Lore of the Constellations: Aquila the Eagle

Last season, we took a look at some of the more notable constellations that can be found in your seasonal Spring sky.  We’re now in the season of Summer, so let’s take a deep dive into your favorite constellations you can now find from your very own backyard.  You may have heard of the constellation Aquila the Eagle, but did you ever wonder why we recognize that batch of stars with that particular name?  What is it named after? How long ago was this?  Why is this eagle so special.  Well, in these upcoming Lore videos, we’re going to explore how some of your favorite Summer constellations got their names.

Here we are in the season of Summer where we can find an asterism known as the Summer Triangle.  An asterism is different from a constellation.  A constellation is an officially recognized section of the sky whereas an asterism is a visually obvious collection of stars, an informal group of stars within the area of an official or defunct former constellation.  Asterisms sometimes include stars from more than one constellation.  For example, the Big Dipper is an asterism—it can be found within the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.

In Summer we’ve got something called the Summer Triangle.

The summer triangle is composed of three bright stars, each star is the brightest star in its own constellation.  We’ve got Altair in Aquila the Eagle, Vega in Lyra the Harp, and we’ve got Deneb in Cygnus the Swan.

For this first episode in the video above, we’re going to cover Altair and Aquila the Eagle.

According to legend, Aquila was the pet eagle of Zeus.  In fact, Aquila was responsible for carrying Zeus’s lightning bolts for him.

Well, one day Zeus gave Aquila a mission. Zeus needed a cup bearer and summoned Aquila to find a young boy Zeus liked named Ganymede.  Ganymede was found and brought up to Mount Olympus, home of the Gods, by Aquila.

That being said, there is a darker side to Aquila as well.

In one story, Prometheus—one of the last Titan gods who became an advisor to Zeus—stole a ray of sunlight for humankind.  Prometheus was very protective of humans and seeing how they suffered because they had no fire, stole this ray of sunlight and smuggled it down to Earth in a hollow stem.

Zeus did not believe that mankind was worthy of such a gift.  He was furious at Prometheus for doing this and how he acted without his permission.  So, in retaliation, Zeus summoned Prometheus to be chained to the side of a mountain, stripped of his garments, and continually attacked by his pet eagle, Aquila.

Since Prometheus was immortal, his wounds would heal overnight. But, come the next day, Aquila would attack him again.  This went on for years and years until Prometheus was saved by Hercules who agreed with his kind deed for mankind.  Using his bow and arrow, Hercules killed Aquila.

Zeus then placed his pet into the heavens to soar forever.

Well, Aquila is now home to two very famous stars, Altair and Tarazed.

Altair is just 16.7 light-years away from us and is the 12th brightest star in the night sky.  It rotates very rapidly, about 90 percent the speed it would take to rotate fast enough to blow apart.  One rotation takes just 9 to 10 hours.

So far, Aquila has nine stars with known planets

You can find Aquila in the southern sky just below Cygnus and Lyra.  When you find that Summer Triangle, find the star closest to the horizon and you’ve found Altair, the brightest star in Aquila the Eagle.

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