The constellation of Aquila the Eagle soars across the night sky this time of year. As darkness falls in late August, you can see the Eagle’s stars in the south, along the Milky Way band. From mid-northern latitudes, look about halfway up the sky.

This is one of the few constellations whose imagined patterns made by connecting the “dots” (the stars) actually somewhat resemble what it is supposed to represent. Only this Eagle is flying backward!

The brightest star in Aquila is Altair, which can be imagined as the “eye” of the Eagle. A lovely 0.77 magnitude, white star, it is the 12th brightest in the night sky. Very luminous, Altair shines 11 times stronger than our sun; if it traded places, your sunglasses would be not nearly enough.

The star is only 16.8 light-years away. The starlight you see tonight, in 2020, left the star in 2004. It spins very fast; about once in 10 hours. Our Sun takes approximately a month to rotate. This fast spinning makes Altair oblate, “squished” at the poles. Its diameter is 20% bigger than our own star.

On either side of Altair there is an easily visible star; the three, in a line, make up the Eagle’s “head.”

The lower star, Alshain, is magnitude 3.7 and yellow, 45 light-years away. This star is imagined as the tip of the Eagle’s “beak.”

The upper star is Tarazed, magnitude 2.7, and a much further 260 light-years. Tarazed is orange. Orange! The star marks the top of the “head.” Obviously, this isn’t an adult bald eagle, or Tarazed would be white. Oh well. You won’t notice these colors without binoculars or a small telescope.

A line imagined connecting these three stars is 5 degrees long, a useful measuring stick as you learn the placement of star patterns.

Other stars mark the “body,” “wings” and “tail” of the Eagle. As I said, this bird goes backward. Altair is facing east and the stars marking the “tail” are on the west side. As our Earth spins west to east, the entire sky appears to turn east to west - making the stars rise in the east and set in the west.

There are three stars marking the “tail,” forming a little arc. The very last star is actually over the constellation border and is part of a smaller constellation, Scutum the Shield.

If you use binoculars or a telescope, be sure to scan this area. The west part of Aquila and Scutum is in the midst of the hazy Milky Way band and is packed with faint stars. Just below the tail stars is the dim star V Aquilae. This is a variable star and is intensely red in a small telescope.

The tail stars also point to one of the finest open star clusters visible in binoculars, M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. Best appreciated in a telescope using anywhere from around 40x to 100x or more, the cluster appears as almost square, tightly packed with stars roughly in rows. Strings of stars on either side inspire some to imagine a flock of wild ducks.

Aquila is one of 48 constellations described by the astronomer Ptolemy in the second century. One Greek myth pictures Aquila as the bird of Zeus, which bore Ganymede, the cupbearer of the gods, to the sky.

Right ahead of Aquila, to the east (on the left as seen from north of the equator), is the delightful constellation Delphinus the Dolphin. This is a small pattern made of up of five stars, easy to spot. Just above Aquila’s “head” is a pattern of four stars forming Sagitta the Arrow.

Altair makes a large triangle with the bright stars Deneb, in Cygnus the Swan, and Vega, in Lyra the Harp.

Enjoy the crescent moon this weekend, leading to first-quarter on Aug. 25. Also note the wonderfully bright planet Jupiter, with Saturn to the left, low in the south the next clear evening.

Keep looking up at the stars!

Peter Becker is managing editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, Pennsylvania. Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com. Please mention in what newspaper or website you read this column.