The Constellation Cygnus and a Story of Thankfulness

Before I tell you all about the constellation Cygnus, I want to share why I see it is a symbol of thankfulness. All week I debated whether or not to write about Thanksgiving, deciding against it on Wednesday morning. But then, someone said something to me today, "sometimes the things we are thankful for become crowded out by all the other noise, but they shine through when you need them to". Immediately, I thought back to a night last month, when I was standing under the starry sky in Texas with my best friend.

October 2015 had a lot going on in the sky, what with the blood moon and lunar eclipse duo, and then a decent meteor shower. I stargaze where ever I land, but over the last ten months I have only been in heavy light pollution areas. In general, I can read the sky like a map. I am familiar with it and find comfort in knowing things are where I expect them to be. So I was bewildered my first couple nights in Texas. The sky was dark, but there was so much light I found it hard to grab onto much of anything. I recognized how good it all was, but I stopped trying to see what I knew was among all that noise.

On the night of her birthday, my best friend grabbed a bottle of wine and asked me if I would give her a tour of the night sky. Wine glasses in hand we stepped out and looked up. It was incredibly clear and every star shone over us, within arm's reach, but again, all drowning each other out. And then something happened. Cygnus flew over my head, as bright as ever.

The constellation Cygnus is represented by the image of a swan, and appears as a large cross in the sky. It was that cross and that constellation that showed itself to me that night. Honestly, there is no better constellation for best friends to share with each other. Every civilization has their own version of how Cygnus ended up in the sky, but I go with the first one I heard and the one that endeared the constellation to me.

The story goes something like this:

Phaeton and Cycnus, both demigods, were best friends. 

One day they raced their chariots across the sky

but they got too close to the sun, burning their chariots. 

Both fell to the Earth. 

Cycnus was hurt but alive. His friend, Phaeton fell into a nearby river and became stuck. 

Cycnus jumps in to try and help his friend, but the river proves too deep and fast for him.

Phaeton dies.  

Cycnus asks Zeus to turn him into a swan so he can retrieve Phaeton, give him a burial, and send his friend into the afterlife. 

Zeus agrees, but Cycnus must remain a swan, living only as long as a swan would. 

Cycnus transforms into a swan and does what he can for his friend.

When he dies, Zeus places the image of a swan in the sky to recognize his sacrifice.


That's love, y'all.

I always feel like the Universe is tossing little gems like this at me. I mean, up until that point I had all but given up on trying to distinguish any constellations from the noise. And then, Cygnus falls right out of the sky so I can share this beautiful story of two best friends with my best friend. It was perfect!

I don't want anyone laying down their life for me, especially if I've been reckless, but I know that even when I've lost sight of the people that love me, they are always there.  And for that, I am thankful.

Filed under: Astronomy

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