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Tidbits takes a closer look at the constellation Aquarius, the 11th sign of the zodiac.

The Latin word “aquarius” translates “water carrier,” and the constellation is a cluster of stars shaped like a water jug. The constellation consists of 22 main stars, with the brightest, Beta Aquarii, 2,300 times brighter than our Sun. It’s the 10th largest constellation in the heavens. However, it’s faint and hard to see because it contains very few really bright stars. City-dwellers won’t be able to see Aquarius because it requires a dark sky to spot it.

Greek mythology tells the story of a handsome young Trojan youth named Ganymede, the son of Tros, King of Troy. He was noticed by Zeus, the king of the gods, and chosen to reside on Mt. Olympus as the cupbearer of the gods. Zeus, disguised as an eagle, flew to Earth and whisked Ganymede away to the heavens. According to the author Homer, Ganymede was “the most beautiful of mortals, abducted by the gods, to serve as Zeus’s cupbearer.” When Ganymede became frustrated with his position, he poured out all of the wine and water of the gods, refusing to continue his service. Mythology claims that all of the spilled water fell to Earth, causing torrential rains for days, creating a flood over the entire world. Although angered, Zeus realized his mistreatment of the youth, and in exchange for his service, Ganymede was granted eternal youth, along with a place in the night sky as the water carrier.

Second-century astronomer Ptolemy documented Aquarius in his publication, “Almagest,” a chart of 48 constellations in the night sky. His observations were made from Alexandria, Egypt, and listed 1,022 individual stars, described by their positions in the individual constellations, and denoting the brightest stars. Ptolemy wasn’t the first to discover the constellations, just the first to catalog them.

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Aquarius lies in the region of the sky that astronomers refer to as the Sea, because several other “water” constellations lie in the area – Pisces (the fish), Eridanus (the river), Cetus (the whale), Capricornus (the sea-goat), Delphinus (the dolphin), and Hydra (the water serpent).

The ancient Babylonians associated Aquarius with the destructive floods they received, calling its appearance “the curse of rain,”    while the Egyptians believed the water bearer to be the cause of the Spring overflow of the Nile when the bearer dipped the jug into the river. Chinese astronomers claimed the stream of water flowing from the water jar was an army of soldiers, the “Army of Yu-Lin.”

    Astrologers tell us that those born between January 20 and February 18 fall under the sign of Aquarius in the Zodiac. Those who study the stars’ relationship to human behavior say that these folks embrace their individuality and independence. They are creative, innovative, forward-thinking people with big ideas and a vision for a better future for themselves and society.

    Do you remember the 1960s song “The Age of Aquarius?” In the world of astrology, an “age” is about 2,150 years, representing the amount of time the Sun remains in each zodiac sign. The 1960s were not the Age of Aquarius at all, because, according to calculations, that won’t begin until around the year 2600.