The constellation of Ram, as you can see in the map taken from Stellarium, is obviously between Pisces and Taurus, in a zone of sky where it is not difficult to notice two triangles, one the Triangle and the other (more crushed) Aries, just below Andromeda. In summer, during the period of the Perseids and the observation of this area of the sky, I never fail to show the participants these two small triangles (nice discovery, three points not aligned always form a triangle...). By the way, it happens very often that some of the Tears of St. Lawrence passes very close to the three stars of Aries.
As everybody knows, it is a zodiacal constellation, meaning by this term the fact that the Sun, in its annual path along the ecliptic crosses its boundaries: more or less between April 19th and May 14th (the dates can vary little because of the irregularities of the Earth's revolution motion around the Sun, irregularities that are reflected on the apparent motion of the Sun in the sky). Nothing to do with the spring equinox of March 21 and other popular (unscientific) beliefs, since (as we must know) the precession of the equinoxes currently occurs when the Sun crosses the constellation of Pisces.
Since we are talking about a constellation of the zodiac, I anticipate the stepladder (why is there a stepladder?) by proposing the image of the stamp that the State of San Marino issued in 1970, celebrating the constellations of the zodiac: since it is the first on the list, the value associated with the stamp was the lowest, a Lira, which corresponded (the less young will remember it) to a very light coin on which was curiously engraved a Libra.
The name, the story, the myth of Aries...
By marking the point of the spring equinox, Aries was highly regarded by Greek astronomers. The Latin poet Manilius (1st century AD) proclaimed it "the prince of all signs".
The Assyrians of the high Tigris sacrificed a ram in honour of the equinox, they knew the constellation as the "altar" or the "sacrifice".
In Greek legends the ram is associated with the myth of the golden fleece, the poet Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century B.C.) tells how King Atamante of Boeotia married Nepheles and then repudiated her to remarry. The new wife, Ino, saw in the children of the king's previous marriage, especially in the Frisso male, a threat to her offspring. So she devised an ingenious plan to get rid of the young man. He went secretly to the storerooms of the precious grains of wheat stored for spring sowing, and burned them. The resulting failure to harvest led the population to starvation. Atamante then sent a messenger to the oracle of Delphi, but this one, already corrupted by Ino, reported that the oracle, in order for the grain to grow again, demanded the young prince as a sacrifice. Everything was already ready, when Hermes (Mercury), the messenger of the gods, hearing the desperate prayers of Nephel, intervened and sent a marvelous ram from the golden fleece that snatched the young man from the altar of sacrifice.
Together with Frisso, her sister Elle was saved from execution, but as the magical animal flew over the arms of the sea separating Europe and Asia, it fell and died. Since then, in her memory, the narrow ones are called Hellespont ("the sea of Elle").
The ram led Frisso to the Colchis, on the Black Sea. Here, as a sign of gratitude for being saved, Frisso sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave his golden fleece to Eeta, king of that land. The sovereign held the fleece, watched by a dragon, in a grove sacred to the god of war Ares (Mars), just as the zodiacal sign of Aries, in subsequent astrology, would be placed under the dominion of the god of war. The fleece remained in the wood until it was stolen by the hero Jason (see constellation Carina).
Aries, in Italian Aries, is a small constellation of the zodiac, made up of a few stars positioned so that only a great imagination can make you think of a ram. It is the first constellation of the zodiac, since when the zodiac was 'initialized' the spring equinox fell right inside the constellation Aries. Today, with the precession of the equinoxes, the first constellation would be that of Pisces since the equinox point is in the constellation of Pisces.
Two little stars very close to us and a particular one
In this small constellation there are two small stars, both of class M, very close to us: the first of the two, the nearest, is the so called Teegarden's Star (from the name of its discoverer), a brown dwarf placed at the very near distance of 12.6 al, discovered just ten years ago thanks to its own high motorbike, even if it is a little star of 15th magnitude. Since it won't be possible in the short term, thanks to Celestia we can take us close to this star and turn our eyes towards our Sun: given the small distance, its is still acceptable (almost the 3rd) and my friends from Val Teegardena have always seen our star very close to Zuben Al Genubi, the star α of the constellation Libra (again!). As a joke of fate, my astronomer friends from Teegardena, skilled skiers thanks to their three legs, have always called these two stars Orticinque and Ortisette: how strange...
The second nearest star to us is the variable TZ Ari, class M6, at the small distance of 14.5 to our Sun: seen from that distance our star appears (near Spica and Zuben to Genubi) also in this case of third magnitude. It is well known by my Tzaarians friends, who live in an inhospitable desert planet with an enviable spring temperature, thanks to the favourable distance from their star.
The third peculiar star of Aries, as I already said in the Auriga's article, is the 53 Ari (a variable also known as UW Ari, spectral class B) one of the so-called "runaway stars": about three very fast stars (53 Ari, AE Aur and μ Col) with their own anomalous and very high motion. For more details I'd like to refer to the article where I had inserted an exceptional photo of the so called Barnard's Ring.
A couple of big stars
In the constellation of Aries we find two quite big stars: in my comparison diagram we see that they are 45 Ari, a monster of class M6 114 times the size of our Sun, while the star 15 Ari, also of class M, is only 68 times the size of our star: if you think about it, even 68 times the size of our Sun is not so little! I remember that in comparison, in the diagram our yellow dwarf is barely visible at the bottom right, like a dot.
In this photo, taken as always from Celestia, we can see what the star 45 Ari looks like from the considerable distance of 10 UA.
A ram and nothing more
The representation of Aries for once does not differ much from that of the animal that we know well: in the Uranometria we see it represented as follows
while Hevelius represented him (in mirror vision)
and finally Stellarium shows it this way
Deep sky objects
I have chosen to show you four objects within this small constellation, belonging to the NGC catalogue: in strict numerical order we start from NGC 697, taken from an observatory in New Mexico. Clicking on the photo, we can see the detail of the galaxy that in the photo appears in the upper right hand corner
the surroundings of NCG 697 (top right)
The NGC 772 is a beautiful spiral galaxy...
the spiral galaxy NGC 772
The third galaxy is the strange but splendid NGC 972
the galaxy NGC 972
The last photo finally represents the irregular dwarf galaxy NGC 1156
the galaxy NGC 1156
The names of the stars
This constellation contains a number of stars named since ancient times and some of them are grouped by family:
- Hamal (α Ari): the sheep
- Sheratan (β Ari): the sign
- Mesarthim (γ Ari): from the Jew, the shepherds
- Botein (δ Ari): the bellies
- At the butain I, II, III and IV (π, ρ, ε and ζ Ari): the bellies
- Koleon (μ Ari): the scabbard
- Bharani (33, 35 and 39 Ari): the bearer
- Nair al butain (41 Ari): the light of the bellies
Visibility of the constellation
Let's see now in which periods of the year is visible Aries, always at 21, a convenient time to make cheerful stellar observations with your friends.
At the beginning of September it is visible low on the horizon to the North-East, while it culminates to the South, very high on the horizon (almost at the zenith) in mid-December. Finally we find it low on the horizon, to the Northwest in the second fortnight of March of the following year.