First of all, what is a constellation?
Before we dive into the Pisces Constellation, let’s first take a look at what exactly a constellation is.
A constellation is an area on the celestial sphere (an imaginary sphere) where a group of visible stars are located.
The Constellations of the Zodiac lie along the plane of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun, defined as the circular path of the Sun across the sky).
These stars typically form a pattern or outline, which we perceive to represent an inanimate object, (like the fish hook or question mark), an animal (like the fishes), a mythical person (like Andromeda, from Greek mythology) or even a type of creature (Pegasus, Cetus, or the monster Typhon)
It is also an astronomy term used to describe a variety of groups of stars that have been given a specific name such as
Constellations are constantly moving and move in the direction from East to West.
The Constellation of Pisces – Facts in brief:
What is the Pisces Constellation? –
The Pisces Constellation is an ancient Constellation and one of the first 48 Constellations listed by the Greek/Roman astronomer Ptolemy in his 2nd century Almagest.
It is one of the 12 constellations of the zodiac.
Pisces ranks as the 14th largest constellation within the 88 modern constellations as seen in the night sky, and the 4th largest constellation of the Constellations of the Zodiac.
In Latin, the name Pisces means the ‘ the Fish’.
Pisces, sometimes abbreviated to Psc, is quite easy to recognize, as it resembles the fishes that are each connected by a single cord, that join at an apex: if you join the dots and use your imagination.
Pisces is a faint constellation that does not contain any classic bright Stars.
Where is the Pisces Constellation located? –
Pisces is positioned in the 1st quadrant of the Northern Hemisphere, and to the north and close to the celestial equator. It is sometimes referred to being located in the NQ1 Quadrant.
Where can Pisces be seen?
Co-ordinates of a right ascension, or left ascension and their declination are used to locate all of the Constellations, like Pisces.
The Stars of Pisces can be more easily observed from the Northern Hemisphere, on Earth, and also it can be viewed from the Southern Hemisphere, located between Aquarius, to the Northeast and Aries, to the Northwest.
In the Northern Hemisphere
The Constellation of Pisces is found at around 1 hours, 0 minutes right ascension and a 15-degree declination, in the Northern Celestial Sky.
The area of the sky where is located is right beside the easily identified ‘Square of Pegasus’ asterism, in the neighboring Constellation of Pegasus.
Visibility from the Northern Hemisphere
It’s visible in the Northern Hemisphere at latitudes between +90 degrees and – 65 degrees and covers an area of 889 square degrees in the sky.
Pisces has a number of neighboring Constellations, which can help locate the Constellation of Pisces.
These include: Aquarius; Aries; Pegasus; Andromeda; Cetus and Triangulum.
How can you identify Pisces in the night sky?
The simplest method for spotting any particular Constellationof the Zodiac from Earth is to first of all locate the brightest star in that Constellation, and then look at the neighboring illuminations, to see if you can identify a recognizable pattern.
Pisces is represented as the fishes.
The Pisces Constellation can be identified as two fish, one Western fish and one Eastern fish (the circlet of stars) appearing to be bound together by their tails with a piece of cord, in the night sky.
Pisces is a zodiacal Constellation located within the Milky Way and is faint in luminosity but still visible by naked eye in the sky.
The Star System of Pisces
The brightest star in Pisces is called Kullat Nunu (Eta Piscium) it has not been allocated the alpha star name in the Constellation.
It’s locatedapproximately 349.6 light years from our Solar System and has a magnitude of 3,62. It is a white to yellow Giant Star.
Spotting Pisces in the night sky
The easiest way to spot the Constellation of Pisceswould be to locate the alpha Star Alrescha (Alpha Piscium) in the Northern sky.
The next step is to try to imagine the surrounding shape.
The Alrescha Star is the middle point of the cord that joins two distant fishes, illuminated by a series of dots (the other Stars in the Constellation Pisces).
The second brightest Star in Pisces, Fum al Samakah, (beta Piscium) forms the imaginary mouth of the fish in the outline of Pisces.
This simple technique can be used to spot other Constellation patterns too like the Winged angel (Virgo) or the Goat (Capricornus).
The Constellation Pisces is located between the Constellations Aries, Constellation Pegasus and Constellation Aquarius.
So, if you find the Square of Pegasus, then look across to the left you will find the Western fish, of the pair, and slightly underneath towards the circlet of stars representing the eastern of the two fishes.
FACT: The ecliptic is the imaginary line tracing the route that The Sun, the Moon, and the Planets take across the sky each year.
The Constellation of Pisces is most prominent in mid-northern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, if looking Southeast during the month of November.
Pisces is sometimes regarded as the first Constellation of the Zodiac as the Sun houses Pisces (hides Pisces by passing in front) in March, at the time of the March equinox (the vernal equinox) from around March 12 to April 19.
The Sun then passes in front of Aries from April 19 to May 14.
A Tropical year is defines as the time between two March equinoxes.
FACT: There are two times in a year when the Sun is directly above the equator and the night and day is equal in length. These 2 points are where the ecliptic intersects with the celestial equator.
Pisces is at its highest in the sky in November when viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, but as time approaches the period when the Sun houses Pisces, it begins to fade.
The Sun is in Pisces in March.
The best time to spot Pisces is at night, around 21.00.
In the Southern Hemisphere it will remain visible in the months of spring
The best time of day to spot it is at night, around 22.00, although when viewed from the below the equator, Pisces will appear upside down!
How is it formed and named?
The Constellation of Pisces ranks as the 14th largest Constellation in the sky and the 4th biggestzodiacal constellation in the Northern Celestial Sky, and it fills an area of 889 square degrees.
It has a simple and easy to identify a shape like ‘two fish bound by their tails with a cord”.
It is formed by the positions of its 18 main Stars appearing like a pair of distant fishes. The Constellation of Pisces is visible by the naked eye.
Its name ‘Pisces’ is abbreviated to ‘Psc’, by the IAU and as ‘PISC’ by NASA.
The main Stars in Constellation Pisces
There are many different Stars within Pisces.
The named stars of the Constellations are listed by letters of the Greek alphabet, ranging in luminosity from the brightest Star, and usually start with Alpha, and then the rest of the stars list in decreasing order of luminosity through the Greek alphabet.
However in the Constellation of Pisces –
- Alrescha – The ‘Alpha star’, Alrescha, also known as Alpha Piscium, is not the brightest star in Pisces but it holds the alpha name.
- Alpherg – The brightest star in Pisces is called Alpherg, a G-type evolved Giant Star, with an apparent magnitude of 3.61
The other main Stars forming the outline of Pisces include:
- Kullat Nunu
- Torcularis Septenrionalis
- Fum al Samakah
- Van Maanen 2, or Van Naneen’s Star is the closest known solitary white dwarf Star to our solar system.
Al rescha, Al rischa, (alpha Piscium) is a bright Star in Pisces. This Arabic name means ‘the rope’ or ‘the cord’.
Gamma Piscium is the second brightest Star in Pisces, and is actually a yellow giant star, with the stellar classification of G9 III.
The importance of the Constellation Pisces pre-dates the ancient Greeks.
The importance to the Babylonians
Pisces is one of the oldest known Constellations as was acknowledged as far back as the Babylonians, and the Sumerians, who referred to it by the names Nu Nu and Sinutu4, meaning the swallow bird, and as Anunitum, meaning ‘Lady of Heaven’, (possibly referring to Aphrodite).
Who, or what represents Pisces? –
The Constellation Pisces, is represented by – the fishes
The reason is that it looks very similar to the outline of a pair of fishes that are loosely tied together by their tails.
How do the main Stars of Pisces form the shape of a pair of fish?
The main Stars
If you look up and into the night sky you can imagine the recognizable outline of theConstellation of Pisces, by the 18 main Stars, which make up the outline of its body.
Stars with Planets
Pisceshas 13 Stars with known Planets orbiting around them in the solar system but they are unlikely to be able to support life forms.
Stars without Planets
Pisces has further cataloged Stars with no planets.
The Constellation Piscesa total of 9 named stars in its asterism –
- Alpherg: Asrescha: Belenos: Citadelle: Ebla: FumalSamakah: Parumleo: Revati and Torcular.
It also has a total of 86 stars that are designated by Bayer Flamsteed.
Not all the stars within the Pisces Constellation are visible to the naked eye but with telescopes and modern imagery techniques is it possible to glimpse all of the stars.
When was it first discovered? –
The ancient Greeks were the first ancient culture to name the 88 Constellations in the sky.
They were each given 3-letter abbreviations to help identify them and the Stars within those Constellations are also referred to by those 3-letter codes.
It was the Greek Astronomer – Ptolemy, who first cataloged the Constellation of Pisces, in the 2nd Century (2 AD.). Ptolemy listed the various constellations in his Almagest (a book recording astronomical data).
When referring to a Star within a Constellation it is given the genitive form of the Constellation name. (‘Pisc’, with ‘ium’, giving Piscium’).
FACT: In Latin, the genitive is the case of description.
The named Stars in Pisces Constellation
Within the Constellation Pisces, the Stars would be referred to by: the name or the letter from the Greek Alphabet, in order of brightness followed by ‘Piscium’, (or their proper name) such as:
- Eta Piscium A, eta Psc, (Alpherg, Kullat-Nunu) – is the brightest Star in the Constellation, and a binary star (with eta Piscium B), located around 350 light years from the Sun, with an apparent magnitude of 3.62
- GammaPiscium (Simmah), – the second brightest Star a yellow star and a Giant Star star system. It’s located around 138 light years from Earth, with an apparent magnitude of 3.70
- OmegaPiscium(Dzaneb al Samkat) – is a sub Giant/Dwarf Star star with an apparent magnitude of 4.03. It’s located around 106 light years from Earth.
- IotaPiscium(i Psc) – is a single star and suspected variable Star. It’s located around 45 light years from Earth with an apparent magnitude of 4.13. In Chinese Iota Piscium means ‘thunderbolt’.
- OmicronPiscium (o Psc) – is a Binary Star and visible to the naked eye with an apparent magnitude of 4.26. It’s located around 280 light years from Earth.
- EpsilonPiscium (e Psc) – is a yellow-orange Star and visible to the naked eye with an apparent magnitude of 4.27. It’s located around 182 light years from Earth.
- Theta Piscium (theta Psc) – is a single orange-hued Star and although faint is visible to the naked eye with an apparent magnitude of 4.27. This is an aging Giant Star that is located around 149 light years from Earth.
- Alpha Piscium A (Alrescha, al Rescha) – is Binary Star with an apparent magnitude of 4.33. This is aging Giant Star that is located around 151 light years from the Solar System.
- 30 Piscium – is a solitary variable Star, visible by naked eye with an apparent magnitude of 4.37and around 410 light years away.
Fact: the brighter the luminosity of the star the lower the apparent magnitude number.
The Constellations change their positions throughout the year as the Earth rotates around the Sun.
This means our position in space is forever changing and as a result our view of what’s in space changes too, and will continue to do so.
Why and what is the purpose of the Pisces Constellation? –
In ancient times the dots, bright lights and perceived objects in the sky were of great interest and the makings of folklore to a great range of people from seamen to farmers.
From children to the elderly, we have had an ongoing fascination, with our solar system and star system. Perhaps it’s because the enormity and variety within it makes us realize just how large and exciting the universe is.
FACT: The Star System or Stellar System is a small number of stars that orbit around each other and are bound together by gravity.
When it becomes a large group of stars, again bound together in the same way, by gravity, it is known as a Galaxy or Star Cluster.
Whether they contain small groups of stars or larger groups of stars they both come under the classification of ‘Star System’.
The Constellations in the night sky were a useful navigation tool and guide as well as the subject of legends and myths, about Zodiac characters like Zeus, Pegasus and other powerful gods and goddesses.
42 of the Constellations have been named after animals with a story behind each name.
Background & Facts:
Part of the Zodiac
The Constellation of Pisces located in the Northern Sky, and also seen from the Southern Hemisphere is one of the largest constellations of the zodiac.
When the zodiac ‘ring’ or ‘belt’, of constellations is listed in order, as the 12 astrological zodiac signs (months) of the calendar from January to December, it lists as:
Capricorn; Aquarius; Pisces; Aries; Taurus; Gemini; Cancer; Leo; Virgo; Libra; Scorpio and Sagittarius
In the order of the vernal equinox (where the ecliptic meets the celestial equator) the order of the signs begins with Aries, the first, and then and runs through to Pisces. In this series Pisces is the 12th sign of the Zodiac.
However you categorize the list of the Constellations of the Zodiac, each Constellation in the belt, like Pisces, has two immediate Constellation neighbors – one in front (e.g. Aries is in front of Pisces) and one behind it (e.g. Aquarius is behind Pisces).
Hiding in the house
The constellations in the Zodiac ‘belt’ form an imaginary ring that’s closely aligned to the orbit of Earth.
As a result each of the 12 zodiac constellations has a cycle that passes through the Sun (the biggest and brightest Star, that is actually a Dwarf Star not a Giant Star).
The Sun is then said to house (hide) each Constellation in turn. It houses a different Constellation each month and then you cannot see that particular Constellation.
The Sun passes through the sign of Pisces between February 20 and March 20. At this point the Sun would be referred to as hiding in the house of Pisces.
The neighbors of Constellation Pisces
The Constellation of Pisces is neighbored by several constellations in the Northern Sky: Constellation Pegasus and the ‘square of Pegasus’ is the guide point for finding the Constellation of Pisces in the sky.
The other neighbors include Triangulum, Andromeda, Pegasus, Aries, Cetus and Aquarius.
Within Constellation Pisces
The Constellation of Pisces is formed by of a number of different components.
The different components housed by the Constellations such as Pisces are mainly Stars, Deep Sky Objects and Messier objects (galaxies).
The best time of year to see the Stars and Deep Sky Objects in Pisces is November.
The sky is home to various bright stars.
The brightness of a star is measured by a value called its magnitude and they come in different sizes, composition, mass and color. Their vast distance away from us is measured in light years from either the Earth or the Sun.
The lower the magnitude value the brighter the star appears in the night sky when viewed from Earth.
FACT: The Sun is considered to be the brightest star in the sky.
Pisces has 13 named stars that host planets within the Constellation Pisces that have been officially approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU):
As well as Stars, the Pisces Constellation also has one messier object and galaxies (or even globular clusters or open clusters).
Deep Sky Objects
FACT: A Deep Sky Object is an astronomical object, that is not a solar system object like the Sun, Moon, Comet or a Planet. An individual Star is not considered to be a Deep Sky Object.
Deep Sky Objects are faint objects that can still be observed by the naked eye in the night sky from Earth.
They include Galaxies, Star Clusters and Nebulae.
Pisces is not home to any notable Deep Sky Objects. It does have a spiral galaxy called Messier 74, M74, which is around 30 million light years from earth but only faintly visible using a telescope.
What is a Nebula?
A Nebula is a massive cloud of gas and dust in Space.
Some Nebulae are formed when a star explodes and then dies, as is the case with a Supernova. Sometimes they can act as Star nurseries and are the areas where new Stars are forming.
The Nebulae are the spaces in between the stars referred to as interstellar space.
Images of the Nebulae have been captured using professional Space telescopes, such asthe NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, operated by NASA, and the famous Hubble Space Telescope.
The various Nebulae in Pisces include:
- NGC 520 – a colliding galaxy
- NGC 488 – a spiral galaxy
- CL 0024+1654 – a galaxy cluster
- 3C 31 – a radio galaxy
- The Pisces Dwarf galaxy
- CGCG 436-03 – a spiral galaxy
Messier Objects and Star Clusters
Charles Messier, a French astronomer, is credited with identifying various objects in the night sky, around 1764.
He is famous for publishing the Charles Messier astronomical catalogue ‘the Messier ‘New General Catalogue’, that lists 110 nebulae and star clusters.
These later became known as the Messier objects.
Messier 74 (M74)
Messier 74, also known as a Phantom Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy. This galaxy has 2 defined spiral arms and an estimated 100 million stars included within. It is located some 32 million light years from Earth and is approximately 95,000 light years in diameter.
It is located 1.5 degrees East northeast of the main Star in the Constellation of Pisces – Alpherg (eta Piscium).
Messier 74, has an apparent magnitude of 10 and the designationof NGC 628 within the Messier ‘New General Catalogue’.
M74 is a group of around 5-7 galaxies, of which M74 is the brightest member of the group.
The M74 also includes NGC 660, which is another spiral galaxy, along with some other irregular galaxies.
FACT: A star cluster is a large group of Stars, of which there are 2 different types:
A global cluster is a spherical collection of ‘Old Stars,’ numbering hundreds to millions, that are tightly bound by gravity and orbits a galactic core.
An open Cluster is a looser formation of ‘Young Stars’ that generally has less than a few hundred Stars.
What is the Milky Way?
The Milky Way is a Spiral Galaxy, containing over 200 billion Stars, and actually forms part of the Constellation of Sagittarius.
The Milky Way itself is not a Constellation of Stars. This is the Galaxy that contains our solar system and it gets its name from the fact that it looks like a hazy swirl or river of milk across the sky.
It is made up of Gas, Dust and Stars, with spiral arms wrapped around it, and a massive black hole in the center of the Galaxy. Not all of the Stars in the Universe are contained within the Milky Way. It is at its brightest if looking towards the galactic center in the direction of the Constellation of Sagittarius. The Stars that make up the Milky Way are many light years away and cannot all be individually identified by the naked eye.
Historical significance: the legends, and myths surrounding Constellation Pisces
When it comes to the many recognized constellations in the sky, Constellation Pisces is one of the oldest and largest within the Constellations of the Zodiac.
Pisces was one of the first 48 Constellations listed by Ptolemy, the Greek/Roman astronomer.
The Babylonian myths
The Babylonians also recorded details of variousbright stars within the constellations in their Babylonian star catalogues before 100BCE, like Pisces.
The identity of Pisces has been around for over 3000 years. The Babylonians associated Pisces with a swallow bird. In ancient Syria, the fish were considered to be divine. Atagartis, the Syrian goddess of love and fertility was imagined as a creature that was half woman and half fish. It is Atagartis who is believed to be the foundation of the myth of the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus.
There are many Greek myths and legends surrounding the origin and names of the constellations, involving gods, goddesses and even mythical creatures.
For thousands of years, various cultures around the world have identified and named the constellation we know and see in the night sky as Pisces.
The myth of Pisces
In Greek Mythology, the story of Pisces involves Aphrodite, the goddess of love, her son Eros and the sea monster Typhon.
FACT: In Roman mythology, the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros are called Venus and Cupid.
The Greek myth tells of Typhon most the powerful monster (and god) of all. The monster Typhon was the son of Gaia (goddess of the earth) who was created to rival the almighty Zeus. Typhon was the most feared monster in Mount Olympus, the home of the gods and he wanted to take over the kingdom.
As Typhon attempted to take over Mount Olympus, most gods and goddesses fled in time. Aphrodite and her son Eros, also tried to escape but got trapped, so they called upon the great god Zeus to help them. He helped to hide them by turning them into fish to fool Typhon, in an attempt to save their lives. As they tried to escape they tied their tails together with a string so they would not be separated, and they were then saved together. Athena then placed them in the sky as Pisces.
What is the difference between a constellation and an asterism?
An asterism is a group of stars that appear to form a pattern in the night sky but with no officially determined boundaries.
It can make up part of a constellation or cross the boundaries of an official constellation or even a defunct constellation.
An asterism is a more vague assembly of stars than a recognized constellation.
The Zodiac sign of Pisces
The constellation of Pisces is one of the 12 constellations of the Zodiac and as such is represented by the birth star sign of Pisces.
We know what Pisces looks like in the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere but what are the typical personal characteristics of someone born under the zodiac sign of Pisces?
Characteristics of Pisces
The Star sign of Pisces includes people born between, February 20 and March 20.
Pisces is one of the 3 ‘Water’ signs of the Zodiac along with Cancer and Scorpio. Pisces is the third and final water sign in the Zodiac.
It is believed that people born under one of these signs will have certain traits and behaviors.
The typical characteristics of Pisces people
The typical characteristics of a Pisces person, is related to having sensitivity, creativity and an artistic flair.
Negative traits: They can seem quiet and aloof, but they are not judgmental.
Positive Traits: They are typically smart and deeply intuitive, with a very strong ‘gut feel’.
They are believed to be a good judge of character and particularly sociable beings. They can balance this with respect for any deep level of intelligence, in themselves and others.
The meteor showers
The Pisces Constellation is associated with 1 meteor shower known as ‘The Piscids’.
The Piscids meteor shower occurs between September and October. It peaks around September 8, September 21 and October 13. There are around 10 meteors per hour and they are slow and long lasting.
Fun Facts about Pisces – Did you know that?
- The proper astronomical name is Constellation Pisces which is also the corresponding name of the astrological sign of the Zodiac, and is symbolized by the fishes.
- The Constellations are not part of the solar system; they are groups of stars that appear to form shapes that are visible from Earth.
- The largest Constellation overall is called Hydra and the smallest Constellation is called Crux.
- The largest Constellation of the Zodiac is Virgo, Aquarius is the 2nd, Leo is 3rd and Pisces ranks as the 4th largest Constellation in the Zodiac.
- The Constellation of Pisces is visible from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, when viewed without light pollution.
- The Sun does not belong to any constellation.
- A Constellation does not actually exist as a fixed object, it is a group of bright stars that happen to be in a random place and are light years apart and ever moving. We see the pattern of their presence.
- In Babylonian times it was called an area of Pisces DU.NU.NU, meaning the fish ribbon or fish cord
- NASA uses the name PISCES as an abbreviation for one of its key pieces of equipment in its Exoplanet exploration program. Pisces represents the Prototype Imaging Spectrograph for Corona graphic Exoplanet Studies.
- Constellations are not found in the Solar System.
- The center of a Galaxy does not contain a Giant Star it contains a massive Black Hole.
- Red Dwarf is not a Dwarf Planet it is a Star. Most common Stars are Red Dwarf (cool Stars)
- Spiral Galaxies make up about two third of all the Galaxies in the Universe
- The Constellation of Pisces is one of the most difficult to spot in the night sky, as it is particularly dim, with no bright Stars.
Commonly Asked Questions
Q. What is the celestial sphere?
A. In astronomy and navigation terms, the celestial sphere is imaginary.
This virtual sphere has a large radius that is concentric with Earth.
We can imagine all objects in the night sky as being projected upon the inside of this celestial sphere, as if it was images placed inside a dome.
Q. What prevents us seeing the Stars and Constellations in the night sky?
A. Light pollution, fog, city lights and artificial lights all limit our visibility of the objects in the sky at night.
The best views come from outside of cities where light pollution is less. Camping in the countryside is one of the best ways to get a better view of what’s up there in Space.
Q. Will the Constellations change over time?
A. The Constellations are continually on the move.
The images we form in our imagination to make objects, shapes and patterns out of the constellations have already shifted over time.
As we view the night skies from Earth they are likely to continue to do so and possibly in time the images may look very different.