The Aquila constellation representing the ‘eagle’ is a Spring-Summer constellation. The constellation is at zero latitude and is therefore visible from most populated areas. The Aquila constellation is near to the core of the milky way and therefore a popular constellation. The form of the constellation is simple to identify and recognisable from the bright star of Altair at the head of the eagle. The constellation is alongside other easily identified constellations in Sagittarius and Hercules. Although it is low in the southern sky at high northern hemisphere latitudes it is prominent from locations below 45 degrees northern latitude.
The Aquila constellation is one of the original 48 constellations listed by the Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy, who lived under Roman rule in Alexandria in the 2nd century. These constellations formed the basis for the modern list agreed by the IAU. Constellations from the southern hemisphere, unable to be seen from the Mediterranean, represent the majority of additions to the list.
As the earth moves in its orbit around the sun, each night you are looking at a different portion of the sky. When looking at stars it is important to be aware of what is within your view. Northern hemisphere stargazers can group constellations into 3 groups; circumpolar, summer and winter constellations. The circumpolar constellations are in the north sky, appear to move around the north star and are visible throughout the year. The constellations in the south sky are only visible for part of the year and are grouped as either summer or winter constellations. Each is visible from between 4 to 10 months.
It is important to be aware of the specific time of year and hour of the night when deciding what to look for. These pages below show the constellations in each group so you can find the constellations that interest you.
CIRCUMPOLAR (year around) – Ursa Major – Cassiopeia – Ursa Minor – Draco – Cepheus
WINTER – Pegasus – Pisces – Aries – Auriga – Taurus – Orion – Canis Major – Canis Minor – Gemini – Lynx – Cancer – Leo – Winter Hexagon
SUMMER – Virgo – Libra – Scorpius – Bootes – Hercules – Lyra – Ophiuchus – Sagittarius – Aquila – Cygnus – Capricornus – Aquarius
Or use this guide to easily see which constellations are easiest to find right now:
Aquila Quick Facts:
Neighbouring constellations: Sagittarius (south), Ophiuchus (west), Capricornus (south east), Aquarius (east), Hercules (north west)
Brightest star: Altair, +0.76 magnitude (12th brightest star in the night sky)
Stars brighter than 3 magnitude: 3
Primary stars: 7 (5 stars in a cross with a central star for the body and wings, 2 additional stars for the head)
Latitude: 15 degrees north – 5 degrees south
Northern Hemisphere Season: Summer (February – December)
Which months can you see Aquila constellation?
Aquila constellation can be seen from February to December but can be found high in the sky at 21:00 during the month of September:
- Early evening viewers (before 21:00) can find the constellation from July in the eastern sky until December in the western sky. Aquila constellation will be visible overhead in October.
- Mid evening viewers (21:00-23:30) can find the constellation from June in the eastern sky until November in the western sky. Aquila constellation will be visible overhead in September.
- Late evening viewers (after 23:30) can find the constellation from May in the eastern sky until September in the western sky. Aquila will be visible overhead in July.
- Early morning viewers can find the constellation from February in the eastern sky to July in the western sky. Aquila will be visible overhead in May.
As time passes the constellation will gradually appear earlier in the night with ranges below showing the window of opportunity in each month. Aquila constellation sits between 15 degrees north – 5 degrees south latitude. Therefore, the further south your position the further north it will appear in the sky. At its maximum range it is possible to see Aquila at latitudes between +90 and -75.
Best time to see Aquila constellation:
Best visible at 21:00 in September
February: visible on the south east horizon before sunrise from 03:30. It will reach 30 degrees above the south east horizon by sunrise.
March: appear on the south east horizon at 01:30. It will reach 45 degrees above the south east horizon by sunrise.
April: appear on the south east horizon at 00:30. It will reach 60 degrees above the south east horizon by sunrise.
May: appear on the south east horizon at 23:30, reaching its peak 65 degrees above the southern horizon at 05:00.
June: appear on the south east horizon at 21:30, reaching its peak 65 degrees above the southern horizon at 03:00. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 55 degrees above the south west horizon.
July: 25 degrees above the south east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak 65 degrees above the southern horizon at 01:00. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 30 degrees above the western horizon. Making it is visible throughout the night.
August: 45 degrees above the south east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak 65 degrees above the southern horizon at 23:00. It will continue moving west until 04:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
September: 60 degrees above the south east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak 65 degrees above the southern horizon at 21:00. It will continue moving west until 02:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
October: 65 degrees at its peak trajectory above the southern horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 00:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
November: 60 degrees above the south west horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 22:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
December: 40 degrees above the south west horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 20:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
Trajectory: The constellation is between 15 degrees north – 5 degrees south which means that for those in low latitudes of the northern hemisphere it will pass high in the southern sky. For those in higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere it will appear low in the southern sky for a shorter time each night. Its peak trajectory in Wadi Rum is 65 degrees above the southern horizon from May through October.
Not the right time for Aquila constellation? Have a look what constellations you can see tonight.
How to find Aquila constellation?
Aguila has the milky way passing through it and therefore can be challenging to identify. The location is easier to find however because of the light produced by the band of the milky way the stars that from the constellation can be more difficult to locate. The body of the eagle is runs through the middle of the band of the milky way.
The band of the milky way and its bright core is useful in locating the area of the sky which is home to Aquila. The constellation is within the band of the milky way slightly north east of the core and Sagittarius.
Identifying with the Summer Triangle
The summer triangle which is a prominent asterism in the night sky throughout summer for northern hemisphere viewers. It is useful to be familiar with and helps locate many constellations throughout summer. The triangle links the 3 bright stars of Altair, Deneb and Vega in the constellations of Aquila, Cygnus, Lyra respectively.
Vega is the brightest star, while the other 2 stars are within the band of the milky way. They are the three brightest star in this area of the sky and are prominent and easy to identify. Altair the second brightest star is furthest west and marks the head of the eagle. It is slightly north east of the core of the milky way.
Learn how to form the shape of Aquila constellation
The shape of Aquila is a simple soaring eagle. with a body and outstretched wings. The head contains 3 stars representing the eagles head scanning the land below. The body runs along the band of the milky way and the wings are angled around 30 degrees towards the head.
The head of the eagle:
- Altair the brightest star and starting point for forming the shape of the eagle is the middle of the 3 stars in the head to the north east of the constellation.
- The second brightest star of Tarazed is also in the head of the eagle along its spine.
- There is a third star at the beak of the eagle a similar distance in the opposite direction from Altair (these 3 stars in a line are near to each other and help to confirm that you have correctly identified Altair).
The body and tail of the eagle:
- There is a star at the centre of the constellation marking the chest of the eagle. The star is double the length of the head away at around a 60 degree angle along the band of the milky way.
- Continuing along that direction the same distance again will identify the tail of the eagle.
The wings of the eagle:
The two wings are equidistant from the chest and are prominent stars. The tip of the wing is slightly further from the chest than the tail and perpendicular to the midpoint between the head and chest. Imagine the wings at the highest point when flapping.
- The left wing of the eagle imagining viewing it from below as it soars above is a slightly brighter star.
- The right wing is symmetrically located on the other side of the eagles body.
Aquila constellation in the Ancient World
Ancient Babylon and Egypt
Although most modern constellations were first published by Ptolemy within the Roman empire and trace origins to Babylon through ancient Greece, Aquila is suggested to instead have origins in ancient Egypt. Stories have associated the eagle with Zoroastrianism and the practice of towers of death. Where dead bodies were placed in towers so that birds of prey would scavenge and carry their souls to heaven.
Many scholars have however suggested that the constellation is one of few that does not have origins in Babylon and instead is connected to Horus the Egyptian god of the sun. The Daressy Zodiac or Zodiac of Cairo is an Egyptian artefact that shows the Hellenic Zodiacs alongside the Egyptian equivalent. The bronze disc shows an Falcon (or Eagle) alongside Sagittarius and is the primary evidence for the constellations origin in Egypt.
The sphere has Egyptian constellations side by side with the Babylonian constellations which were adopted by the Greeks, then Romans and eventually the common reference today. The Egyptian Zodiac parallel are:
Aries – Taurus – Gemini – Cancer – Leo – Virgo – Libra – Scorpio – Sagittarius – Capricorn – Aquarius – Pisces
Ram – Bull – Twins – Crab – Lion – Virgin – Scales – Scorpion – Archer – Goatfish – Waterman – 2 Fish
Alternate Egyptian Zodiac
Cat – Jackal – Serpent – Crab – Donkey – Lion – Goat – Bull – Falcon – Baboon – Ibis – Crocodile
In Greek mythology Aquila was associated with the eagle that carried the lightening bolt of Zeus. There are several stories of Zeus transforming himself into an eagle. Ancient texts reference the ability of eagles to look directly into the sun and being immune to lightening strikes. The Eagle holding a lightening bolt became the image of the Roman legion and was displayed on their shields.
Other Ancient cultures
In eastern folklore, the Chinese recognise the star Altair and Vega of neighbouring Lyra constellation as two lovers separated by the river of the milky way. in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain beliefs the constellation is associated with Garuda the half eagle-half human deity.
Main stars in Aquila constellation
Altair (+0.77m, 17ly, 5 suns, #12)
Altair is from the Arabic phrase ‘flying eagle’. It is the 12th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +0.77. The distance from earth is 17 light years. It is more than 5 times the size of the sun and noted for having a very rapid rotation. Altair appears at the head of the eagle.
Tarazed (+2.72m, 395ly, triple star, #118)
Tarazed is a Persian word meaning ‘scale’ as in balancing scale. It is the 118th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.72. The distance from earth is 395 light years. It is over 850,000 times the size of the sun. Tarazed is alongside Altair at the head of the eagle.
Okab (+2.99m, 83ly, binary star, #171)
Okab is from Arabic meaning ‘tail’, however its position in the constellation is on the wing. It is the 171st brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.99. The distance from earth is 83 light years. It is a double star system. Okab marks the left wing of the eagle as seen from below.
Tseen Foo (+3.24m, 286ly, double star, #218)
Tseen Foo is from the Mandarin for ‘celestial drumstick’ as it forms part of an asterism of this name in Chinese astronomy. It is the 218th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +3.24. The distance from earth is 286 light years. It is a double star system with the primary star around 110 times the size of the sun. Tseen Foo marks the right wing of the eagle as seen from below.
Deep Sky Objects
Hercules – Corona Borealis Great Wall – The largest identified structure in the universe with a span of 10 billion light years which crosses several constellations as reflected in its name.
Wadi Rum is one of the best locations in the world to see the full beauty of the stars. Combining high altitudes, clear skies and no light pollution. You may be surprised how many stars are visible to the naked eye. Come with us and spend a night under the stars.