Star Constellation Facts: Aries, the Ram

Star Constellation Facts: Aries, the Ram
Alexander Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas (1822)

Aries is an inconspicuous zodiacal constellation representing a ram, and despite being a familiar sight to ancient civilizations, Aries was not recognized as a constellation until 1922 when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) gave it official recognition as one of the 88 constellations. Interestingly it was only in 1930 that the outline of its boundaries was defined by Belgian astronomer Eugène Delporte.

Location: A Northern Constellation

Aries is located in the northern hemisphere, but can be observed from latitudes between +90° and -60°, meaning it is visible to observers in much of the southern hemisphere as well. Aries can be found between Taurus to the east and Pisces to the west, near the “Great Square” of Pegasus. It can also be located by following an imaginary line from Polaris past the star Segin in the constellation Cassiopeia, until you reach the Pleiades and the Square of Pegasus.

Best Seen: Winter and Spring

Aries is best seen in winter and spring, with the constellation culminating at about 10 PM Local Time during the last days of November, and again at about 8 PM in late December. During these times, Aries is visible for most of the night. However, it is not among the most conspicuous constellations, and a dark sky is needed to see it best.

Represents the Horns of a Ram

The horns involved belong to the flying ram that Zeus sent to save Phrixus and his sister Helle from the murderous intentions of their jealous stepmother, Ino.

Shape: Indistinct

Although Aries is the 39th largest constellation in the sky and takes up an area of 441 square degrees, there is nothing in its shape that seems to justify such a large “surface area”. Even the most ardent student of constellation shapes would be hard pressed to identify a ram’s horn in the constellation; practical-minded observers of Aries see nothing but a kinked line made up of four moderately bright stars.

Notable Stars: Hamal (2nd magnitude)

Star Constellation Facts: Aries, the RamAries has no bright or particularly notable stars; in fact, the most distinctive feature of the principal stars in this constellation is their total lack of anything that makes them remarkable, except perhaps for the fact that Hamal (Alpha Arietis) once marked the position of the vernal equinox- which point now lies in Pisces. Below are a few more details of Aries’ principal stars:

– Hamal (Alpha Arietis) is the most luminous star in Aries, with an apparent visual magnitude that varies between 1.98 and 2.04. It is a K-type orange giant roughly twice as massive as the Sun. It is about 66 light years away.

– Sheratan (Beta Arietis) is a main sequence white star, and a spectroscopic binary, with the companion suspected to be a Sun-like G-class star. The system is located about 60 light years away, and has a combined apparent visual magnitude of 2.64. Together with Gamma Arietis, Sheratan marked the position of the vernal equinox several thousand years ago.

– Botein (Delta Arietis) is a K-type orange giant that is about 13 times as big as the Sun. From about 170 light years away, it has an apparent visual magnitude of 4.35. Its name derives from the Arabic word “butain”, which translates into “belly”.

Notable Objects: Several Galaxies

Although the few deep sky objects in Aries are all very dim and difficult to find, they are nevertheless of some scientific interest. There are several spiral, elliptical, and even interacting galaxies in Aries, but only two objects are of interest to amateurs.

– NGC 772 (Arp 78) is an unbarred spiral galaxy located about 130 light years away, with an apparent visual magnitude of 11.3. Dark skies and large aperture telescopes are required to see this galaxy; look for it a few degrees to the southeastward of Beta Arietis. Two supernovae, SN 2003 hl and SN 2993 iq, were discovered in the galaxy. The galaxy has an elliptical galaxy NGC 770, as a satellite, but its apparent magnitude of 14.2 renders it invisible to all but the biggest-aperture amateur telescopes.

– NGC 1156 is an irregular, Magellanic- type dwarf galaxy with an apparent visual magnitude of 12.3. What distinguishes it from other, similar galaxies are the facts that its core is significantly larger than usual, and that there are large areas of contra-rotating gas in the galaxy, which suggests that NGC 1156 might have ingested a smaller galaxy in the distant past. Look for the galaxy a few degrees to the northwest of Delta Arietis.

Planets: 7 Stars with 10 Planets

All told, Aries has 7 stars with 10 planets between them. One star, HIP 14810, which is a G5- type star, has three planets, all of which are only about ten times as large as Earth.

Meteor Showers: May Arietids (+4 others)

Although there are 5 meteor showers associated with Aries, only one, the May Arietids, is worth noting. The others, The Autumn Arietids, The Delta Arietids, The Epsilon Arietids, and The Daytime-Arietids are weak showers that produce no more than a few meteors per hour, and then often in the day time, when they are difficult to see anyway.

– The May Arietids is arguably the strongest daytime meteor shower of all. It runs from May 22nd to July 2nd with a peak on June 7th. This shower typically produces about 60 meteors per hour during the peak, many of which are spectacular fireballs that enter the atmosphere at speeds of up to 39 km/sec. Don’t expect to see any, though, as they occur during the daytime in the direction of the Sun

Astrological Associations

Aries, the Ram

The Sun as viewed from Earth passes through Aries from April 19th to May 14th each year, but in astrology the Sun enters this constellation between March 21st and April 19th, marking the start of the astrological new year, and the vernal spring equinox when day and night are equal. Over time, precession has meant the vernal equinox has the constellation Pisces as its backdrop, but the March equinox is still referred to as the first point of Aries. Other astrological associations are-

Date of Birth: March 21 to April 19
Sign Ruler: Mars
Element: Fire
Birth Stone: Emerald, diamond
Metal: Iron
Color: Red, Black, White.
Characteristics: Energetic, honest, versatile, brave, adventurous
Compatibility: Leo, Sagittarius

Mythology of Aries

In classical Greek mythology, Aries is associated with the Golden Fleece, which was a normal fleece up until the time Phrixus, the son of a Boeotian king, killed and skinned the ram it belonged to. The story goes that Phrixus and his sister, Helle, were saved by a ram when their jealous stepmother, Ino, tried to have them killed as part of a plan to ingratiate herself with the king. However, during the flight on the ram, Helle fell off and was drowned in a spot that is today known as the Hellespont.

Phrixus made it to safety in the land of Colchis, and to show his gratitude at being saved, Phrixus promptly killed and skinned the ram that had saved him. The fleece was placed in a nearby temple as an offering to the gods, but to everyone’s astonishment, the fleece turned into solid gold during the night, which event inspired Jason and his friends (including Castor and Pollux) to recover the now-golden fleece in a bloody campaign that cost many heroes their lives.

Jason’s ship also accounts for several beautiful constellations in the southern sky, including Vela, the sails of the ship, and the last part of the ship to sink below the horizon during the early evening hours in June; Puppis, the poop of the Argos Navis; Carina, the Keel; and Pyxis, the compass of Argos Navis.