How to Identify the Constellation of Aries in the Night Sky

You might commence a search for Aires by examining the astrological column of your newspaper. Here, you should find Aires listed first among the twelve signs of the Zodiac. In astrology, Aires represents supposed characteristics of people born between March 21 and April 19. Some of these widely read columns identify Aires with the Zodiac symbol that represents a ram’s head, while the daily writings purport to forecast what the future holds in store.

Aires heads the list of Zodiac markers because ancient astronomers wanted a stationary and easily identifiable point among the stars to indicate the beginning of spring. In those days (circa 1800 B.C.), spring heralded the beginning of the year and the faint stars comprising the constellation Aires filled the bill perfectly. At that time, the celestial position representing the vernal (spring) equinox appeared fixed in the constellation. Presently, the vernal equinox has shifted so that it lies within the constellation Pisces. Tradition nevertheless has kept Aires in first place among the dozen Zodiac signs.

No sooner had astronomers discovered the constellation than story tellers of the time began constructing narratives to explain its existence. The mythological saga most often referred to originated with Greek reconteurs who told of the offspring of King Athamas and his wife Nephele: Phrixus and Helle. As related, Phrixus had the temerity to reject the advances of Athamas’ second wife Ino. The enraged Ino decided to punish Phrixus (and Helle as well) by starving them to death. Nephele, becoming alarmed, managed to effect a rescue of her children by means of a magical, flying ram clothed in a golden fleece. Unfortunately, Helle fell off the ram and drowned in the Hellespont (now the Dardenelles). The rescued Phrixus then sacrificed the ram to the gods, having removed its golden fleece, and Aires became affixed in the heavens as a new constellation.

In another mythological legend you probably remember, Jason and the Argonauts stole the golden fleece from where it had remained under the protection of fire-breathing bulls and returned it to Greece.

Legends aside, if you want to locate Aires, it helps to have at your side a map of the constellations. Look toward the north until you find constellation Orion, then look left for the star cluster of the Pleiades. You will find the stars comprising constellation Aires between this cluster and Pegasus another constellation coupled with Greek mythology. If you have a telescope with an equatorial mount, position it to locate the coordinates found here. Winter provides the ideal time for a search among the stars for Aires.