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ARIES

The Ram

aries-jamieson-1822s (255K)
Aries - Celestial Atlas by Alexander Jamieson - 1822






Aries is one of the oldest constellations and has symbolized a ram throughout history. The ram held an important position in the cultures of almost all ancient peoples. Easily domesticated and utilized for both its meat and its wool, the ram was also highly regarded for its religious significance. It was the favoured animal to appease the gods on the sacrificial altar, and many of the gods of ancient Egypt were depicted with the head of a ram.

Despite its historical and cultural significance, the constellation is visually unremarkable. It is hard to see even the brightest stars, and even harder to see anything that resembles the shape of a ram. All the classical star charts show a reclining ram, with its head turned, looking back at Taurus, the bull. When I look for a ram in the stars of Aries, I see the animal in the classic ram posture of rearing up and preparing to butt heads.

aries ram (34K)






The Golden Fleece

To the Greeks, Aries was the winged ram with the golden fleece, who rescued Phrixus and Helle, the son and daughter of King Athamas of Boeotia, who were about to be killed by their jealous stepmother. The children climbed on the ram's back, and were carried off to a far away land on the shores of the Black Sea. On the way, the little girl, Helle, lost her grip and fell into the sea, and the Greeks named the place she fell the Hellespont in her memory (also known as the Dardanelles). The boy made it to safety, and the ram was sacrificed to Zeus, its beautiful golden fleece kept by King AeŽtes of Colchis.

Meanwhile, back in Greece, Pelias, cousin of the boy, Phrixus, had stolen the throne from the rightful successor, his nephew Jason. When challenged by Jason, Pelias decreed that if Jason could find the golden fleece of the ram that saved Phrixus, and bring it back to Greece, he would give up the throne to him. So began the epic quest of Jason and the Argonauts. After a long journey as famous and full of adventure as Homer's Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts finally succeed in stealing the fleece from King AeŽtes, and bringing it back to Greece.

aries (29K)

The alpha star in the constellation is Hamal, Arabic for sheep. Beta Arietis is known as Sharatan, Arabic for two signs, referring to the fact that along with Gamma Arietis, it used to mark the point of the vernal equinox. Gamma Arietis was once referred to as the first star of Aries, as it was closest to point of equinox. It shared the name Sharatan with Beta Arietis, and it is generally thought that it was simply a series of mispronunciations that led to its current name of Mesarthim.





There are several galaxies in Aries, but only one of them, NGC 772 is in reach of backyard telescopes, and even it is very faint and hard to see. But through the lens of a larger scope, they can be quite spectacular.

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NGC 772 - Spiral Galaxy - Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF



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NGC 678 - Spiral Galaxy - Richard and Leslie Maynard/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF



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