Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Summer Triangle...

Asterism: No, an asterism isn’t something vulgar. An asterism is a distinctive group of stars, but not a recognized constellation. The Big Dipper is an asterism within the Ursa Major constellation. In my experience, it’s often easier to spot the asterism and then puzzle out the constellation/s.

Tonight, through the magic of digital exaggeration, err...I mean manipulation, and the courtesy of Starry Night, I bring you one of the great asterisms of the summer sky – The Summer Triangle!

Soon after dark, look into the eastern sky. You will see one very bright star, Vega, and two more stars, lower down, that are not quite so bright. They are Deneb, to the North, and Altair, to the South. They form a huge right triangle, with Vega at the top right angle. This grouping of stars dominates the Northern Hemisphere’s summer sky and spans the Milky Way. Those of you in the Southern Hemisphere will see it rise in the extreme North East.

As the evening progresses, and more stars appear, you should be able to see the three constellations that make up the Summer Triangle asterism. Vega is the anchor star of the Lyra (Lyre) Constellation. To the ancient Greeks, this was Orpheus’s magic harp, you know, the grandmother of J.K Rowling’s Hogwarts’ harp. Deneb is the tail feathers of Cygnus (the Swan) flying down the middle of the Milky Way. Follow the line of stars south from Deneb, which looks like a cross within the Summer Triangle, and you and you have all of Cygnus, who was either Orpheus, trying to get his harp back, or Zeus, out for an illicit tryst with Leda. It all depended upon who you listen to.
The last bright star of the Summer Triangle is Altair. It is the north point of a diamond shaped constellation named Aquila (the Eagle), which is flying up the side of the Milky Way toward Cygnus. Altair is the head or beak of Aquila as Zeus, again out for an illicit tryst, but this time with Ganymede, a Trojan boy. Looks to me like he dropped the poor kid, but what can you expect from a pervert. Zeus was a randy old goat, and not especially particular about where he randied. He was one of our original shape shifters, and I don’t think that it’s any wonder that his wife, Hera, was always in a murderous mood. You’ve really got to have sympathy for the woman even if she was a goddess.

Have fun, and happy viewing,


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Gerard said...

That's also one of my favorite stars. I especially love them when the Milky Way can be clearly seen in the background, which is not very often where I live! and which is the case of your pic. I was told that the triangle was supposed to be isosceles but it looks slightly off.
My favorites for a winter sky are Orion with Betelgeuse, Rigel, and its belt plus theirs neighbors Sirius, of Canis major and Aldebaran of Taurus.

Frances said...

Hi Gerard,
Welcome to by blog. I'm going to have more to say about Deneb in Cygnus in a later post. I remember seeing the Milky Way clearly when I was a child, but light polution in urbania really screws with that. I can see the main stars, however. The Milky Way is UNBELEIVABLE from the Big Island of Hawaii (more to come). You nailed it on my favorite constellations. Also, more on that later. So much to do... So much to see... ;-)

Melanie Atkins said...

I still don't see a triangle, but I'll take your word for it. It all looks Greek to me! Great blog.

Melanie Atkins said...

I still don't see a triangle, but I'll take your word for it. It's all Greek to me! LOL

Great blog. Very intersting.

Frances said...

Melanie, you are so funny. Tell ya what, I'll work that picture over again and see if I cant improve the visibility. Neither picture came out as well as I wanted them to. What I see on my computers is not always what comes up on the web. Sigh!