Located in the northern celestial hemisphere, Aries is one of the constellations of the zodiac. The name Aries is Latin for ram, and can trace its history to Ptolemy’s 48 constellations described by the 2nd century. In regards to size, the constellation is in the middle, ranking 39th overall size, with an area of 441 square degrees. This corresponds to 1.1% of the celestial sphere. There are several stars in the constellation that have extrasolar planets.
Although Aries came to represent specifically the ram whose fleece became the Golden Fleece of Ancient Greek mythology, the constellation has a history that goes back to the late Babylonian era. At that time, the constellation represented a ram since late Babylonian times.
Different cultures have incorporated the stars of Aries into different constellations including twin inspectors in China and a porpoise in the Marshall Islands. Aries is a relatively dim constellation, possessing only four bright stars. The deep-sky objects of Aries are faint and include several pairs of interacting galaxies.
|Visibility In Pacific Northwest||September to February|
|Best Times To View||December|
|Right Ascension||01h 46m 37.3761s–03h 29m 42.4003s|
|Area||441 square degrees|
|Main Stars||4, 9|
|Meteor showers||6 of them|
|Neighboring Constellations||Perseus, Triangulum, Pisces, Cetus, Taurus|
Aries is recognized as an official constellation now, albeit as a specific region of the sky, by the International Astronomical Union. It was originally defined in ancient texts as a specific pattern of stars, and has remained a constellation since ancient times; it now includes the ancient pattern as well as the surrounding stars. In the description of the Babylonian zodiac given in the clay tablets known as the MUL.APIN, the constellation, now known as Aries, was the final station along the ecliptic. The MUL.APIN was a comprehensive table of the risings and settings of stars, which likely served as an agricultural calendar. Modern-day Aries was known as MULLÚ.ḪUN.GÁ, “The Agrarian Worker” or “The Hired Man”. Although likely compiled in the 12th or 11th century BC, the MUL.APIN reflects a tradition which marks the Pleiades as the vernal equinox, which was the case with some precision at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age. The earliest identifiable reference to Aries as a distinct constellation comes from the boundary stones that date from 1350 to 1000 BC. On several boundary stones, a zodiacal ram figure is distinct from the other characters present. The shift in identification from the constellation as the Agrarian Worker to the Ram likely occurred in later Babylonian tradition because of its growing association with Dumuzi the Shepherd. By the time the MUL.APIN was created—by 1000 BC—modern Aries was identified with both Dumuzi’s ram and a hired laborer. The exact timing of this shift is difficult to determine due to the lack of images of Aries or other ram figures.
In ancient Egyptian astronomy, Aries was associated with the god Amon-Ra, who was depicted as a man with a ram’s head and represented fertility and creativity. As the constellation was the location of the vernal equinox, it was called the “Indicator of the Reborn Sun.”
Aries was not fully accepted as a constellation until classical times. In Hellenistic astrology, the constellation of Aries is associated with the golden ram of Greek mythology that rescued Phrixus and Helle on orders from Hermes, taking Phrixus to the land of Colchis.
In traditional Chinese astronomy, stars from Aries were used in several constellations.
The first lunar mansion in Hindu astronomy was called “Aswini”, after the traditional names for Beta and Gamma Arietis, the Aswins.
In Hebrew astronomy Aries was named “Taleh;” it signified either Simeon or Gad, and generally symbolizes the “Lamb of the World.” The neighboring Syrians named the constellation “Amru,” and the bordering Turks named it “Kuzi.”
In the Marshall Islands, several stars from Aries were incorporated into a constellation depicting a porpoise. Other Polynesian peoples recognized Aries as a constellation. The Marquesas islanders called it Na-pai-ka; the Māori constellation Pipiri may correspond to modern Aries as well. In indigenous Peruvian astronomy, a constellation with most of the same stars as Aries existed. It was called the “Market Moon” and the “Kneeling Terrace”, as a reminder for when to hold the annual harvest festival, Ayri Huay.
Aries has 3 prominent stars that form an asterism, which were designated Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Arietis by Johann Bayer. The stars Alpha and Beta are commonly used for navigation, as α Arietis, called Hamal, is the brightest star in Aries.
NGC 772 is a spiral galaxy that shows obvious nebulosity and ellipticity in an amateur telescope. It is home to many star forming regions; this is due to gravitational interactions with other galaxies.
NGC 678 and NGC 680 are a pair of galaxies in Aries that are only about 200,000 light-years apart.
NGC 821 is an elliptical galaxy and is unusual because of the hints of an early spiral structure, which is normally only found in lenticular and spiral galaxies.
Make sure to check out other articles on the site, including a brief introduction to constellations, other constellation articles, and more!
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