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Fishy Constellations

October 23, 2011

There are many fish in the sea — plus a couple of fishy constellations that swim through the night skies of autumn.

One is faint but famous Pisces, the fishes. It’s well known because it’s part of the zodiac. When we look at Pisces, we’re looking edge-on to the plane of our solar system. As a result, we occasionally see the Sun, the Moon, and the planets pass through Pisces.

Despite its fame, Pisces is tough to see. Even its brightest stars are no match for the light pollution from many cities and suburbs. Pisces appears in the eastern sky after nightfall, but you’ll need a star chart — and a dark sky — to trace it out.

Another “fishy” constellation is also in the sky. It features one of the brightest stars in the night sky, so it’s easy to see, even from big cities. It’s Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish. If you look south in late evening, you’ll see its brightest star, Fomalhaut, whose name means “mouth of the fish.” Fomalhaut is just 25 light-years away.

The sky also sports two other fishy constellations, but they’re so far south we can’t see them from most of the United States. One is Volans, the flying fish. Another is Dorado, the goldfish. It’s home to the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the closest companion galaxies to our own Milky Way. Like fish that always remain in deep waters, both of these constellations swim below the horizon — visible only if you plunge into the skies of the southern hemisphere.


Script by Ken Croswell, Copyright 2011


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