Aquila: The Eagle Constellation

Star Walk
6 min readAug 25, 2023
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Aquila is a long-known constellation: it was one of the 48 constellations described by Ptolemy in the Almagest. There are plenty of ancient myths from all over the world about the celestial Eagle. Modern-day astronomers are also attracted to the stars and objects located within Aquila’s boundaries. Let’s get to know this majestic bird!

Aquila constellation facts

- Name: Aquila (the Eagle)

- Abbreviation: Aql

- Size: 652 sq. deg.

- Right ascension: 18h 41m — 20h 38m

- Declination: from 18° to -11°

- Visible between: 90°N — 75°S

- Brightest star: Altair (Alpha Aquilae)

- Main stars: 11

- Bordering constellations: Sagitta, Hercules, Ophiuchus, Serpens Cauda, Scutum, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Delphinus

Aquila location

The constellation Aquila is located on the celestial equator, along the Milky Way. It takes up 652 square degrees of the sky and is the 22nd largest of 88 officially recognized constellations.

Aquila belongs to the Hercules family of constellations, along with Sagitta, which is above the Eagle’s head, and Hercules, Ophiuchus, Serpens Cauda, and Scutum, which are by the right-wing side. Aquila is also bordered by the three zodiac constellations: Aquarius, Capricornus, and Sagittarius.

Where is the constellation Aquila in the sky?

Northern Hemisphere observers can find Aquila in the southern direction, whereas Southern Hemisphere observers should look for it in the northern direction. The constellation is observable from July to November and reaches its best visibility in August, because that’s when it rises the highest at night. In the other months, it is mostly in the daytime sky. Read our dedicated article to learn more about seasonal constellations.

How to find the constellation Aquila?

Aquila can be identified by its brightest star Altair, which represents the Eagle’s eye. It is the second-brightest star of the well-known Summer Triangle asterism, which also features Vega from Lyra, and Deneb from Cygnus. Altair stays away from the other two stars of the triangle. Once you’ve spotted it, you will easily trace out the Eagle’s head and wings.

How to find the constellation Aquila via stargazing apps?

The easiest way to find Aquila is to use stargazing apps. This way, you will not be mistaken and will identify all the stars correctly. We’ll explain how to find the constellation using the Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight apps.

Star Walk 2:

- Launch the app and tap the magnifier icon in the lower-left corner of the screen;

- Type “Aquila” in the search bar;

- Tap the corresponding search result;

- You’ll see the constellation’s current position in the sky;

- Point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow to find the constellation.

For a visual representation, watch the video tutorial and follow the steps given there.

Sky Tonight:

- Launch the app and tap the magnifier icon at the lower part of the screen;

- Type “Aquila” in the search bar;

- Tap the target icon opposite the corresponding search result;

- You’ll see the constellation’s current position in the sky;

- Point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow to find the constellation.

Bright stars in the constellation Aquila

Aquila has only three stars brighter than the 3rd magnitude: Altair, Tarazed, and Okab.

Altair

- Other names: α Aquilae, 53 Aquilae, HD 187642, HIP 97649, HR 7557

- Type: A-type main-sequence star

- Magnitude: 0.76

- Name’s origin: “the eagle star” (Arabic)

- Description: Altair is the brightest star in Aquila; it marks the Eagle’s eye. It is a part of the Summer Triangle asterism. Altair is one of the closest naked-eye stars to the Earth (it lies 17 light-years from our planet).

Tarazed

- Other names: γ Aquilae, Reda, 50 Aquilae, HD 186791, HIP 97278, HR 7525

- Type: bright giant

- Magnitude: 2.72

- Name’s origin: “the scale-beam” (Persian)

- Description: Tarazed is the second-brightest star in Aquila. Along with Altair and the fainter star Alshain (mag 3.7), it forms an asterism known as the Family of Aquila or the Shaft of Aquila.

Okab

- Other names: ζ Aquilae, 17 Aquilae, HD 177724, HIP 93747, HR 7235

- Type: binary star system

- Magnitude: 2.99

- Name’s origin: “the tail of the eagle” (Arabic)

- Description: Okab is the third-brightest star in Aquila. Modern stargazers perceive it as the Eagle’s right wing, but in traditional depictions of the constellation, Okab marks the tail of the bird.

Deep-sky objects in the constellation Aquila

Though the constellation Aquila has no Messier objects, it hosts a large number of other deep-sky objects, as it lies along the path of the Milky Way. Most of them are faint (mag 9 or lower), but still worth seeking out with a telescope. Aquila also contains the unique extragalactic object called the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall, which is the largest structure in the observable universe.

Phantom Streak Nebula

The Phantom Streak Nebula (NGC 6741) is a planetary nebula that can be found around the tail of the Eagle. It is approximately 7,000 light-years away from the Earth and has an apparent magnitude of 11.6.

Barnard’s E Nebula

The E Nebula consists of two dark nebulae, officially designated as Barnard 142 and 143. It takes up about 0.5 degrees in the sky — roughly the size of a Full Moon — and can be found near the star Tarazed.

The nebula probably got its name due to its resemblance to the letter E. Look through the images of the other stunning deep-sky objects and try to guess their names based on the shape!

The Glowing Eye Nebula

NGC 6751, also known as the Glowing Eye Nebula or Dandelion Puffball Nebula, is a planetary nebula located at the tip of the Eagle’s tail, near the star 12 Aquilae. It is estimated to be about 6,500 light-years away from us and has a magnitude of 11.8.

Aquila constellation story

The constellation Aquila is seen as a flying bird by many cultures around the world.

Greek myths about the constellation Aquila

In Greek mythology, Aquila was believed to represent Aetos Dios — the eagle that carried Zeus’ thunderbolts. That’s why it is often depicted as an eagle holding a thunderbolt in its beak. Once, Zeus also sent the bird to kidnap the boy Ganymede (represented by the nearby constellation Aquarius), whom he wanted to be a cupbearer for the Olympic gods.

According to another myth, Zeus fell in love with the goddess Nemesis, but she rejected his advances. So he transformed into a swan and got the goddess Aphrodite to turn into an eagle and mock-chase him so that Nemesis would pity him and offer refuge in her arms. Zeus later placed the birds among the stars, as the constellations Aquila and Cygnus, to commemorate the event.

Constellation Aquila in other cultures

In Hinduism, the constellation Aquila is associated with Garuda — the half-eagle half-human deity. In ancient Egypt, Aquila possibly represented the falcon of Horus.

There is also a myth spread across China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and many other Asian countries. The story has many different variations and involves Altair, the brightest star in Aquila, and Vega, the brightest star in Lyra. According to the legend, they are a couple in love separated by the heavenly river — the Milky Way — and can only meet once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, when a flock of magpies forms a bridge across the river. By the way, those magpies could be the Perseids’ meteors, which travel parallel to the Milky Way at about this time.

F.A.Q.

What is special about the constellation Aquila?

Aquila is placed on the celestial equator, which means it is visible from most of the northern and southern latitudes. Perhaps that’s why it’s found in myths all over the world. It features the bright star Altair, and a number of notable deep-sky objects.

How many stars are in the constellation Aquila?

Aquila has 11 stars that outline the constellation. The Hipparcos satellite scanned and detailed 1655 stars within its borders.

What is the brightest star in the constellation Aquila?

Altair is the brightest star in the constellation Aquila. It is also the 12th-brightest star in the night sky and a part of the Summer Triangle asterism.

When can you see the constellation Aquila?

You can see the constellation Aquila in the night sky from July to November. The best month to observe Aquila is August because that’s when it rises the highest at night.

Where is the constellation Aquila in the sky right now?

Constellations are constantly traveling around the sky. To learn the exact position of Aquila anytime, use Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight. With their help, you can find the constellation by its name and have the app show you its location in the real night sky above you.

Bottom line

Aquila is the equatorial constellation visible in both hemispheres from July to November. It plays a significant role in the culture of many countries around the world and has many good observation targets.

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