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Explaining the science and mythology behind the constellation of Aquarius

Aquarius constellation star Zodiac
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Zodiac star, Aquarius constellation, on night sky with cloud and stars

Do you know your zodiac sign? Would you know how to find it in the night sky? To help learn about the astronomy and mythology behind the constellations of the zodiac, UW-Milwaukee's Manfred Olsen Planetarium is beginning a new zodiac series this month.

Astronomy contributor and Manfred Olson Planetarium director Jean Creighton, notes that the concept of the Zodiac is ancient. Anything that was touched by the sun's path in the sky is called the zodiac. "It comes from the word 'zō,' which in Greek means 'animal,'" she explains. "Many of the groupings of the stars along the path of the sun happen to be named after animals."

However, this month the zodiac is not an animal, but rather a person: Aquarius.

The constellations of the zodiac have associated myths with them as well. Although the modern zodiac is heavily influenced by Greco-Roman religion, Creighton says every culture had ways of organizing the stars.

Focusing on Aquarius, Creighton explains the myth behind constellation, which depicts a beautiful youth named Ganymede.

"He was a wonderful, beautiful youth who was picked up, or scooped up by Zeus and brought to Mount Olympus, and he would be serving the drinks, if you will, on Mount Olympus. So he is the water or the refreshments man, " she says.

It may be counterintuitive, but Creighton notes that you actually can't see your zodiac sign around your birthday because the sun is in front of it. "Many people imagine that somehow this is the optimal time. In fact, it's the worst time," she says. But despite not being able to see the constellation, shoe notes that looking in its direction can reveal all kinds of astronomical objects.

"You might have individual stars, you might have Nebula, and I chose four I thought interesting astronomical objects that are in that direction. So I'll get to talk about that too," Creighton says.

The Manfred Olson Planetarium will be hosting a live, interactive show Constellations of the Zodiac: Aquarius on Jan. 28th at 7pm. Masks are currently required inside all University buildings, including the planetarium, regardless of vaccination status. You can find more information about the event here.

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