The Cygnus Constellation

Cygnus is a northern constellation lying on the plane of the Milky Way, deriving its name from the Latinized Greek word for swan. The swan is one of the most recognisable constellations of the northern summer and autumn, and it features a prominent asterism known as the Northern Cross. Cygnus was among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. A very large 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 official constellation boundaries, as set by Eugène Delporte in 1930, are defined as a polygon of 28 segments. In the equatorial coordinate system, the right ascension coordinates of these borders lie between 19h 07.3m and 22h 02.3m, while the declination coordinates are between 27.73° and 61.36°. Covering 804 square degrees and around 1.9% of the night sky, Cygnus ranks 16th of the 88 constellations in size. Cygnus culminates at midnight on 29 June and is most visible in the evening from the early summer to mid-autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. Normally, Cygnus is depicted with Delta and Epsilon Cygni as its wings, Deneb as its tail, and Albireo as the tip of its beak. There are several asterisms in Cygnus. In the 17th-century German celestial cartographer Johann Bayer’s star atlas the Uranometria, Alpha, Beta and Gamma Cygni form the pole of a cross, while Delta and Epsilon form the cross beam. The Nova P Cygni was then considered to be the body of Christ.

Bayer catalogued many stars in the constellation, giving them the Bayer designations from Alpha to Omega and then using lowercase Roman letters to g. John Flamsteed added the Roman letters h, i, k, l and m (these stars were considered informes by Bayer as they lay outside the asterism of Cygnus), but was dropped by Francis Baily. There are several bright stars in Cygnus. Alpha Cygni, called Deneb, is the brightest star in Cygnus. It is a white supergiant star of spectral type A2Iae that varies between magnitudes 1.21 and 1.29, one of the largest and most luminous A-class stars known. It is located about 3200 light-years away. Its traditional name means “tail” and refers to its position in the constellation. Albireo, designated Beta Cygni, is a celebrated binary star among amateur astronomers for its contrasting hues. The primary is an orange-hued giant star of magnitude 3.1, and the secondary is a blue-green hued star of magnitude 5.1. The system is 380 light-years away. Gamma Cygni, traditionally named Sadr, is a yellow-tinged supergiant star of magnitude 2.2, 1500 light-years away. Its traditional name means “breast” and refers to its position in the constellation. Delta Cygni is another bright binary star in Cygnus, 171 light-years with a period of 800 years. The primary is a blue-white hued giant star of magnitude 2.9, and the secondary is a star of magnitude 6.6. The two components are divisible in a medium-sized amateur telescope. The fifth star in Cygnus above magnitude 3 is Gienah, designated Epsilon Cygni. It is an orange-hued giant star of magnitude 2.5, 72 light-years from Earth.

Cygnus also contains several other noteworthy X-ray sources. Located near Eta Cygni is the X-ray source Cygnus X-1, which is now thought to be caused by a black hole accreting matter in a binary star system. This was the first x-ray source widely believed to be a black hole.  Cygnus X-2 is another X-ray binary, containing an A-type giant in orbit around a neutron star with a 9.8 day period. Cygnus X-3 is a microquasar containing a Wolf–Rayet star in orbit around a very compact object, with a period of only 4.8 hours.

Cygnus is one of the constellations that the Kepler satellite surveyed in its search for extrasolar planets, and as a result, there are about a hundred stars in Cygnus with known planets, the most of any constellation. One of the most notable systems is the Kepler-11 system, containing six transiting planets, all within a plane of approximately one degree. With a spectral type of G6V, the star is somewhat cooler than the Sun. The planets are very close to the star; all but the last planet are closer to Kepler-11 than Mercury is to the Sun, and all the planets are more massive than Earth.

The Cygnus Loop

There is an abundance of deep-sky objects, with many open clustersnebulae of various types and supernova remnants found in Cygnus due to its position on the Milky Way. M39 (NGC 7092) is an open cluster 950 light-years from Earth is loose, with about 30 stars arranged over a wide area; their conformation appears triangular. The brightest stars of M39 are of the 7th magnitude. Another open cluster in Cygnus is NGC 6910, also called the Rocking Horse Cluster, possessing 16 stars with a diameter of 5 arcminutes with a magnitude of 7.4. Other open clusters in Cygnus include Dolidze 9Collinder 421Dolidze 11, and Berkeley 90. NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary Nebula, with a magnitude of 8.5, 3200 light-years from Earth. It appears to “blink” because its central star is unusually bright (10th magnitude). Less than one degree from the Blinking Planetary is the double star 16 Cygni. The North America Nebula (NGC 7000) is one of the most well-known nebulae in Cygnus, and at its widest, it is 2 degrees across. Illuminated by a hot embedded star of magnitude 6, NGC 7000 is 1500 light-years from Earth. To the south of Epsilon Cygni is the Veil Nebula (NGC 6960, 6962, 6979, 6992, and 6995), a 5,000-year-old supernova remnant covering approximately 3 degrees of the sky. It is over 50 light-years long. Because of its appearance, it is also called the Cygnus Loop. The Northern Coalsack Nebula also called the Cygnus Rift, is a dark nebula located in the Cygnus Milky Way.

Gamma Cygnus Nebula

The Gamma Cygni Nebula (IC 1318) includes both bright and dark nebulae in an area of over 4 degrees. DWB 87 is another of the many bright emission nebulae in Cygnus, 7.8 by 4.3 arcminutes. It is in the Gamma Cygni area. Two other emission nebulae include Sharpless 2-112 and Sharpless 2-115. Also of note is the Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888), located between Gamma and Eta Cygni, which was formed by the Wolf–Rayet star HD 192163. The “Soap bubble nebula” (PN G75.5+1.7), near the Crescent nebula, was discovered on a digital image by Dave Jurasevich in 2007. In 2011, Austrian amateur Matthias Kronberger discovered a planetary nebula (Kronberger 61, now nicknamed “The Soccer Ball”). Cygnus X is the largest star-forming region in the Solar neighbourhood and includes not only some of the brightest and most massive stars known (such as Cygnus OB2-12) but also Cygnus OB2, a massive stellar association classified by some authors as a young globular cluster.

More supernovae have been seen in the Fireworks Galaxy (NGC 6946) than in any other galaxy. Cygnus A is the first radio galaxy discovered; at a distance of 730 million light-years from Earth, it is the closest powerful radio galaxy. In the visible spectrum, it appears as an elliptical galaxy in a small cluster. It is classified as an active galaxy because the supermassive black hole at its nucleus is accreting matter, which produces two jets of matter from the poles. The jets’ interaction with the interstellar medium creates radio lobes, one source of radio emissions. Credit: Wikipedia.