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Cygnus constellation map.png
Observational Data
Right ascension 20.62
Declination +42.03o
Nearby constellations Cepheus
Area 804 sq. deg.
Number of stars 84 Bayer/Flamsteed stars
Main stars 9
Brightest star Deneb 1.25m
Nearest star to Earth 61 Cygni (11.4 ly)
Known planets 6
Messier objects 2
Ancient symbol The swan

Cygnus is a constellation located in the northern celestial hemisphere. The constellation was one of the 48 constellations recorded by Ptolemy in his Almagest or Great Book, and is one of the 88 modern constellations. The name Cygnus itself is the Latin form of the original Greek word, Κύκνος (Kuknos), meaning swan.[1] The constellation also features the Northern Cross, a well-known asterism of stars. The brightest star of the constellation, Deneb, represents both the head of the Northern Cross and the tail of the swan.

Mythological Background

There are several stories in Greek mythology that involve the constellation Cygnus. One myth involved Zeus and the goddess Nemesis. According to the myth, Nemesis sought to escape from Zeus by disguising herself as various animals. When she changed herself into a goose, Zeus transformed himself into a beautiful swan and won her over. The constellation was then formed to celebrate the exquisite swan. Another version has Zeus becoming the swan in order to court the queen of Sparta, Leda.[2]

Another Greek legend has Cygnus as one of two birds (the other being the eagle Aquila, also a constellation), that were hunted by Hercules, but managed to escape. It is believed that the two birds, along with Lyra (the vulture) were the Stymphalian Birds, which Hercules slew as the sixth of the twelve labors.[3]

In Chinese mythology, the constellation is the once-a-year magpie bridge known as 鹊桥 (Que Qiao) from the story of the princess and the cowherd.

Stars and Other Features

The binary star Albireo (Beta Cygni) represents the head of the swan. The tail is where the brightest star of the constellation, Deneb, is located. Deneb is also the tip of the Northern Cross and the upper-left corner of the Summer Triangle. The dim binary star 61 Cygni also lies within the constellation and is the closet star within it, only some 11.4 light years away, and is famous for being the first star to be measured using parallax.

Cygnus is also the location of several notable deep sky objects, including numerous diffuse and planetary nebulae, and open star clusters. The Fireworks Galaxy (NGC 6946) is also located here, known as the most active supernovae galaxy known. Another galaxy is Cygnus A, one of the strongest astronomical radio sources known. Cygnus X-1 is another astronomical feature within the constellation and is famous for being one of the greatest known sources of x-rays.[3]

Named Stars

  • Deneb - Alpha Cygni (α Cyg)
  • Albireo - Beta Cygni (β Cyg)
  • Sadr - Gamma Cygni (γ Cyg)
  • Ruc - Delta Cygni (δ Cyg)
  • Gienah - Epsilon Cygni (ε Cyg)