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September 13, 2015

Several eagles soar across the evening sky this month. Some of them are bright and easy to see. The other requires a telescope, but it’s quite well known.

The brightest eagle is the star Vega. It stands high overhead as darkness falls, and drops down the western sky later on. It’s one of the brightest stars in the night sky, so you can’t miss it.

The name Vega comes from an Arabic phrase that means “the swooping eagle.” To skywatchers in the Arabian deserts, Vega and the nearby stars looked like a diving eagle with its wings partially folded.

Vega is the brightest point of the Summer Triangle. A second point, in the southeast, is Altair — a name that means “the flying eagle.” It’s the brightest star of the constellation that’s known as the eagle, Aquila. Seen under a dark sky, it looks like a graceful bird with outstretched wings.

The third eagle is about halfway between Altair and Antares, the bright heart of the scorpion, which is low in the southwest. The Eagle Nebula is a cloud of gas and dust. Its outline looks like a bird-of-prey with open wings.

The nebula is giving birth to many new stars. And that’s why it’s famous. Two decades ago, Hubble Space Telescope snapped a picture of a small piece of it — a picture known today as the Pillars of Creation. It’s one of the most famous images of the Space Age. It shows tall towers of dust that contain the “eggs” from which new stars are born — cosmic birth from a majestic eagle.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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