The Scene in the Heavens.
The late summer and fall season for middle northern latitudes are marked in the heavens from our vantage point by the Milky Way, which slices the sky from SSW to NNE. Cygnus (sometimes called the Northern Cross) is nearly at zenith (straight up) a few hours after sunset at my location in Virginia. The central stars of the constellation form a beautiful asterism that shows the outline of a cross that is aligned with the Milky Way. The head of the cross is Deneb (the north end); the bottom is Albireo (a well known double star). The region of the constellation is host to a number of beautful objects. At this time of year I often sit in my observing area to catch a glimpse of the constellation’s striking general features.
The Northern Cross and the Cross of Christ.
A few nights ago as I was observing Cygnus, I was reminded of a scene where Jesus is questioned by Jewish leaders after he had driven people out of the temple area, which had been turned from a place of prayer to a market (John 2:12-22). The outraged temple leaders demanded proof of his authority to do such a thing. Referring to his coming crucifixion (on a cross) and his resurrection that would follow, he said, ‘destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.’
Cygnus rises and is prominent during the evening of several months of the year due to God’s precise placement of earth in the Milky Way and the motion of earth. These two things permit us to observe the heavens in a cyclical manner throughout the year, including Cygnus at this time of year. However, most people refuse to give God credit for such things. In esssence, the heavens have been turned into a market: a way to conduct the business of watching the night skies but with no credit or recognition that God is the source of the scene. Many would demand an explanation as to how God could have authority to do such a thing or would simply state that God had nothing to do with it!
Thankfully, there are scientists and observers that believe that he created the heavens as stated by many scriptures. With them I also lift my eyes and give thanks for the way he has stretched out the heavens that so eloquently speak of Him and His authority. In particular, the Northern Cross reminds me of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as he had authority to rise from the dead he also has authority to set the heavens and the earth for us to observe his handiwork.
The sketch shows two areas around the Cygnus region that can be seen with binoculars. (My binocular is mounted with a reflecting window, so up and down is reversed.) The left inset shows the faint star field that is around Deneb, the brightest star of the constellation. It is an example of making a star map of a local area–an assignment we give to students and teachers as they learn to observe and sketch a star field. The right upper inset shows M39, which is a distinctive cluster of stars that looks like a Christmas tree. For new observers, the bottom right shows the Northern Cross as you would see it if you were facing NW and looking almost straight up about 8-10 pm local time. Deneb and M39 are circled. So if you have opportunity, take a look at this beautiful region of the night sky.