Aquila – the eagle

February 4, 2018

Astronomy

Aquila (Latin for eagle) is a constellation that represents the eagle that carried Zeus’ thunderbolts around for him. Whenever Zeus wanted to thunderbolt something he would say “Hey Aquila, bolt me.”

Aquila also carried the mortal Ganymede up to the heavens to serve as Zeus’ cup-bearer, so he was kind of an all-purpose personal support eagle. Today he would wear one of those vests that lets him into restaurants.

These stars probably originally became an eagle on Babylonian charts and spread to other cultures from there. On the other hand the Romans called it Vultur Volans which is Flying Vulture.

The Glowing Eye Nebula (NGC-6751) is in Aquila. It’s a planetary nebula that looks like the iris of a human eye. It became famous in Australia when the high school students there competed to name what would be the first object photographed by the Gemini twin telescopes, and it won the prize. The two telescopes of Gemini, one in Hawaii and one in Chili, act like a giant pair of binoculars.

There are three bright stars in a line in Aquila, from north to south, Tarazed, Altair, and Alshain. The brightest is Altair (Arabic for eagle), which is a member of the summer triangle, the first three stars you see as it starts to get dark on summer evenings (Altair, Vega, Deneb).

Tarazed (Persian for beam of the scale) is one of the next stars to appear as the sky darkens, and when connected with Altair points the way to Capricornus which is rising in the southeast at that time.

The third member, Alshain (Persian for falcon) extends the line even more in the direction of Capricornus.

Altair is spinning extremely fast, so fast that it is shaped like, I don’t know, a pumpkin I guess. It’s flattened on the top and on the bottom and it’s pooched out in between. A pumpkin isn’t quite right. Anyway it’s squashed. Actually I think I’ve seen some breeds of squash that are approximately the right shape.

Altair is the star that the space-faring crew goes to in the classic movie “Forbidden Planet,” which is essentially a sci-fi re-telling of “The Tempest” by Shakespeare (Hell is empty and all the devils are here!). Leslie Nielsen plays a horny space captain. They visit one of the planets of the Altair system and discover not only a tempest but a temptress, played by Anne Francis. Her protective father is played by Walter Pidgeon.

There is also Robbie the Robot, the only character not overtly sexist, who cooks, cleans, and makes clothing to protect people from the harsh environment. Except Anne. He makes mini-skirts for Anne.

Carpe Noctem

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