soon after the sun goes down, you should be able to spot it.... if its not too cloudy...

Our constellation of the season is CYGNUS the SWAN

cygnus in the summer triangle

Cygnus is one of the pictures of the Summer Triangle. Have a look at the star picture... and look for the 3 brightest stars. They make a triangle (or a number 7) in the centre of the picture.

The names for these three stars are Altair (actually marks the eye of an eagle), Vega (part of a harp) and Deneb (the tail of a swan called Cygnus).

Put your mouse over the image and you can see where people imagine a swan and also labels for the 3 stars of the summer triangle. The Swan was drawn by Molly aged 7 and is rather fab!

You can do this in the real stars too. Just look up - really high above you - up up up - and you should see the 3 of the brightest stars in the sky making the summer triangle. Top left is the swan's tail - Deneb. The swan itself is harder to see - his body and wings look a bit like a cross, flying into the middle of the summer triangle. In fact some folk call him the Northern Cross. Use your imagination - see what you think!

There are loads of stories about Cygnus the swan - it seems that all manner of Greek gods and normal folk were transformed into swans at one time or another.

Our favourite story, although t'is a sad one, is that Cygnus was best friends with a young boy called Phaeton. Phaeton was the son of Apollo - the god of the Sun - and one day - after far too much begging and pleading, he was allowed to drive the chariot of the Sun across the sky.

But being only a boy, Phaeton couldn't control the carriage and the horses. It flew to high and too low, scorching and burning the land. Zeus had only one choice - to hurl a thunderbolt at the chariot to prevent further disaster.

When the thunderbolt struck, Phaeton and the chariot plunged down and down, splashing into the river Eridanus. Cygnus leapt from where he was watching and dived into the river again and again to try to find his friend... but he never could.

The gods transformed Cygnus into a swan - to fly across the sky, and, as he dips his head under the horizon in Autumn, it reminds us of his search and his story as he continues to look for his friend that he lost in the river a long time ago.
Hopefully, one day he'll find him again!