Tag Archives: Zodiac

Aries (The ram)

Constellation AriesAries is the zodiacal constellation named after the ram.  In ancient times, this constellation represented the golden fleece that was stolen by Jason and the Argonauts. It is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remain among the 88 modern constellations. It is located on the ecliptic between Pisces and Taurus, and just south of Triangulum. It is highest in the sky at darkness and can be best seen in December.  Its brightest star is Hamal (Alpha Arietis), and most of this constellation’s stars can be picked out in most light polluted urban skies, but the constellation bears little resemblance to a ram.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aries_(constellation)

IAU Aries chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.
IAU Aries chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014
jim@jrjohnson.net

Pisces (The fishes)

Constellation PiscesThis zodiacal constellation is a rather dim grouping of stars that are strung out low across the southern sky, just below the Great Square of Pegasus. Pisces is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remain among the 88 modern constellations. It is highest in the sky and best observed at nightfall in December. The intersection of the ecliptic and the celestial equator lie within this constellation. There are two such intersections that mark the two equinoxes. At the intersection in Pisces, the Sun is moving from south to north, so this is the point of the Vernal (spring) Equinox. This constellation is home to just one Messier object, M74.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pisces_(constellation)

IAU Pisces chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011

© James R. Johnson, 2014
jim@jrjohnson.net

Aquarius (The water bearer)

Constellation AquariusAquarius, the water bearer, is a rather dim and nondescript zodiacal constellation. This southern constellation was cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is located in a region known to  the ancients as “the sea” because several water constellations, to include Capricornus (the sea goat), Piscis Austrinis (the fish), Pisces (the fishes), and Cetus (the sea monster) are gathered there. It is situated on the ecliptic between Capricornus and Pisces, and is just south of the Great Square of Pegasus. Aquarius reaches its highest nightfall ascension in November. Three globular star clusters, M2, M72 and M73 are the only Messier objects found in this constellation. The Eta Aquariids is the strongest meteor shower radiating from Aquarius, peaking at about 35 meteors per hour between May 5th and 6th.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquarius_(constellation)

IAU Aquarius chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), January 27, 1997.
IAU Aquarius chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), January 27, 1997.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Capricornus (The sea goat)

Constellation CapricornusCapricornus, the sea goat, is a zodiacal constellation and one of the 48 constellations cataloged by Ptolemy in the 2nd century. It is located on the ecliptic between Sagittarius and Aquarius, and is south of the Summer Triangle and the Great square of Pegasus.  Capricornus reaches its highest nightfall ascension in October. Its alpha star, Deneb Algedi (Delta Capricorni), is just brighter than magnitude 3, and can be seen under most reasonable conditions. The remainder of the constellation is rather dim and difficult to see in light-polluted urban skies. The globular star cluster, M30, is the only Messier object in this constellation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capricornus

IAU Capricornus chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.
IAU Capricornus chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Sagittarius (The archer)

Constellation SagittariusSagittarius, the archer, is a zodiacal constellation that is rather easily found because of its distinctive teapot asterism. It is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is located on the ecliptic between Scorpius and Capricornus. It can also be found by starting at Altair (a Summer Triangle star) and tracing southward along Aquila’s long axis. As is situated on southern most point of the ecliptic, this constellation hangs low in the southern sky, reaching its highest nightfall ascension in August. The Sun’s arrival at the southernmost point of the ecliptic around December 21st marks Winter Solstice and the first day of Winter.

This constellation has the distinction of presenting the foreground stars in the direction of the dense center of the Milky Way galaxy, which is rich in Messier objects. As such, it is worth taking the time to scan this constellation with binoculars or a small telescope. Several well-known nebula can be found in Sagittarius to include the Lagoon Nebula (M8), the Horseshoe Nebula, the Omega Nebula (M17), the Trifid Nebula (M20), and the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud (M24). Other Messier objects include M18, M22, M23, M25, M28, M54, M55, M69, M70 and M75.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagittarius_(constellation)

IAU Sagittarius chart, Sky & Telescope magazine, June 5, 2011.
IAU Sagittarius chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Scorpius (The scorpion)

Constellation ScorpiusScorpius is perhaps the most beautiful of the zodiacal constellations. This southern constellation is located on the ecliptic between Libra and Sagittarius and is situated south of Ophiuchus. Antares (Alpha Scorpii), the reddish 1st magnitude star might first catch the observers attention. Then look for the remainder of the constellation which includes a distinct head, long slender body, curling tail, and stinger of a scorpion. Even though Sagittarius is on the lowest point of the ecliptic, Scorpius is the southernmost of the zodiacal constellations, which tends to leave the tail hanging below the treeline for us northern latitude observers. Southbound travelers in July, which is when Scorpius reaches its highest nightfall ascension, should make it a point to observe this very pretty constellation.

Scorpius’ location on the Milky way makes it home for many deep sky objects, such as the Butterfly Cluster (M6) and the Ptolemy Cluster (M7). Other objects cataloged by Charles Messier include globular clusters M4 and M80.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scorpius

IAU Scorpius chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine, 5 June 2011.
IAU Scorpius chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), 5 June 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014
jim@jrjohnson.net

Libra (The scales)

Constellation LibraLibra, the scales, is a small zodiacal constellation of  rather dim stars that was cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is located on the ecliptic between Virgo and Scorpius, and is to the south of Ophiuchus. This southern constellation, which never rises very far above the horizon, reaches its highest nightfall ascension in June. Its brightest star, Zubenelgenubi, is just brighter then 3rd magnitude, which can be a challenge to see in some light-polluted urban skies.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libra_(constellation)

IAU Libra chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Libra chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Virgo (The virgin)

Constellation VirgoVirgo, the virgin, is one of the zodiacal constellations,  is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and is the 2nd largest constellation in the sky. It can be found at is highest point in the sky at nightfall in March. Virgo is located on the ecliptic, flanked by Leo and Libra. It can also be found by following the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle through Arcturus in Bootes to Spica (Alpha Virginis), Virgo’s brightest star. Some of Virgo’s remaining stars can be difficult to see in light-polluted urban skies because this is not a particularly bright constellation. Within Virgo is one of the two points where the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator.  The moment of the Sun’s southward crossing of the celestial equator as it moves along the ecliptic is the Autumnal Equinox, which marks the first day of Fall.

The Virgo Cluster is a very large scale object spanning about eight degrees and containing 1,300 or more individual galaxies. The cluster is centered in Virgo, and extends northward into Coma Berenices. The member galaxies that were cataloged by Charles Messier are M49, M58, M59, M60, M61, M84, M86, M87, M89, and M90. Many other galaxies in this cluster have NGC designations. The Sombrero Galaxy, M104, is a very unusual galaxy in Virgo that is not a member of the Virgo Cluster.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgo_(constellation)

IAU Virgo chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Virgo chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.

Leo (The lion)

Constellation LeoLeo, the lion, is a distinctive zodiacal constellation that was cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is located on the ecliptic between Cancer and Virgo, and can be found below the bowl of the Big Dipper with both constellations arriving at their highest nightfall ascension in April.  Leo closely resembles a crouching lion with its rather distinct backward question mark, or sickle asterism. This constellation features the bright star Regulus (Alpha Leonis) at the back of the lion’s head.

The most famous deep sky object in Leo is The Leo Triplet is a close grouping of the galaxies M65, M66 (displayed) and NGC3628 that can be seen together in a single telescopic field of view. For those observing with telescopes, there are several other galaxies cataloged by Charles Messier are located in Leo, to include M65, M66, M95, M96 and M105. Leo is also home to the famous Leonids meteor shower that occurs during November, peaking at about 10 meteors per hour on November 14th and 15th.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_(constellation)

IAU Leo chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg, June 5, 2011.
IAU Leo chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Cancer (The crab)

CancerCC_croppedCancer, the crab, is a zodiacal constellation of rather dim stars that can be difficult to see in light polluted skies. It is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. Cancer is located on the ecliptic, half way between Pollux in Gemini and Regulus in Leo, and is highest in the sky at nightfall in March. If Cancer’s stars are not visible, try using binoculars, and then look again once the various stars in the constellation have been located. Cancer is home to two Messier objects, M44 (the Beehive Cluster, or Praesepe) and M67.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer_(constellation)

IAU Cancer chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.
IAU Cancer chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 4, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net