Aries the Ram is a mid-size constellation, ranking 39th in size among the 88 modern-day constellations. While it is a respectable size at 441 square degrees, it is not very luminous and has only three stars that could be called “bright.”
Aries is an ancient constellation but it was not officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union until 1922 and its boundaries were not defined until 1930.
Aries is located in the Northern Hemisphere between Pisces to its west and Taurus to its east. It lies in the first quadrant of the northern hemisphere. Other neighboring constellations are Cetus, Perseus, and Triangulum.
It is a constellation in the northern hemisphere and is best visible in the winter and autumn skies. In order to find Aries, look to the west and first locate the Pleiades cluster, also known as the seven sisters. The Aries constellation lies between Pleiades and Pegasus, the “Great Square.”
The stars Hamal (Alpha Arietis), Sheratan (Beta arietis) and Mesarthim (Gamma Arietis) mark the ram’s head and horns and are the constellation’s three brightest stars.
Hamal (Alpha Arietis) is the brightest star. Its name is Arabic and means “lamb” or “head of the ram.” It is an orange giant that shines with a reddish colour and has a mass twice that of the Sun. Alpha Arietis is approximately 66 light years distant.
Sheratan (Beta Arietis) is a blue-white star approximately 59 light years away. The name comes from the Arabic phrase aš-šarāţān, which means “the two signs,” and refers to the vernal equinox, which the star marked together with Mesarthim (Gamma Arietis) a few thousand years ago.
Mesarthim (Gamma Arietis) is a triple star system. The origin of the name Mesarthim has been lost. The star has also at times been referred to as the First Star in Aries because at one point it was the nearest visible star to the point of the vernal equinox. The system is approximately 160 light years distant.
The constellation Aries also contains an interesting deep sky object, nebulae or galaxies, but the galaxies consist of several scientifically interesting spiral, elliptical and interacting galaxies.
Spiral galaxy NGC 772, when observed with a larger telescope, shows a spiral arm, but appears only as a small misty patch when viewed with a smaller telescope. It is located about 130 light years from Earth. Two supernovae were discovered in the galaxy.
ARIES CONSTELLATION MYTHOLOGY
First things first, when referring to the mythology of Aries, it is important to note that there are two distinctions to make. Myths about Aries, “the Ram” are different from myths about Aries, “the Greek god,” whose name is more often spelled “Ares.”
In Greek mythology Ares is the god of war. It is important to make a distinction between the role that Ares, in Greek mythology, plays and the role that his sister Athena, in Greek mythology, plays. Athena was also a goddess of war, but unlike Ares, Athena was strategic and disciplined, where Ares was chaotic and destructive.
Having these two Greek gods represent the two different sides of war is very telling as to how the ancient Greeks viewed war. If Athena was Napoleon then Ares was Rambo. Ares was known for his lust for blood, his chaotic nature, and his thoughtless aggression.
The ram Aries has nothing to do with the god Aries (Ares), despite the fact that they are both based on Greek mythology and they share the same name. The god Ares was most often shown as a dog or vulture when in animal form, though one of his more famous exploits involved him turning into the shape of a boar to kill the beautiful Adonis, who was in love with Ares’ lover, Aphrodite. He was not known to take the form of a ram.
Aries, the Ram, is a constellation of stars visible from earth that appear in what the Greeks thought to be the shape of a ram’s head. The mythology of Aries comes from the story of Jason and the Argonauts, whose main quest was to find the golden fleece of Aries the Ram in order to prove himself to be the rightful King of Iolcos in Thessaly.
So, the story goes that King Athamas of Orchomenus had two children. Phrixus and his sister Helle were the children of King Athamas and his wife Nephele. But the unhappy marriage of Athamas and Nephele was dissolved by the death of Nephele and Athamas took as his second a woman named Ino.
Of course, Ino couldn’t stand the children. Knowing her future in the kingdom, should Athamas die, Phrixus would inherit the crown. Resentful of Athamas’ treatment of his children, Ino came up with a devious plot to persecute and torment Phrixus and his sister Helle. Ino created a famine throughout Orchomenus wherein she had roasted all of the town’s crop seeds so they couldn’t grow. Scared of the idea of starvation, the local farmers went to the nearest Oracle for help. Ino had already bribed the Oracle to tell the people that the only way to stave off the famine was to sacrifice Phrixus and Helle to the gods.
Thanks to Ino’s bribery, when the king hesitated to make the sacrifice, the local priests insisted that the children must be sacrificed. While King Athamus was sorrowful for the doom to be visited on Phrixus and Helle, he couldn’t allow his people to go hungry. The King resolved to abide by what he thought was wise advice from the Oracle. King Athamus agreed to the sacrifice. Ino had successfully persuaded Athamas to sacrifice his children.
Athamas took the children to the top of a nearby mountain to make the sacrifice, but their mother, Nephele, was watching from heaven. From the spirit world, Nephele begged the gods to save her children. He sent down a powerful and beautiful ram covered with golden fleece as their transport. This was the ram of Aries.
Phrixus and Helle sprang onto its back, as the ram carried them high into the air and carried them off towards the land of Colchis where King Aeetes, the son of the Sun God Helios ruled. As the ram flew towards the Black Sea, Helle became giddy and lost her grip when she disobeyed a warning not to look down. She fell off into the channel connecting the Black and Mediterranean Seas. This channel, known as the Dardanelles was named the Hellespont by the Greeks, in honor of the young Helle.
Once Phrixus and the arrived in Colchis, the golden ram instructed Phrixus to sacrifice it to Zeus. The grateful Phrixus did the sacrifice and removed the ram’s Golden Fleece, presenting it to King Aeetes of Colchis, who was delighted with the gift. In return, King Aeetes conferred upon Phrixus his daughter Chalciope’s hand in marriage.
King Aeetes hung the golden fleece on an oak tree in the sacred Grove of Ares, which was protected by a dragon who never slept. The golden fleece was so brilliant that even in the night Colchis was bathed in a warm golden light. The ram was placed in the heavens for eternity in honor of its service to the gods.
Meanwhile, back in Iolcus, Thessaly, Pelias, the cousin of Phrixus had stolen the throne from the rightful successor, his nephew Jason. Pelias had the throne and the power, but he knew that Jason was the legitimate king. Jason did not have the power to overthrow Pelias, but Pelias could never be safe while Jason was around. Nor did Pelias have a good excuse to kill Jason. So Pelias challenged Jason with an apparently impossible task; he promised Jason that he would yield the throne, if Jason brought back the golden fleece from Colchis.
So began the epic quest of Jason and the Argonauts. After a long journey, Jason and the Argonauts, helped by Aeetes’ daughter Medea, finally succeed in stealing the fleece from King Aeëtes, escaped, and brought it back to Iolcus. Jason later hung the fleece in the temple of Zeus at Orchomeus.
For its sacrifice in helping Phrixus, the golden ram was placed up in the heavens to become the constellation of Aries.The myth says that Aries is a dim constellation because the ram no longer had its brightly shining fleece.