AQUILA - CONSTELLATION OF THE MONTH
Aquila is famous in Greek mythology on 2 counts. Firstly, for carrying Ganymede, Zeus’ cup bearer, to Mount Olympus to serve Zeus; and secondly for a more unpleasant role in mythology.
Prometheus was one of the Titan gods that roamed the world and became an advisor to Zeus. Prometheus was very protective of the people of Earth and was concerned for their lack of ability to make fire. In an attempt to help, he stole a ray of the sun which he duly delivered to mankind. However, Zeus felt that mankind was not worthy of such a gift and punished Prometheus for his unwarranted actions by chaining him to a mountain and letting his eagle, Aquila, attack him day after day, eating his liver.
As a Titan however, Prometheus was immortal, although some sources suggest that his immortality was inherited from Chiron (Centaurus), and thus recovered from his injuries each night, only to be tortured again the following day. After many years he was rescued by Hercules who killed Aquila with his bow and arrow and Zeus placed his favourite eagle in the stars so that it could soar for eternity in the heavens.
Altair is the brightest star in the constellation of Aquila and is also the 12th brightest star in the sky, thanks in part to its relative proximity.
Altair lies only 16.7 light years from Earth and is easily found in the eastern sky as the centre star of 3 that resemble the famed Orion’s Belt asterism.
Its name comes from the Arabic and means ‘The Flying Eagle’.
Altair makes up one point of the ‘Spring Triangle’ in South Africa, along with Vega, the 5th brightest star in the sky (Lyra) and Deneb (Cygnus).
THE QIXI FESTIVAL
In Asian mythology the star Altair represents a mortal man who fell in love with a heavenly goddess, Vega (Lyra). One day Altair was tending to his cows and playing his flute when a white dove landed next to him and turned into the beautiful Vega, Princess of the Heavenly Skies. Both were enchanted with each other and for many weeks Vega visited Altair during the nights before returning to the stars each morning.
After some time, Vega’s mother, discovered their romance and forbade it since no immortal should meet with a mortal being. Altair went searching for Vega but her mother turned the Milky Way into a mighty river and the couple became stranded on either side. Vega’s father took pity on the couple and arranged that on the 7th night of the 7th moon each year, all the magpies on Earth would fly to the heavens and create a celestial bridge for the lovers to meet for the night.
This occasion is celebrated in China as the Qixi (Key-She) Festival and is considered one of the most romantic festivals of the year. The date coincides with the 7th day of the 7th moon of the year.
DEEP SKY OBJECTS
Aquila does not contain any major deep sky objects