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Aquarius (constellation)

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Aquarius (constellation)

Abbreviation Aqr
Genitive Aquarii
Pronunciation , genitive
Symbolism the Water-Bearer
Right ascension 20h 38m 19.1706s–23h 56m 23.5355s[1]
Declination 03.3256676°–−24.9040413°[1]
Family Zodiac
Area 980 sq. deg. (10th)
Main stars 10, 22
Stars with planets 12
Stars brighter than 3.00m 2
Stars within 10.00 pc (32.62 ly) 7
Brightest star β Aqr (Sadalsuud) (2.91m)
Nearest star EZ Aqr
(11.27 ly, 3.45 pc)
Messier objects 3
Meteor showers March Aquariids
Eta Aquariids
Delta Aquariids
Iota Aquariids
Piscis Austrinus
Visible at latitudes between +65° and −90°.
Best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of October.

Aquarius is a constellation of the zodiac, situated between Capricornus and Pisces. Its name is Latin for "water-carrier" or "cup-carrier", and its symbol is (Unicode ♒), a representation of water.

Aquarius is one of the oldest of the recognized constellations along the zodiac (the sun's apparent path).[2] It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century AD astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It is found in a region often called the Sea due to its profusion of constellations with watery associations such as Cetus the whale, Pisces the fish, and Eridanus the river.[3]

History and mythology

Aquarius is identified as GU.LA "The Great One" in the Babylonian star catalogues and represents the god Ea himself, who is commonly depicted holding an overflowing vase. The Babylonian star-figure appears on entitlement stones and cylinder seals from the second millennium. It contained the winter solstice in the Early Bronze Age.[4] In Old Babylonian astronomy, Ea was the ruler of the southernmost quarter of the Sun's path, the "Way of Ea", corresponding to the period of 45 days on either side of winter solstice. Aquarius was also associated with the destructive floods that the Babylonians regularly experienced, and thus was negatively connoted.[3] In Ancient Egypt, Aquarius was associated with the annual flood of the Nile; the banks were said to flood when Aquarius put his jar into the river, beginning spring.[5]

In the Greek tradition, the constellation became represented as simply a single vase from which a stream poured down to Piscis Austrinus. The name in the Hindu zodiac is likewise kumbha "water-pitcher", showing that the zodiac reached India via Greek intermediaries.[2]

In Greek mythology, Aquarius is sometimes associated with Deucalion, the son of Prometheus who built a ship with his wife Pyrrha to survive an imminent flood. They sailed for nine days before washing ashore on Mount Parnassus.[3][6] Aquarius is also sometimes identified with beautiful Ganymede, a youth in Greek mythology and the son of Trojan king Tros, who was taken to Mount Olympus by Zeus to act as cup-carrier to the gods.[7][8][6] Neighboring Aquila represents the eagle, under Zeus' command, that snatched the young boy;[9] some versions of the myth indicate that the eagle was in fact Zeus transformed. An alternative version of the tale recounts Ganymede's kidnapping by the goddess of the dawn, Eos, motivated by her affection for young men; Zeus then stole him from Eos and employed him as cup-bearer. Yet another figure associated with the water bearer is Cecrops I, a king of Athens who sacrificed water instead of wine to the gods.[6]

In non-Western astronomy

In Chinese astronomy, the stream of water flowing from the Water Jar was depicted as the "Army of Yu-Lin" (Yu-lin-kiun or Yulinjun). The name "Yu-lin" means "feathers and forests", referring to the numerous light-footed soldiers from the northern reaches of the empire represented by these faint stars.[10][6] The constellation's stars were the most numerous of any Chinese constellation, numbering 45, the majority of which were located in modern Aquarius. The celestial army was protected by the wall Leibizhen, which counted Iota, Lambda, Phi, and Sigma Aquarii among its 12 stars.[6] 88, 89, and 98 Aquarii represent Fou-youe, the axes used as weapons and for hostage executions. Also in Aquarius is Loui-pi-tchin, the ramparts that stretch from 29 and 27 Piscium and 33 and 30 Aquarii through Phi, Lambda, Sigma, and Iota Aquarii to Delta, Gamma, Kappa, and Epsilon Capricorni.[5]

Near the border with Cetus, the axe Fuyue was represented by three stars; its position is disputed and may have instead been located in Sculptor. Tienliecheng also has a disputed position; the 13-star castle replete with ramparts may have possessed Nu and Xi Aquarii but may instead have been located south in Piscis Austrinus. The Water Jar asterism was seen to the ancient Chinese as the tomb, Fenmu. Nearby, the emperors' mausoleum Xiuliang stood, demarcated by Kappa Aquarii and three other collinear stars. Ku ("crying") and Qi ("weeping"), each composed of two stars, were located in the same region.[6]

Three of the Chinese lunar mansions shared their name with constellations. Nu, also the name for the 10th lunar mansion, was a handmaiden represented by Epsilon, Mu, 3, and 4 Aquarii. The 11th lunar mansion shared its name with the constellation Xu ("emptiness"), formed by Beta Aquarii and Alpha Equulei; it represented a bleak place associated with death and funerals. Wei, the rooftop and 12th lunar mansion, was a V-shaped constellation formed by Alpha Aquarii, Theta Pegasi, and Epsilon Pegasi; it shared its name with two other Chinese constellations, in modern-day Scorpius and Aries.[6]


A representation of Aquarius printed in 1825 as part of Urania's Mirror, (including a now-obsolete constellation, Ballon Aerostatique south of it).

In the first century CE, Ptolemy's Almagest established the common Western depiction of Aquarius. His water jar, an asterism itself, consists of Gamma, Pi, Eta, and Zeta Aquarii; it pours water in a stream of more than 20 stars terminating with Fomalhaut, now assigned solely to Piscis Austrinus. The water bearer's head is represented by 5th magnitude 25 Aquarii while his left shoulder is Beta Aquarii; his right shoulder and forearm are represented by Alpha and Gamma Aquarii respectively.[6]

Notable features

The constellation Aquarius as it can be seen by the naked eye.


Despite both its prominent position on the zodiac and its large size, Aquarius has no particularly bright stars, with its 4 brightest stars less than magnitude 2.[7] However, recent research has shown that there are several stars lying within its borders that possess planetary systems.

α Aquarii, also known as Sadalmelik, is a G2 spectral class star[11] (yellow supergiant) named in Arabic for the phrase "the lucky stars of the king".[8] It is the second brightest star in Aquarius with a magnitude of 2.96[11] (though it has an absolute magnitude of -4.5)[7] and is 523 light-years from Earth.[12] It has a luminosity of 5250 L.[7]

β Aquarii, sometimes called Sadalsuud, is a G0 spectral class star[11] (yellow supergiant) named for the Arabic phrase meaning "luckiest of the lucky stars".[8] It is the brightest star in Aquarius with an apparent magnitude of 2.91[11] and an absolute magnitude of -4.5. Sadalsuud is 537 light-years from Earth[13] and has a luminosity of 5250 L, the same as α Aquarii.[7]

γ Aquarii, also called Sadachbia, is a blue-white[8] A0 spectral class star of magnitude 3.84 and a luminosity of 50 L[7] that is 163 light years away.[14] It has a luminosity of 50 L.[7] The name Sadachbia comes from the Arabic for "lucky stars of the tents", sa'd al-akhbiya.[6]

δ Aquarii, also known as Scheat[7] or Skat,[8] is a blue-white A2 spectral class star of magnitude 3.27 and luminosity of 105 L.[7]

ε Aquarii, also known as Albali,[5] is a blue-white A1 spectral class star with an apparent magnitude of 3.77, an absolute magnitude of 1.2, and a luminosity of 28 L.[7][8]

ζ Aquarii is an F2 spectral class double star; both stars are white.[8] Overall, it appears to be of magnitude 3.6 and luminosity of 50 L. The primary has a magnitude of 4.53 and the secondary a magnitude of 4.31, but both have an absolute magnitude of 0.6.[7] Its orbital period is 760 years; the two components are currently moving farther apart.[8]

θ Aquarii, sometimes called Ancha,[5] is a G8 spectral class star with an apparent magnitude of 4.16 and an absolute magnitude of 1.4.[7]

λ Aquarii, also called Hudoor or Ekchusis,[5] is an M2 spectral class star of magnitude 3.74 and luminosity of 120 L.[7]

ξ Aquarii, also called Bunda, is an A7 spectral class star with an apparent magnitude of 4.69 and an absolute magnitude of 2.4.[7]

π Aquarii, also called Seat, is a B0 spectral class star with an apparent magnitude of 4.66 and an absolute magnitude of -4.1.[7]

Planetary systems

Twelve exoplanet systems have been found in Aquarius as of 2013. Gliese 876, one of the nearest stars to Earth at a distance of 15 light-years,[15] was the first red dwarf star to be found to possess a planetary system. It is orbited by four planets, including one terrestrial planet 6.6 times the mass of Earth. The planets vary in orbital period from 2 days to 124 days.[16] 91 Aquarii is an orange giant star orbited by one planet, 91 Aquarii b. The planet's mass is 2.9 times the mass of Jupiter, and its orbital period is 182 days.[17] Gliese 849 is a red dwarf star orbited by the first known long-period Jupiter-like planet, Gliese 849 b. The planet's mass is 0.99 times that of Jupiter and its orbital period is 1,852 days.[18]

There are also less-prominent systems in Aquarius. WASP-6, a type G8 star of magnitude 12.4, is host to one exoplanet, WASP-6 b. The star is 307 parsecs from Earth and has a mass of 0.888 solar masses and a radius of 0.87 solar radii. WASP-6 b was discovered in 2008 by the transit method. It orbits its parent star every 3.36 days at a distance of 0.042 astronomical units (AU). It is 0.503 Jupiter masses but has a proportionally larger radius of 1.224 Jupiter radii.[19] HD 206610, a K0 star located 194 parsecs from Earth, is host to one planet, HD 206610 b. The host star is larger than the Sun; more massive at 1.56 solar masses and larger at 6.1 solar radii. The planet was discovered by the radial velocity method n 2010 and has a mass of 2.2 Jupiter masses. It orbits every 610 days at a distance of 1.68 AU.[20] Much closer to its sun is WASP-47 b, which orbits every 4.15 days only 0.052 AU from its sun, yellow dwarf (G9V) WASP-47. WASP-47 is close in size to the Sun, having a radius of 1.15 solar radii and a mass even closer at 1.08 solar masses. WASP-47 b was discovered in 2011 by the transit method, like WASP-6 b. It is slightly larger than Jupiter with a mass of 1.14 Jupiter masses and a radius of 1.15 Jupiter masses.[21]

There are several more single-planet systems in Aquarius. HD 210277, a magnitude 6.63 yellow star located 21.29 parsecs from Earth, is host to one known planet: HD 210277 b. The 1.23 Jupiter mass planet orbits at nearly the same distance as Earth orbits the Sun - 1.1 AU, though its orbital period is significantly longer at around 442 days. HD 210277 b was discovered earlier than most of the other planets in Aquarius, detected by the radial velocity method in 1998. The star it orbits resembles the Sun beyond their similar spectral class; it has a radius of 1.1 solar radii and a mass of 1.09 solar masses.[22] HD 212771 b, a larger planet at 2.3 Jupiter masses, orbits host star HD 212771 at a distance of 1.22 AU. The star itself, barely below the threshold of naked-eye visibility at magnitude 7.6, is a G8IV (yellow subgiant) star located 131 parsecs from Earth. Though it has a similar mass to the Sun - 1.15 solar masses - it is significantly less dense with its radius of 5 solar radii. Its lone planet was discovered in 2010 by the radial velocity method, like several other exoplanets in the constellation.[23]

As of 2013, there are only two multiple-planet systems within the bounds of Aquarius: the Gliese 876 and HD 215152 systems. The former is quite prominent; the latter has only two planets and has a host star farther away at 21.5 parsecs. The HD 215152 system consists of the planets HD 215152 b and HD 215152 c orbiting their K0-type, magnitude 8.13 sun. Both discovered in 2011 by the radial velocity method, the two tiny planets orbit very close to their host star. HD 215152 c is the larger at 0.0097 Jupiter masses (still significantly larger than the Earth, which weighs in at 0.00315 Jupiter masses); its smaller sibling is barely smaller at 0.0087 Jupiter masses. The error in the mass measurements (0.0032 and 0.0049 MJ respectively) is large enough to make this discrepancy statistically insignificant. HD 215152 c also orbits further from the star than HD 215152 b, 0.0852 AU compared to 0.0652.[24][25]

Deep sky objects

The green bean galaxy J2240 lies in the constellation of Aquarius.[26]

Because of its position away from the galactic plane, the majority of deep-sky objects in Aquarius are galaxies, globular clusters, and planetary nebulae.[3] Aquarius contains three deep sky objects that are in the Messier catalog: the globular clusters Messier 2, Messier 72, and the open cluster Messier 73. Two well-known planetary nebulae are also located in Aquarius: the Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009), to the southeast of μ Aquarii; and the famous Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), southwest of δ Aquarii.

M2, also catalogued as NGC 7089, is an incredibly rich globular cluster located approximately 37,000 light-years from Earth. At magnitude 6.5, it is viewable in small-aperture instruments, but a 100 mm aperture telescope is needed to resolve any stars. M72, also catalogued as NGC 6981, is a small 9th magnitude globular cluster located approximately 56,000 light-years from Earth.[8] M73, also catalogued as NGC 6994, is an open cluster with highly disputed status.

Aquarius is also home to several planetary nebulae. NGC 7009, also known as the Saturn Nebula, is an 8th magnitude planetary nebula located 3,000 light-years from Earth. It was given its moniker by the 19th century astronomer Lord Rosse for its resemblance to the planet Saturn in a telescope; it has faint protrusions on either side that resemble Saturn's rings. It appears blue-green in a telescope and has a central star of magnitude 11.3.[8] Compared to the Helix Nebula, another planetary nebula in Aquarius, it is quite small.[27] NGC 7293, also known as the Helix Nebula, is the closest planetary nebula to Earth at a distance of 650 light-years. It covers 0.25 square degrees, making it also the largest planetary nebula as seen from Earth. However, because it is so large, it is only viewable as a very faint object,[8] though it has a fairly high integrated magnitude of 6.0.[28]

One of the visible galaxies in Aquarius is NGC 7727, of particular interest for amateur astronomers who wish to discover or observe supernovae. A spiral galaxy (type S), it has an integrated magnitude of 10.7 and is 3 by 3 arcseconds.[29] NGC 7252 is a tangle of stars resulting from the collision of two large galaxies and is known as the Atoms-for-Peace galaxy because of its resemblance to a cartoon atom.[30]

Meteor showers

There are three major meteor showers with radiants in Aquarius: the Eta Aquariids, the Delta Aquariids, and the Iota Aquariids.

The Eta Aquariids are the strongest meteor shower radiating from Aquarius. It peaks between 5 and 6 May with a rate of approximately 35 meteors per hour.[8] Originally discovered by Chinese astronomers in 401 CE, Eta Aquariids can be seen coming from the Water Jar beginning on April 21 and as late as May 12. The parent body of the shower is Halley's Comet, a periodic comet. Fireballs are common shortly after the peak, approximately between May 9 and May 11. The normal meteors appear to have yellow trails.[31]

The Delta Aquariids is a double radiant meteor shower that peaks first on 29 July and second on 6 August. The first radiant is located in the south of the constellation, while the second radiant is located in the northern circlet of Pisces asterism. The southern radiant's peak rate is about 20 meteors per hour, while the northern radiant's peak rate is about 10 meteors per hour.[8]

The Iota Aquariids is a fairly weak meteor shower that peaks on 6 August, with a rate of approximately 8 meteors per hour.[8]


As of 2002, the Sun appears in the constellation Aquarius from 16 February to 11 March. In tropical astrology, the Sun is considered to be in the sign Aquarius from 20 January to 19 February, and in sidereal astrology, from 15 February to 14 March.

Aquarius is also associated with the Age of Aquarius, a concept popular in 1960s counterculture. Despite this prominence, the Age of Aquarius will not dawn until the year 2597, as an astrological age does not begin until the Sun is in a particular constellation on the vernal equinox.[3][8]



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External links

  • The Deep Photographic Guide to the Constellations: Aquarius
  • Constellation Aquarius
  • Star Tales – Aquarius
  • Aquarius Constellation at Constellation Guide

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