Pisces (“the fish”) is a zodiac constellation that is shaped to symbolize two fish tied together with a rope. While it is the 14th largest constellation in the night sky, it is still a challenge to spot in the night sky with its brightest stars, Eta Piscium, a faint yellow giant located around 294 light years distant with a visual magnitude of just +3.62.
Represents: Venus and Cupid
The constellation is most commonly associated with Aphrodite (Venus) and her son Eros (Cupid), who transformed themselves into fish in order to escape the terrifying giant Typhon. The immortal monster had been sent by Gaia (mother earth) to punish the gods for defeating their predecessors, the Titans, and the story goes that before turning themselves into fish, they tied each other to a piece of rope at each end so they would not lose one another in the turbulence of the water.
Location: Northern Constellation
Pisces is a northern hemisphere constellation seen between latitudes +90° and -65°, and located in a region of the sky called “The Heavenly Waters”, or the “Sea”. The easternmost fish of the constellation can be found just beneath Andromeda, and the westernmost fish just below the Great Square of Pegasus, with the imaginary line connecting the two travelling southwards in the direction of Cetus.
Best Seen: Autumn
Although the constellation is located in the northern sky, it is bisected by the ecliptic, meaning that it is visible from both hemispheres at different times in the year. From the northern hemisphere, Pisces is best seen in autumn, and in the southern hemisphere in spring. The ancient Greeks also welcomed Pisces as a sign of improving weather, of the two fish, one sees the end of winter, the other the beginning of spring.
Pisces is 14th largest constellations, taking up an area of 889 square degrees in the northern sky. In terms of its shape, the constellations looks like a large “V”, with a “circle” of stars on each end of the “V”. The base of the “V”, which is said to represent the cord that ties the fish together, is formed by the star Alrescha (Alpha Piscium). The Great Square of Pegasus seems to fit neatly into the “V” of Pisces, which makes finding the “fish” to either side of the Great Square easy.
Notable Stars: None Brighter Than 4th Magnitude
Although Pisces has no bright stars, the constellation is known for its large, massive stars, some of which are described below-
– Kullat Nunu (Eta Piscium) is located about 294 light years away, and with an apparent visual magnitude of 3.62 is the most luminous star in the constellation. Classified as a yellow giant, the star is 26 times as big as the Sun, about 4 times as massive, and at least 316 times as bright. Kullat Nunu derives from the Babylonian words Nunu meaning “fish,” and “kullat” referring to the cord that ties the fish together.
– Gamma Piscium, the constellation’s second brightest star, is a yellow giant (G9III) found about 138 light years away with an apparent visual magnitude of 3.69. This 5.5 billion years old star is 10 times bigger than the Sun, and 61 times more luminous. Gamma Piscium is one of the starts that make up the ‘Circlet of Pisces’ asterism that represents the head of the western “fish” in the constellation.
– Alrischa (Alpha Piscium), the third brightest star in Pisces, is a binary system situated 139 light years from our solar system with an apparent visual magnitude of 3.82. The components are both A-type main-sequence dwarf stars which orbit each other once every 700 years. They are around twice as big as the Sun, with 31 and 12 times its luminosity, respectively. Alrescha derives from the Arabic for “the well rope”.
Other stars of interest in Pisces includes the blue-white subgiant Fum al Samakah; the blue-white dwarf Upsilon Piscium; the yellow-white subgiant Omega Piscium; the yellow giant Omicron Piscium; the yellow-white dwarf Iota Piscium; the orange giant stars Theta Piscium, Epsilon Piscium, Nu Piscium, TauPiscium, and Chi Piscium, as well as several binary systems, including Delta Piscium, Xi Piscium, and Phi Piscium.
Notable Objects: Many Galaxies
– Messier 74 (M74, NGC 628) is located about 30 million light years away, and is an excellent example of a grand-design spiral galaxy seen face-on. With a low surface brightness that gives is an apparent visual magnitude of 10.0, it is one of the most challenging Messier object for amateur observers to find and observe. Look for M47 about 1.5 degrees toward the east-northeast of the most luminous star in Pisces, Eta Piscium. The galaxy is thought to contain around 100 billion stars.
– CL 0024+1654 is a huge galaxy cluster about 3.6 billion light years away that is made up of mainly yellow elliptical and spiral galaxies. A notable feature of the cluster is the fact that it acts as a gravitational lens, bringing to the fore at least 4 images of a galaxy located about 2.1 billion light years behind it – at 4, 10, 11, and 12 o’clock from the center of the grouping of yellow galaxies.
– Pisces Dwarf (PGC 3792) is a small, dim, irregular galaxy found 2.5 million light years away with an apparent visual magnitude of 14.2. Measurements suggest that most of the galaxy’s stars are about 8 billion years old, and although star formation has slowed down considerably, several small star forming regions still exist in its outer fringes. PGC 3792 belongs to the Local Group of Galaxies, and is suspected to be a satellite of the Triangulum Galaxy (M33), located in the constellation Triangulum.
Other deep-sky objects of interest in Pisces includes the M74 Group of galaxies; the elliptical galaxy NGC 474 and NGC 57; the spiral galaxies NGC 7537, CGCG 436-030, NGC 60, and NGC 514; the twin spiral galaxy NGC 7459; the double radio galaxy NGC 383; and the interacting galaxies referred to as Arp 284 (NGC 7714 and NGC 7715).
Meteor Showers: The Piscids
Pisces has just one meteor shower associated with it called The Piscids. This weak shower runs from August 12th to October 7th, with a peak that runs from about September 11th to September 20th. Observers can expect to see a maximum rate of about 5 meteors per hour. A suspected northern branch of the Piscids could peak on October 12th, but the existence of this branch is yet to be confirmed.
Planets: 41+ Known
All told, Pisces has 39 stars with 41 planets between them. The star 54 Piscium, for instance, has a planet about the same mass as Saturn orbiting it once every 52 days, while another star in Pisces, 6 G. Piscium, is a yellow star 65 light-years distant, with two planets in its orbit.
In astrology, the Sun is said to pass in front of this constellation between February 20th and March 20th at the time of the March equinox. In astronomy however, the Sun actually passes though the constellation of Pisces from March 12th to April 18th, which is about a month later, after which time the Sun appears in the constellation Aries. Other astrological associations are”
Date of Birth: Feb 19 to March 20
Sign Ruler: Neptune
Birth Stone: Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise
Color: Turquoise, sea green, white
Characteristics: Dedicated, kind, good-humoured
Compatibility: Scorpio, Cancer and Capricorn
The Age of Pisces
An astrological age refers to which constellation the Sun appears in at the time of the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of spring. From an astronomical perspective, we are currently living in the age of Pisces, which started in 68 BCE and will continue until 2597 when the Age of Aquarius begins. Every 2,150 years, the age changes, and many people believe that different ages are meant to bring different historical events that are predestined to shape the course of the future. After the Age of Pisces we will enter the Age of Aquarius.