The constellation Lyra, the harp, stands halfway up the eastern sky as night falls this evening, and climbs directly overhead around midnight. The little constellation is easy to locate because it contains one of the brightest stars visible from most of the northern hemisphere. Vega is on the northwest corner of the constellation, anchoring the widespread Summer Triangle.
Vega is prominent not only in the sky — it’s prominent in skylore as well. Just about every major culture has woven legends and myths around the star. In ancient China, for example, Vega was known as zhi nu — the “weaving maiden.”
Vega is part of the ninth lunar mansion — a slice of the sky that roughly corresponds to the distance the Moon travels across the starry background in a day. That mansion is known as niu lang — the “ox boy.”
The ox boy also includes another member of the Summer Triangle — Altair, the brightest star of Aquila, the eagle. It’s well to the lower right of Vega at nightfall. The imaginary line that connects the two stars is seen as a bridge across the flowing band of the Milky Way, which is known in China as the celestial river.
Look for the ox boy — the brilliant stars Vega and Altair — as they climb up the eastern sky this evening. And if you have a nice, dark sky, far from pesky city lights, you can also see the river of light between them: the hazy glow of the Milky Way.
We’ll have more about the Summer Triangle tomorrow.
Script by Robert Tindol, Copyright 2012
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