Pisces is an ancient constellation derived, some say, from the story
of the terrible Greek god Typhon.
(This is not the Chinese word for "big wind", which - in English - is of
course spelled "typhoon". The French, however, spell this word "typhon",
which adds to the confusion. It is possible that the Chinese borrowed the
word from the Greek. The modern Greek equivalent is spelled "tau upsilon
phi omega nu" and means "cyclone".)
Typhon was born from Gaia (Mother Earth) and Tartarus. This was Gaia's
youngest offspring, but by far the deadliest and the largest monster ever
Its thighs were gigantic coiled serpents; its arms could spread across
the heavens, and its head (in the shape of an ass's head) touched the
stars. When it took flight, its wings blotted out the sun, and when it
opened its mouth, out came burning boulders.
Typhon was so frightful even the gods of Olympus refused to fight,
fleeing instead to Egypt when Typhon attacked their mountain home. Each
god disguised itself into an animal: Zeus transformed himself into a
ram, Dionysus a goat, and so on. Aphrodite and Eros both disguised
themselves as fish and swam up the Nile to escape the monster.
Typhon was eventually defeated, due in large part to the brave and
level-headed Athene, who convinced Zeus to take up his thunderbolts and
make battle. Typhon actually captured Zeus and placed him in a cave, but
Hermes and Pan were able to free him.
To make a long story short, Zeus then took the battle to Typhon, chasing him
to Sicily. There Zeus threw Mount Aetna at the monster, finally subduing
it. But under the earth, the buried monster still spews up fire and boulders
every so often.
While the myth eventually moved to Italy, there were origins from the
ancient Hittite culture, as well as the volcanic eruptions along the
As for Aphrodite and Eros, who escaped the monster's wrath, these two
were given their fish-like images in the heavens, thus commemorating the
time Typhon nearly overran Olympus. Later cultures equated the two fish
with the Biblical story of the miracle of the fishes and the loaves.
The sun passes through the southeast corner of Pisces; in fact the
vernal equinox now lies in Pisces.
Pisces is depicted as two fish connected by
their tails at the star alpha Piscium. Indeed, alpha's name,
"Al Rischa", means "the cord".
The constellation is rather faint; Pisces' stars
are generally fourth magnitude. There are a few fine binaries, an interesting
variable, and one Messier object: a splendid face-on spiral, which
unfortunately is quite faint and rather a challenge for smaller telescopes.
[NOTE: see the Binocular Section link at the bottom of this page for updates on Double Stars]
Alpha Piscium (Struve 202) has an orbit
of 933 years (considerably more than the 720 years previously thought):
4.3, 5.2; currently PA 223º, separation 1.6".
Zeta Piscium (Struve 100) is a fine binary: 5.6, 6.5; 63º, 23"
Eta Piscium is a difficult binary to resolve: 3.5, 11; 36º,
Psi1 Piscium (Struve 88): 5.3, 5.5; 160º, 30"
Struve 61 (65 Piscium) is a splendid binary of equal stars: 6.3,
6.3; 297º, 4.4" separation.
The binary is found just on the border with Andromeda. The easiest way
to find it is to start from zeta Andromedae, then move north 3 degrees
and east half a degree.
Kappa Psc is an alpha CV variable: 4.87-4.95.
TX Psc (19 Psc) is an interesting irregular, a deep red star that
changes only slightly (about 5.0 to 5.5, although some references say from
5.5 to 6.0). Its main attraction is in the exceptionally deep redness of
The star is found between iota and lambda, north two degrees from lambda
and one degree east. Or you might find it easier by first starting at gamma Psc and moving seven degrees east. (Burnham, p. 1475, has a finder's chart.)
Deep Sky Objects:
The best deep sky object in Pisces is M74, the only Messier in the
M74 (NGC 628) is a spiral galaxy seen face on. It's about 32
million light years away, and one of the faintest Messiers. The larger
the scope, the better. Long exposure photographs show two or three
loosely-wound spirals `spinning' out from a small bright nucleus.
The galaxy is found 1.5º ENE of eta Piscium.
For a more detailed appreciation of Pisces, visit the Binocular Section.
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