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Astronomy is a fun field to get into because there’s so much to learn and be discovered. Even the original constellations are interesting thousands of years after we found them. Here, we look at the Aquarius constellation and several interesting facts and myths about it to help you become a better stargazer.
Aquarius is one of the original 48 constellations that 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy cataloged. Since then, we have added another 40 constellations, bringing the number up to 88.
You will find Aquarius in the night sky close to other constellations, like Cetus the whale, Eridanus the river, and Pisces the fish. Since each of these constellations references water, many people label this area of the night sky, “The River.”
Aquarius is the 10th largest constellation out of the 88, and it covers over 980 square degrees of the night sky, so it’s quite big and nearly always visible.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, you can see the Aquarius constellation during the fall, from October to November. Stargazers in the southern hemisphere can see it best in the spring.
Two of the most popular planetary nebulae are easy to find using Aquarius because it contains both the Saturn nebula and the Helix nebula. The Saturn nebula is green with thin lobes on either side that cause it to look like Saturn, while the Helix nebula is one of the closest to Earth and has a shape similar to an eye.
Scientists have detected planets revolving around 12 of the stars that make up the Aquarius constellation. Some stars, like Trappist-1, have a significant number of planets, while others only have a few.
Beta Aquarius is a yellow giant star 2,300 times brighter than our sun and has a magnitude of 2.8. The second brightest star is Alpha Aquarii, which is 2,100 times more luminous than the sun and has a magnitude of 2.9.
You can find three Messier objects in the Aquarius constellation. The first is Messier 2, discovered in 1646 and one of the largest globular clusters of stars known to humans. It has a diameter of 175 light years and is 37,000 light years away, making it one of the oldest clusters in the galaxy. Messier 72 is a star that’s 168,000 times bigger than our sun, estimated to be around 9.5 billion years old. East of Messier 72 is Messier 73, a Y-shaped asterism. An asterism is a constellation within a constellation, and this one has four stars to create a small cluster.
The Trappist-1 star is one of 12 that has planets revolving around it. So far, scientists have discovered seven planets around the star, with three of them within the habitable zone that may be able to support life. According to astronomers, these planets also likely contain water.
The Aquarius constellation contains the Galaxy NGC 7727. It’s a spiral galaxy 67 million years away from the Milky Way. You can’t see it with the naked eye, but any small telescope should be strong enough.
The Aquarius constellation is one of the 12 that make up the zodiac calendar, and it covers the days between January 20 and February 18.
While the Aquarius constellation does contain two bright stars, they are fairly dim compared to many others in the night sky, and none of the stars have a magnitude above 2.
Three meteor showers throughout the year appear to emanate from the Aquarius constellation. The Eta Aquariids, the Delta Aquariids, and the Iota Aquariids. The Delta Aquariids is the most popular and always peaks in late July, producing a spectacular show.
The Aquarius constellation tells the Greek mythological story of Ganymede, a young boy that Zeus took as his lover and his water-bearer. When Ganymede was tired of the mistreatment, he dumped out the cups of water that he was carrying, which flooded the Earth. Instead of being angry, Zeus realized that he was wrong and made Ganymede immortal by placing him in the sky as a constellation.
There are quite a few interesting factoids about this large constellation. It was one of the original 48 that Ptolemy cataloged, and studying it can help you see deep space objects, galaxies, meteor showers, and more. It even contains the star Trappist-1, which has seven planets around it, three of which may contain water and are in the habitable zone that can support life.
Featured Image Credit: Nimomose, Shutterstock
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Ed Malaker is a veteran writer who contributes to a wide range of blogs covering information on computer programming, pets, birding, tools, fitness, guitars, and optics. Outside of writing, Ed is often found working in the garden or performing DIY projects in the house. Ed is also a musician, spending his time composing music for independent films or helping people repair their guitars.
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