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The summer triangle may have three corners and be the bright stars from three separate constellations but there are loads of doubles to see in this area of the summer sky.
First, let’s talk about the three constellations and then set up for a mixed doubles match in the summer sky.
The triangle is easy to see in the east one hour after sunset. It is high enough at 10 p.m. so anyone can view the group. You may even be able to watch the stars appear as the sunlight fades, bringing the night sky to life.
The highest star of the triangle is Vega. Deneb is the star lower to the north and the star lower and to the east is Altair.
Vega is the brightest star of Lyra the harp, draw a line from Vega down to a parallelogram and you found the body of the harp. Across the top of the parallelogram, connect a row of three stars, Vega and two others, and you have found all the stars of the group. The parallelogram is made of a pair of two lines of the same length. We are already seeing doubles.
Deneb is the tail for Cygnus, the swan. The swan looks like a large cross in the sky. At the bottom of the cross is the swan’s peak. Ancients called this star Albireo, meaning the bird’s peak. A couple beautiful stars make of the peak. View it with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, and see a blue star and its mate a yellow star. Of course, a swan has a pair of wings.
Altair is the brightest star in Aquila. The star Altair means flying eagle. Aquila, the constellation is an eagle in the sky. Therefore, two birds are in the triangle an eagle and a swan. Aquila looks like a large diamond in the sky with a single line coming from it and going toward the south. At the top of the diamond, two stars share the name Deneb el Okab.
Two stars of the triangle represent a pair of lovers. Vega and Altair according, to Chinese lore, are two lovers that had family issues because they came from different backgrounds. The two lovers could only be together one night a year when magpies built a bridge across the Milky Way. Two of the seven star names, that have the Arabic word deneb meaning tail, are in triangle.
Two discoveries are within the borders of the triangle. Cygnus is home to Cygnus X-1, the first star found to be a black hole. In front of Cygnus is a small group of stars that Johannes Hevelius, a Polish astronomer, named Vulpecula the fox. The fox is home to the first pulsar star. A pulsar star is a white dwarf star formed from an old star that has light shining from only a few spots. They spin very fast and look as if they are lighthouses on steroids.
Go out with the kids at sunset and have some fun finding these objects in the eastern sky. However, before you turn away from the sunset. Watch for Gemini, the twins, as the two stars that mark the heads of the twins are just above the houses in the west. To the left of these stars the elusive planet Mercury makes a brief appearance for a few days this week.
Come to Ingram Planetarium and watch a show to learn about the summer triangle and other sky watching targets for the summer. A map marking these objects in the sky is available on the website, www.ingramplanetarium.org.