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Swimming with the Fishes: Pisces - Explore

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Swimming with the Fishes: Pisces

The constellation Pisces rises in the east this weekend after sunset. The planet Jupiter will be to the constellation’s lower left. Credit: Till Credner

Most people who have heard of Pisces think of it as a sign of the Zodiac for those who have birthdays in late winter. But Pisces is actually a constellation known as The Fish that is easy to spot in the eastern sky on fall nights once you know where to look.

Pisces is made even easier than usual due to bright Jupiter just to the left of the constellation. The stars forming a large V to Jupiter’s right and above are part of Pisces, and when you run into the Great Square of Pegasus above it, you’ve gone too far. The most noticeable part of Pisces is called the Circlet. The Circlet is a generally round shaped collection of stars at the southern end of the constellation’s V shape.

Pisces is indeed a constellation of the Zodiac, which means that it lies along the plane of the solar system where planets and the moon and sun may pass. Thus, Jupiter is just across the border in Aries these days. Jupiter will pass into Pisces at the beginning of next month. The moon also spent four days traveling the length of Pisces earlier in November and will do so again December 2-5, and on December 6 it will lie just beside Jupiter as Jupiter moves into Pisces and the moon passes it going the other direction, into Aries.

Pisces is the 14th largest of all the constellations. It contains one Messier object, M74, a dim magnitude-10 spiral galaxy. M74 is one-and-a-half degrees east-northeast of Eta Piscium, but requires a large scope, dark site, and lots of patience to see.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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