Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Cygnus (from the Latin word Cygni, meaning "swan") is a northern constellation. It was one of Ptolemy's 48 constellations, and is also one of the 88 modern constellations. Because of the pattern of its main stars, it is sometimes known as the Northern Cross (in contrast to the Southern Cross).
The bird extends over the summer Milky Way, appearing to fly south.
Cygnus contains several bright stars.
Deneb, α Cygni, is an extremely brilliant star, very prominent despite its distance (1 800 light years). The blue supergiant forms the swan's tail, the upper end of the Northern Cross, and one of the vertices of the so-called "Summer Triangle".
Another interesting star is 61 Cygni. This star has one of the highest proper motions of any star in the sky (except the Sun) and was accordingly one of the first to have its distance measured. It is 11.4 light years, one of the closest stars to our solar system.
In addition, Cygnus has a variety of variable stars, including XX Cyg and V508 Cyg.
Notable deep sky objects
Several star clusters and nebulae are found in Cygnus due to its position on the Milky Way. NGC 7000, the North America Nebula, is found a bit to the east of Deneb. Its resemblance to the continent is best appreciated in photographs.
History and mythology
The constellation bears a resemblence to a wide winged, long necked, bird, in graceful flight . In Greek mythology, the constellation represents several different legendary swans. Zeus disguised himself as a swan to rape Leda, who gave birth to the Gemini, Helen of Troy, and Clytemnestra.
Finally, it is said that a youth named Cygnus was the boyfriend of the ill-fated Phaethon. After Phaethon was killed trying to drive the chariot of the sun, Cygnus searched desperately for his body in the river Eridanus where it had fallen. He dove so many times into the river that Zeus took pity on him and changed him into the waterbird that has since borne his name.
Cygnus, together with other constellations in the Zodiac sign of Sagittarius (specifically, Lyra, and Aquila, together with Sagittarius itself), may be a significant part of the origin of the myth of the Stymphalian Birds, one of The Twelve Labours of Herakles.
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