AQUARIUS The "Water Carrier" pronounced ah-KWARE-ee-us.
Aquarius is one of the most ancient constellations. The Babylonians saw the figure of a man pouring water from a jar in this area of the sky, and Ptolemy assigned forty two stars to this constellation. He included Fomalhaut which is now the brightest star in the nearby constellation Piscis Austrinus.
Aquarius is in an area of "watery" constellations such as Pisces, Cetus, and Capricornus, possibly because the Sun passes through this region in the rainy season.
Aquarius will somewhat in the future contain the vernal equinox, the point at which the Sun crosses into the northern hemisphere each year (about March 22). This astronomically important point, from which the coordinate of right ascension is measured, will move into Aquarius from neighbouring Pisces, because of the effect of precession, in about 600 years time. The so called "Age of Aquarius", which according to astrologers is dawning, is a long way off yet.
Three main meteor showers radiate from Aquarius each year. The richest shower, the eta Aquarids reach a maximum of about 40 meteors per hour on May 5th. The delta Aquarids produce about 20 meteors per hour around July 28th, while a weaker stream the iota Aquarids produce a maximum of 8 meteors per hour on August 6th.
To find Aquarius, look north in the late evening, over halfway up the sky to find Fomalhaut, and drop down to find either Sadalmelik or the "Y" shaped group of stars that make up the water jar.
Chart showing Aquarius.
Some stars and interesting objects in the Constellation
α Aquarii (Sadalmelik, from the Arabic, meaning 'lucky one of the king') is a magnitude 3.0 yellow supergiant star 950 light years away.
β Aqr (Sadalbuud, meaning 'luckiest of the lucky') is a magnitude 2.9 yellow supergiant 980 light years away.
γ Aqr (Sadaschbia) is a magnitude 3.8 white star 91 light years distant.
δ Aqr (Skat) is a magnitude 3.3 giant white star 98 light years away.
ε Aqr (Albali) is a magnitude 3.8 white star 110 light years away.
M 2 (NGC 7089) is a globular cluster discovered by Maraldi in 1746. This fine object is a mass of innumerable stars concentrated towards the centre with irregular wispy rays of outliers. It can be seen in binoculars and small telescopes.
M 72 (NGC 6981) is a globular cluster much smaller and less impressive than M 2. While it was discovered by Merchain in 1780, it is too faint to be seen in binoculars. It is much more open than M 2.
NGC 7009 is a famous planetary nebula popularly known as the Saturn Nebula, because of its resemblance to the planet when seen in large telescopes or on photographs. An OIII filter helps make this object more easily seen.
NGC 7293 is the nearest and largest planetary nebula visible in amateur telescopes. It is popularly known as the Helix nebula and appears as a rather large faint annulus with a dark centre, about half the size of the Moon. An OIII filter is a wonderful aid to seeing this object in a small telescope.
M 73 (NGC 6994) is one of the puzzles of the Messier catalogue. It is not at all clear why Messier considered this insignificant group of probably unconnected stars could be mistaken for a comet like object. It probably is a indication of the lack of quality in his optics.
Aquarius is to the north as it gets dark at the beginning of November. The constellation spreads over about 50° of sky, east to west and has an altitude from about 45° to about 65° as seen from New Zealand when at its highest. By December 1 the constellation will be getting rather lower and to the north-west as soon as it is dark. It will be starting to set before 12pm as seen from New Zealand.
Earlier in the year, at the beginning of September, Aquarius will be to the north-east at about 9.30 pm. Earlier still, from about May on the constellation is best seen in the morning sky.