These late summer nights, the Milky Way Galaxy spans from the northeast to the southwest horizon. Nearly directly overhead is a familiar shape comprised of three bright stars; Deneb, Altair, and Vega. It’s called the Summer Triangle. Some of you may recall the star Vega talked about in the motion picture Contact, an adaptation on a book by Dr. Carl Sagan, starring Jodie Foster as Dr. Ellie Arroway as a radio astronomer mentioning Vega is just 25 light years away. The video they analyze in the movie is 50 years old, the time it took to leave Earth, reach Vega, and, be rebroadcast back to Earth with the embedded drawings for a machine… Vega is in the constellation Lyra, the musical instrument, a small, some say cute constellation, it has a shape like a stringed instrument from Greece with twin pairs of stars forming a parallelogram with a small triangle on top that includes Vega.
Of the other two stars of the Summer Triangle, Altair is closer to us at just over 16 light years away in the constellation Aquila, the eagle. Though all three stars of the Summer Triangle appear very bright, even similar in brightness, Deneb is whopping 2616 light years away. Deneb is the in the constellation Cygnus, the swan, and denotes the tail feathers. Cygnus has a cross-shape to it with its brighter stars, sometimes referred to as the Northern Cross. While Deneb is interesting, the bottom of the cross, the head of the swan, is a beautiful double star. One blue, the other gold, both stunning in terms of color and brightness, Alberio is a really fun double star to show people. They can be seen in binoculars with steady hands, but a steady, small refractor telescope frames them nicely with the Milky Way backdrop of stars in the same field of view.
Steven Aggas is the Director at Apache-Sitgreaves Observatory, located in Overgaard, AZ, using the largest public viewing telescope in Arizona. Visit Apache-Sitgreaves.org for information on events and tickets.