Aquarius the Water Bearer is a constellation of the Zodiac, which means the sun, moon and planets all occasionally or regularly pass within its boundaries. It’s a big constellation and has long been associated with water. This constellation has no particularly bright stars, and you will need a dark sky to pick it out. Follow the links below to learn more.
How to see the constellation Aquarius. Aquarius the Water Bearer is best seen in the evening sky during a Northern Hemisphere autumn or Southern Hemisphere spring. Aquarius appears in the southern sky as seen from northerly latitudes. South of the equator, it’s found overhead or high in the northern sky.
From either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, you’ll see Aquarius highest in the sky in early October around 10 p.m. local time (11 p.m. local daylight saving time), or one month later – in early November – around 8 p.m. local time (9 p.m. local daylight saving time).
Aquarius is located in a region of the sky sometimes called the Sea. This part of the sky looks dark and deep, but of course there are stars here, as there are everywhere on the heavenly globe. The stars in this part of the sky tend to be faint. In western sky lore, the early stargazers associated the star patterns here with water in a celestial Sea. It’s here we find Cetus the Whale, Pisces the Fish, Eridanus the River and Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish.
The brightest star in this “watery” region of the sky is Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish. Aquarius the Water Carrier is usually portrayed as a man pouring a stream of water into the mouth of the Southern Fish, which is interesting since fish don’t drink water. In the sky, you’ll see a zig-zag line of stars leading from Aquarius to Fomalhaut, the only bright star in the celestial Sea. By the way, because it’s in such an apparently empty part of the sky, Fomalhaut is sometimes called the Loneliest Star.
If you know other constellations already, look for Aquarius to the northeast of the constellation Capricornus and to the southwest of the constellation Pisces.
The Water Jar in Aquarius. If your sky is dark enough, you can see a little asterism – or noticeable pattern of stars within Aquarius – marked in pink on our chart, just to the left of the star Sadal Melik. This little pattern is called the Water Jar in Aquarius. Some 30 faint stars, visible in very dark skies, make a zigzag stream of stars, flowing down toward the star Fomalhaut.
Again, you need a very dark sky to see this. We didn’t try to reproduce this zigzag line of stars here, but, in a dark sky, it is very noticeable.
Aquarius in history and star lore. This ancient constellation has been associated with water throughout the Old World. But whether the abundance of water was regarded as a blessing or a curse seems to depend upon geography.
Greek mythology associates Aquarius with the deluge that wiped out all of humanity except for Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. Zeus, the king of the gods, unleashed the flood to punish people for their misdeeds, and advised the virtuous Deucalion to save himself by building an ark. This tale of divine retribution strongly parallels the story of the great flood in the Old Testament.
In ancient Egypt, the constellation Aquarius represented Hapi, the god of the Nile River. This benevolent god distributed the waters of life, and the urn symbolized a fount of good fortune. It’s this association that explains why the Water Bearer is often seen holding the Norma Nilotica – a rod for measuring the depth of the Nile River. Also, the names of Aquarius’ two brightest stars – Sadalmelik and Sadalsuud – reaffirm the idea of providence. The names are thought to mean lucky one of the king and luckiest of the lucky.
Dates of sun’s passage through Aquarius. As seen from Earth, the sun in 2015 passes in front of the constellation Aquarius from February 16 to March 12. It is important to note that these dates are in reference to the constellation – not the sign – Aquarius. The sun is in the sign Aquarius from about January 20 to February 18.
Bottom line: This post talks about the astronomical constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer. How to find the constellation, its famous Water Jar asterism, and a few stories about it from the ancient myths.
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Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.