The Flip Side Of Cygnus


An August 2007 Perseid meteor streaks across the sky in this time exposure photo — Photo: Mila Zinkova

It sure looks dicey tonight for the Perseids meteor shower in northern Minnesota. I hope conditions are better for readers elsewhere. If the sky stays clear to partly cloudy early, it’s still worthwhile to keep an eye out.  Early evening Perseids stream in from the northeast at a very low angle and skim horizontally through our atmosphere. These so-called "Earth grazers" move relatively slowly and can burn brilliantly.

Even if you’re thwarted by clouds, the Perseids will stick around in reduced numbers for a few more nights. When it clears again, we may yet find a fiery reward for our perserverance.


Cygnus as the Northern Cross. Deneb marks the upper left corner of the Summer Triangle. To find it, start at Jupiter, the brilliant "star" low in the southeastern sky at dusk. Jupiter, Altair and Deneb lie nearly on a straight line in that order. Click here for a diagram. — created with Stellarium

This summer, I’ve frequently referred to the the Northern Cross, one of the three constellations whose brightest stars sketch the Summer Triangle figure in our August skies. The Cross’s true name is Cygnus the Swan. Its brightest star, Deneb, means "tail" in Arabic, and is a reference to the bird.


Cygnus the Swan as envisioned by the ancients. — created with Stellarium

Clearly both swan and cross fit these stars equally well. In the fall, I’ll see the swan more often than a cross because it’s migration time for our avian friends. There goes Cygnus again, flying the path of the Milky Way to eternal summer.

2 Responses

  1. don mcmahon

    approvals to us your pic the northern cross in a self published book I am writing.
    Sincerely,
    Don McMahon

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