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Pisces Constellation: Facts About the Fishes

Pisces
Pisces is the 14th largest constellation but its stars are relatively faint.
Credit: Stellarium

Pisces, named for the Latin plural of fish, occupies 889 square degrees, making it the 14th largest constellation overall. While it is a fairly large constellation, its stars are faint — none are brighter than fourth magnitude — making it challenging to see in the sky with the naked eye.

Locating Pisces

Pisces is in the first quadrant of the Northern Hemisphere and covers a large V-shaped region. Its large area, coupled with its dim stars, makes it hard to pick out in the night sky. Northern Hemisphere observers are able to see Pisces most clearly in early autumn.

  • Right Ascension:  0.85 hours  
  • Declination:  11.08 degrees
  • Visible: Between latitudes 90 degrees and minus 65 degrees.
  • Best viewed: at 9 p.m. between Nov. 6 and Nov. 9.

Pisces is located northeast of Aquarius and to the northwest of the constellation Cetus the Sea-monster. Other constellations bordering Pisces are Triangulum, Andromeda, Pegasus and Aries.

One of the key ways to identify Pisces is to find the Circlet of Pisces — also known as the head of the Western Fish — to the south of the Square of Pegasus. The Eastern Fish can be seen leaping upward to the east of the Square of Pegasus.

The vernal (autumnal) equinox — the point at which the sun crosses the equator and moves to the Northern Hemisphere each year, has shifted from running through Aries to slicing through Pisces.

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Notable stars and objects

Eta Piscium, also known as Alpherg or Kullat Nunu, is Pisces’ brightest star. It is a bright giant star (G class) that is 294 light-years from Earth and has a luminosity that is 316 times that of the sun.

The constellation’s second brightest star is a yellow giant about 130 light-years from Earth known as Gamma Piscium.

Alpha Piscium is the third brightest star in Pisces and is made up of a pair of white dwarf stars in close proximity. It is also called Alrescha ("the cord") as it illuminates the spot where it appears that the tails of the two fish are knotted together.

Also known as Fum al Samakah, Arabic for “mouth of the fish,” Beta Piscium has a magnitude of 4.53 and is about 492 light-years from Earth.

Pisces also boasts Van Maanen’s Star, named for Adrian van Maanen, the Dutch astronomer who discovered it in 1917. It is the 31st closest star system and the nearest single white dwarf to the sun, at just 14.1 light-years away.

Pisces also contains a Messier object — which are galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters recorded by 18th Century French astronomer Charles Messier. Messier 74 is a spiral galaxy located between the stars alpha Arietis and eta Piscium.

Mythology

Pisces mythology has its roots in Syria, as Atagartis, the Syrian goddess of love and fertility, a half-woman, half-fish figure that is thought to be the inspirations for the Greek goddess Aphrodite and Venus, the comparable goddess in Roman mythology.

The legend goes that Aphrodite/Venus turned into a fish and jumped into the Euphrates River to evade the fiery breath of the monster Typhon. They tied themselves to their sons to stay together in the turbulent waters, which is represented by the two fish entwined.

In astrology, which is not a science, Pisces is the 12th sign in the Zodiac and represents those born between Feb. 20 and March 20.

— Kim Ann Zimmermann, SPACE.com Contributor

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