Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

In last month’s issue, we talked about Pegasus, Aquarius, and the southern fish, Piscis Austrinus.

This time, we will discuss the most popular northern fish (Pisces), Aries the Ram and Triangulum the Triangle.

Map showing all the constellations of the month.

Pisces the fish

Pisces the Fish is one of the ancient constellations.

In Greek history, a huge sea monster, Typhon, was sent to destroy the gods. After being alerted to the monster’s presence, Aphrodite and Eros swam towards the Euphrates River.

Pisces Constellation

Depending on the version of the story, they were rescued by two fish or transformed into two fish. Either way, Pisces represents the two fish in question.

The rightmost (western) fish of the two is not too difficult to see beneath the large Pegasus square. However, the leftmost (eastern) of the two fish is made up of fairly faint stars.

This constellation is a good test of vision in the dark skies of our provincial parks!

Triangle the Triangle

Any pattern of stars forms an asterism. The constellations are the asterisms accepted by the International Astronomical Union.

Triangle constellation

Triangulum is perhaps the simplest of all the constellations due to its composition of a three-star asterism. It is often represented as a triangular ruler, but there are questions about whether it should represent a triangle or the Greek letter “Delta”.

The beautiful spiral galaxy

Within the constellation of the Triangle lies one of the most beautiful and easily visible galaxies in the night sky. Known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, Triangle Galaxy or M33, it is a classic example of a spiral galaxy.

See also  Polar bears and prothonotary warblers: species on the edge

The galaxy is quite large and, as a result, has a low surface brightness. This means that its brightness spreads over a large area, making it difficult to see.

Ironically, while it may be visible through binoculars or with the naked eye in dark skies, it is very difficult to see with most small telescopes.

Galaxy photograph taken by the Hubble telescope

In this photograph from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (above), the spiral arms are easy to distinguish, as are the H2 areas (red spots along the arms).

These regions host massive star formations amidst interstellar clouds and indicate that M33 is a younger galaxy.

M33 is a slightly closer neighbor than its more famous older brother, M31, the Andromeda galaxy (which will be discussed in next month’s issue). Our galaxy, along with M33, M31 and about 20 other galaxies, form what we call the Local Group, a flexible galactic cluster.

Aries the ram

In many ancient cultures, the ram had special importance as a sacrificial animal.

In this particular case, Aries the Ram is the animal from which the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology originates. Jason sought the golden fleece on his journey with the Argonauts.

After being sent by the gods on a mission of mercy, Aries shed his fleece, represented by the faint constellation. The Golden Fleece itself would make Jason king if he could obtain it, and so began the search for it.

aries constellation

The ancient astronomer Hipparchus noted that the sun’s path in the sky crosses Aries on the first day of the spring equinox. That is why it was called “First Point of Aries”.

See also  Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Breaking the Barrier

However, the Earth, like a child’s toy spinning top, slowly wobbles. This oscillation is known as precision and it takes approximately 26,000 years to complete one oscillation.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, the first point of Aries has moved one-twelfth of a full circle. Therefore, today is nowhere near Aries during the spring equinox.

Check out our other featured posts on constellations!