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Explaining the science and mythology behind the constellation of Capricorn

Zodiac star, Capricorn constellation, on night sky with cloud and stars.
Stock Adobe
Zodiac star, Capricorn 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 us learn about the astronomy and mythology behind the zodiac, contributor Jean Creighton, director of UW-Milwaukee's Manfred Olson Planetarium, has been hosting a new series of events. This month, they are highlighting Capricorn.

People describe Capricorn as looking like ski boots, but to Creighton, it looks like a boomerang. "You can find it between Sagittarius and Aquarius. It'll be visible in the summertime," says Creighton. And despite it being a bigger constellation —about the 40th biggest constellation in the sky— it's really hard to find.

Despite the difficulty you may have finding it in the night sky, there are some significant deep sky objects within Capricorn, including exoplanets and galaxies according to Creighton.

"There's some famous galaxies in this constellation ... it has both spiral [galaxies] and elliptical [galaxies] in the same kind of patch of sky. Now I don't want to excite people's expectations — these are not objects you'd be able to see without a decent telescope," she notes.

Capricorn and its mythology:

Capricorn is the story of Pam, a Greek God who was half person and half goat. Creighton says, "He could see that the war between The Olympian gods and the Titans was not going very well... the strongest Titan, Typhon was after him. So, he decided. Oh geez, look at that. Big Monster, I'm not very strong. I better run for it, and he jumped in the water." As a result, Pam turned himself into half fish and half goat to protect himself from Typhon.

Creighton adds that Capricorn is often associated with Dec. 22, the winter solstice that marks the shortest day of the year. "Those of us who are paying close attention to the time of sunrise and sunset, we know that after that, it gets better. So, during the run, if you will, of Capricorn, the days are getting progressively longer," she says.

The Manfred Olson Planetarium at UW-Milwaukee's live, interactive show, Constellations of the Zodiac: Capricorn, will take place this Friday and Saturday. You can find more information about both events here.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Dr. Jean Creighton has always been inspired by how the cosmos works. She was born in Toronto, Ontario and grew up in Athens, Greece where her mother claims she showed a great interest in how stars form from the age of five.
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