Pisces Constellation

pisces constellation

   Pisces is a very ancient constellation. Its name means “the fish” (plural) in Latin. It is usually depicted as two fish swimming in opposite directions, connected at the tails by a piece of string. 

   Pisces is the 14th constellation in size, occupying an area of 889 square degrees.

LOCATING PISCES

   Pisces lies in the northern sky and covers a large V-shaped region. It is located in an area of the sky known as “the Sea” or “the Water”, which is full of water related constellations. Its large area, coupled with its dim stars, makes it hard to pick out in the night sky. Pisces can be found during the months of September through January. Northern Hemisphere observers are able to see Pisces most clearly in early autumn.

   It is located in the first quadrant of the northern hemisphere and can be seen at latitudes between +90° and -65°. Pisces is located next to Aquarius (to the west) and Aries (to the east). Other neighboring constellations are Andromeda, Cetus, Pegasus and Triangulum.

NOTABLE STARS

   Kullat Nunu (Eta Piscium) is the brightest star in the constellation. The meaning to its name, Nunu is the Babylonian word for “fish,” and “Kullat” refers either to a bucket or the cord used to tie the fish together. Eta Piscium is a bright yellow giant star approximately 294 light years distant. The star’s luminosity is 316 times that of the Sun and it is 26 times larger. 

   The constellation’s second brightest star is Gamma Piscium. It is a yellow giant about 130 light years distant. The star is ten times the size of the Sun and 61 times more luminous. It is believed to be about 5.5 billion years old. It is part of an asterism called the Circlet of Pisces, which represents the head of the western fish in the constellation. Gamma Piscium will not be in the Sun’s vicinity for long. The star moves three quarters of an arcsecond across the sky every year.

   Alrescha (Alpha Piscium) is the third brightest star in Pisces. It marks the point where the cords joining the tails are knotted together. The name Alrescha is derived from the Arabic al-rišā, which means “the cord,” as it illuminates the spot where it appears that the tails of the two fish are knotted together. It is approximately 139 light years distant. Alpha Piscium is a close binary star made up of a pair of white dwarf stars in close proximity. The primary star is 31 times more luminous than the Sun, while the companion has 1.8 times the Sun’s mass and is 12 times brighter. The stars orbit each other with a period of over 700 years.

   Fum al Samakah (Beta Piscium), which is Arabic for “mouth of the fish.” It is a blue-white main sequence star and is approximately 492 light years distant.  

   Another interesting object in Pisces is Van Maanen’s Star. It is the 31st closest star system. Other than Sirius B in the Canis Major constellation and Procyon B in the Canis Minor constellation, it is the third closest white dwarf to the Sun. Van Maanen’s star has elements heavier than helium in its spectrum. It has a mass 63 percent that of the Sun and is estimated to be around three billion years old. This star is 14.1 light years distant.

   Pisces also contains notable deep space object called Messier 74. Messier 74 is a spiral galaxy that can be seen face-on. It is approxi-mately 30 million light years distant from the Sun. It is believed to contain about 100 billion stars. Two supernovae have been observed in Messier 74, SN 2002ap in 2002 and SN2003gd in 2003. SN 2002ap is a rare type of supernovae called hypernovae, only discovered in recent years. Hypernovae are supernovae explosions with a substantially higher amount of energy than regular supernovae, and are believed to be the origin of long-duration gamma-ray bursts, which are some of the most energetic events observed in space. In March 2005, an ultra-luminous X-ray source was discovered in Messier 74 which emitted more X-ray power than a neutron star in periods of about every two hours, indicating the presence of an intermediate-mass black hole. The suspected black hole is believed to have a mass of 10,000 Suns. Be-cause the galaxy’s spiral arms are so clearly defined, Messier 74 is one of the best examples of a grand design spiral galaxy. Its disk and spiral arms contain star forming regions and have low surface density, which is why the object is a difficult one for amateur astronomers to observe.

PISCES CONSTELLATION MYTHOLOGY

   By most accounts, the mythology of Pisces follows a single legend:

   In Greek myth, one of the sons of Gaia and Tartaros, Typhon decided to overthrow Zeus. Typhon is a monstrous god who is very tall with a wicked gleam in his eyes. He has hundred dragon-heads sprouting out in the place of his fingers. He was as strong as the Titans.

   The monster Typhon descends upon Mount Olympus. Many of the gods of the Mount Olympus went into hiding fearing his atrocities. Typhon happened to see Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and her son Eros, the god of love on the banks of a river. To escape from his clutches Aphrodite and Eros turned into a fish and swam into the depths of the river. They had tied their tails together so they would not be separated.

   According to different versions of this legend, either Aphrodite and Eros turn into fish, two fish approach them and swim them away to safety, or they turn into fish AND two other fish take them to safety.  Whichever version you prefer, truth be told, it doesn’t really matter.  One way or another, the two escape from Typhon thanks to two fish.

   These two fish were later hung in the sky as the constellation Pisces. This was done to commemorate the day when the goddess of beauty and god of love were saved from being destroyed.

  

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