Pisces

Pisces


Transit Date of principal star:
22 October


Pisces is an ancient constellation derived, some say, from the story of the terrible Greek god Typhon.

(This is not the Chinese word for "big wind", which - in English - is of course spelled "typhoon". The French, however, spell this word "typhon", which adds to the confusion. It is possible that the Chinese borrowed the word from the Greek. The modern Greek equivalent is spelled "tau upsilon phi omega nu" and means "cyclone".)

Typhon was born from Gaia (Mother Earth) and Tartarus. This was Gaia's youngest offspring, but by far the deadliest and the largest monster ever conceived.

Its thighs were gigantic coiled serpents; its arms could spread across the heavens, and its head (in the shape of an ass's head) touched the stars. When it took flight, its wings blotted out the sun, and when it opened its mouth, out came burning boulders.

Typhon was so frightful even the gods of Olympus refused to fight, fleeing instead to Egypt when Typhon attacked their mountain home. Each god disguised itself into an animal: Zeus transformed himself into a ram, Dionysus a goat, and so on. Aphrodite and Eros both disguised themselves as fish and swam up the Nile to escape the monster.

Typhon was eventually defeated, due in large part to the brave and level-headed Athene, who convinced Zeus to take up his thunderbolts and make battle. Typhon actually captured Zeus and placed him in a cave, but Hermes and Pan were able to free him.

To make a long story short, Zeus then took the battle to Typhon, chasing him to Sicily. There Zeus threw Mount Aetna at the monster, finally subduing it. But under the earth, the buried monster still spews up fire and boulders every so often.

While the myth eventually moved to Italy, there were origins from the ancient Hittite culture, as well as the volcanic eruptions along the Aegean archipelago.

As for Aphrodite and Eros, who escaped the monster's wrath, these two were given their fish-like images in the heavens, thus commemorating the time Typhon nearly overran Olympus. Later cultures equated the two fish with the Biblical story of the miracle of the fishes and the loaves.


The sun passes through the southeast corner of Pisces; in fact the vernal equinox now lies in Pisces.

Pisces is depicted as two fish connected by their tails at the star alpha Piscium. Indeed, alpha's name, "Al Rischa", means "the cord".

The constellation is rather faint; Pisces' stars are generally fourth magnitude. There are a few fine binaries, an interesting variable, and one Messier object: a splendid face-on spiral, which unfortunately is quite faint and rather a challenge for smaller telescopes.


Double stars:

[NOTE: see the Binocular Section link at the bottom of this page for updates on Double Stars]

Alpha Piscium (Struve 202) has an orbit of 933 years (considerably more than the 720 years previously thought): 4.3, 5.2; currently PA 223, separation 1.6".

Zeta Piscium (Struve 100) is a fine binary: 5.6, 6.5; 63, 23" separation.

Eta Piscium is a difficult binary to resolve: 3.5, 11; 36, 1" separation.

Psi1 Piscium (Struve 88): 5.3, 5.5; 160, 30" separation.

Struve 61 (65 Piscium) is a splendid binary of equal stars: 6.3, 6.3; 297, 4.4" separation.

The binary is found just on the border with Andromeda. The easiest way to find it is to start from zeta Andromedae, then move north 3 degrees and east half a degree.


Variable stars:

Kappa Psc is an alpha CV variable: 4.87-4.95.

TX Psc (19 Psc) is an interesting irregular, a deep red star that changes only slightly (about 5.0 to 5.5, although some references say from 5.5 to 6.0). Its main attraction is in the exceptionally deep redness of the star.

The star is found between iota and lambda, north two degrees from lambda and one degree east. Or you might find it easier by first starting at gamma Psc and moving seven degrees east. (Burnham, p. 1475, has a finder's chart.)

Deep Sky Objects:

The best deep sky object in Pisces is M74, the only Messier in the constellation.

M74 (NGC 628) is a spiral galaxy seen face on. It's about 32 million light years away, and one of the faintest Messiers. The larger the scope, the better. Long exposure photographs show two or three loosely-wound spirals `spinning' out from a small bright nucleus.

The galaxy is found 1.5 ENE of eta Piscium.


For a more detailed appreciation of Pisces, visit the Binocular Section.


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