Stargazing 101- Cygnus the Swan

Growing to love the constellation

This was a constellation I learned of on my own when I was younger. We had Greek Week at school where we were separated into groups that represented various ancient cities. My group had Athens, so we recreated the city and we did “battle” with the other cities. Our teacher organized various educational and entertaining games that week. It was afterward that I fell deeply in love with Greek mythology. I found numerous versions of the story of Cygnus the Swan, but I was always fixated with this one.

The Mythology

Zeus, god of the Olympians, became entranced by a mortal woman, as he so often did. Leda was the Queen of Sparta, married to King Tyndareu, and Zeus had been admiring her for a quite some time. He decided he absolutely must have her and devised a plot to seduce her. He cleverly disguised himself as Cygnus the Swan and sought her out. Leda spotted the swan being attacked by an eagle and saved him, although she was still unaware that Cygnus the Swan was Zeus. He fell into her arms as if to show her his appreciation for saving him. He presented himself as Zeus and succeeded in seducing the beautiful queen. Fortunately for Zeus, this was one affair that Hera had no knowledge of. Leda, who had also been with her husband that night, became pregnant and laid two eggs. Out of the eggs came four children, one of which was Helen of Troy. She is said to be the only consistent child of Zeus among the four throughout the various versions of the story. Upon learning of the children they bore together, Zeus put a swan high up in the stars as a personal trophy for succeeding in seducing Leda.

The Facts

This constellation is known as Cygnus, which translates as “swan.” The image you see is the sky resembles that of the bird quite closely. There are quiet a few stellar objects observed in this constellation, creating a beautiful display of colors when viewed by the best telescopes. The Fireworks Galaxy (a nickname given to NGC 6946) is a spiral galaxy that has seen 8 supernova explosions; however, still housing 3 of the oldest known supernovas ever detected by X-rays. Cygnus X-1 is a stellar-mass black hole in orbit in this cluster of stars. This family of black holes comes from the collapse of a massive star.

There is another version of the swan story that involves Aries and his son. In some areas, it is said that his son was transformed into a swan when he met death. This constellation is one of the oldest ones known; therefore there are many different versions of the story. Some are drastically different and some are only missing minor details. It seems that Zeus has an insatiable lust for trouble! Have you heard the story of Cygnus the Swan before? Please let us know below.


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