First you might want to print out and put together this star chart. It is interesting to see how the stars change as the months go by.
The Summer Triangle
Go out after dark and if you have a smart phone, use an app such as Stargazer to locate them in the night sky, so you will know where to look. When we first looked, it was too cloudy for us to actually see anything but one bright star, which we think was Vega, in the constellation Lyra.
The Summer Constellations: Lyra
This week we focused on the constellation Lyra from the Summer Triangle we found last week. To find Lyra, look for Vega, the brightest star in the constellation. Lyra looks like a small, lopsided square, with Vega just beside one of the corners of the square.
The legend of Lyra tells the story of Orpheus, who was given a harp by the god Apollo. Orpheus married the lovely maiden Eurydice, but after their wedding, she was bitten by a snake and died. Orpheus was so stricken with grief that he journeyed to the underworld to win her return. His music not only gained him entry to Hades, it caused Pluto, the god of the underworld, to soften his heart and grant Orpheus' wish, but there was one condition -Eurydice had follow Orpheus, who could not look back until both had gained the upper world. Before Eurydice could take the final steps into the light, Orpheus turned to gaze upon her and she vanished. Once Orpheus died, the Muses buried him, and Apollo placed his magical harp in the sky -- as Lyra.
After finding Lyra, Aquila was next on our list. If you can find the summer triangle (see above) you can see that Lyra is on one of the points of the triangle, and Aquila is on another of the points. Aquila means "eagle" in Latin, and looks like an bird with its wings spread in flight, with its beak (a rather large one, too) made with the brightest star, Altair (which comes from the Arabic phrase "al-nasr al-tair", meaning "the flying eagle".) Aquila represents the eagle who carried out many tasks for Jupiter (and Zeus in the Greek mythology) including carrying his thunderbolts. This constellation was also known to the Romans as "Flying Vulture" (vultur volans).
The last constellation in the summer triangle is Cygnus, which isn't too difficult to find since we have been practicing finding the Summer Triangle and this constellation forms the left hand corner of the triangle. We learned that Cygnus is a Greek word that has been Latinized and means "swan". There are several swans in Greek mythology, but the one we chose to read about was Orpheus, who was transformed into a swan after his murder, and was said to have been placed in the sky next to his lyre. A prominent feature of this constellation is the asterism known as the Northern Cross, formed by the five brightest stars in the constellation. An asterism is a pattern of stars that is not a constellation.The brightest star is Deneb, which is at the top of the constellation. Cygnus is bordered by Cepheus to the north and east, Draco to the north and west, Lyra to the west, Vulpecula to the south, Pegasus to the southeast and Lacerta to the east.
The next, and last, stop on our summer constellation study is the constellation Hercules. The mythical stories associated with this constellation are obvious and many. We read about him in D'Aularies Book of Greek Myths, where he was called Heracles. Hercules has no first or second magnitude stars, so it might be a little harder to spot.
|The Summer Triangle, and the globular cluster M13 in Hercules, as seen at 10 p.m. on July 20.source|
However, if you have been following us in finding the summer triangle, it should not be too hard to find. Locate the summer triangle and then Lyra and you will find Hercules just to the right of Lyra. Look for the faint smudge of the Great Globular Cluster M13 in the constellation Hercules. If you look the constellation up in books, you will see it positioned to show the figure of Hercules upright, but in the summer sky, he is upside-down. An asterism that forms the lower part of Hercules body is known as the Keystone. You could also find the constellation Hercules by finding this Keystone, which is to the right of the bright star in Vega in Lyra. If you begin at the bright star, Deneb in Cygnus, you can follow that edge of the Summer Triangle, go through Vega in Lyra and continue going straight and you will find the Keystone asterism in Hercules.
Oh, and the 2014 Perseid meteor shower will peak between August 10 and August 13. It is so named because the direction the shower seems to come from lies in the same direction as the constellation Perseus, named after the Greek hero of that name. The constellation lies in the north-eastern part of the sky.
- Science Sunday at Adventures in Mommydom