Bruce Bookout steers this week's episode of Looking Up and guides us to the constellation of Aquarius.
Constellations are fickle things. Defining what shape you see and what that means is all derivative of your culture and what that pattern appears to be. We call this pareidolia; the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds or seeing faces on Mars.
So, when I want to speak of vague stimulus, I often think of the constellation Aquarius. Aquarius is currently in our evening skies after sunset in the southeast. You’ll need both a darker sky and some imagination to see the “Y” pattern that is central to finding Aquarius.
The constellation is one of the oldest to be identified. It appeared as Gula, a goddess of healing, in Babylonian star catalogues dating to around 1,000 BCE and was associated with their water god Ea.
Aquarius took on its currently recognized form from a classical Greek depiction of a boy that was kidnapped by Zeus to be his cupbearer. The boy’s name was Ganymede. He is shown up-ending a large jar, out of which water flowed down to form a river, in which Piscis Austrinus, the “southern fish” is swimming. Of course, this is just a watered-down version of the story.
If you’d like to take a closer look at Aquarius, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.