By Emma Doran, Special Collections & Archives
As many of you may be aware the month of May is often synonymous with space and in particular, the cultural phenomenon that is – Star Wars. I am sure earlier this month many of you will have seen the phrase “May the 4th be with you” doing the rounds on social media pages paying homage to this cultural giant. So, in my own effort to pay my respects to the franchise, I had a look in our special collections library to discover some lovely celestial themed objects for you.
In my search, I managed to locate some beautiful works related to the zodiac including: a beautiful replica edition of John Flamsteed’s (1646 – 1719), Atlas Coelestis re-engraved on a much smaller scale by M.J Fortin, an artisan and globe maker for the French royal family in his book Atlas Céleste De Flamsteed Approuvé Par L’Académie Royale Des Sciences. This beautiful work was printed in Paris in 1776 and portrays beautiful illustrations of many of the principal stars and constellations including the zodiac constellations.
Another strikingly beautiful find is that of a Guide to Star-Gazing by Mary Jenkins published in London in 1861. Which aims to teach readers some of the first principles of Astronomy and enable them to traverse the sky and accurately identify constellations. Using these two books as my guide I thought it might be an interesting endeavor to discover some of the history of the zodiac and learn how to locate these constellations in the night sky.
name of the zodiac is given to the zone of the stars which the sun traverses during the year and comes from the Greek zodiakos (kyklos)“zodiac (circle),” literally “circle of little animals.” An apt etymology as figures of animals predominate in the identification of these constellations. To form the zodiac the entire circumference of the sky has been divided into twelve distinct regions, each visited by the sun as it travels around the earth before returning to the beginning of its path and repeating the cycle again.
Aries, the Ram, 21st of March
There are only two bright stars in Aries. A small constellation, Musca the Fly, Andromeda and Perseus to the north, and a part of Cetus the Whale to the south are the only signs on nearly the same meridian as Aries. Aries appears on the meridian (the imaginary line of longitude drawn along the surface of the earth from the North Pole to the South Pole) during the latter part of October.
Taurus, the Bull, 19th of April
The stars included in Taurus and those next to it are perhaps the most brilliant in the northern hemisphere. Taurus comprises the Pleiades, Hyades, and two bright stars in the horns of the Bull. Immediately above Taurus are Perseus and Auriga and below are Eridanus and Orion. Taurus appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of November.
Gemini, the Twins, 20th of May
Castor and Pollux are the chief stars in Gemini. Above it is a group of insignificant stars known as the Lynx; below it is Canis Minor, which includes Procyon, a brilliant star and below Canis Minor is a dim constellation called Monoceros. Gemini appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of December.
Cancer, the Crab, 21st of June
Cancer only has one bright star. On this meridian half of Lynx can be seen. To the north of Cancer are the tail and head of the Great Bear: to the south the head of the Serpent. Cancer appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of January.
Leo, the Lion, 22nd of July
All of the stars on this meridian present a very brilliant aspect. Above Leo are Leo Minor and Ursa Major and bellow it the folds of Serpentarius can be found. Leo appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of February.
Virgo, the Virgin, 22nd of August
Above Virgo the tails of Ursa Major can be seen along with Bootes, Coma, Berenices and Canes Venatici and below Virgo, Corvus can be found. Virgo appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of March
Libra, the Balance, 23rd of September
Above Libra one can see part of Bootes and Corona Borealis. Beneath Libra is part of Scorpio. Libra appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of April.
Scorpio, the Scorpion, 23rd of October
Scorpio is a very brilliant constellation. Above it to the left are Serpens Ophincus and Hercules and a little to the right of Scorpio is Corona Borealis. Scorpio appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of May.
Sagittarius, the Archer, 22nd of November
Sagittarius is the most southern of the Zodiacal signs. The principal constellations on the same meridian are Antinous, Aquila the Eagle and Lyra. Sagittarius appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of June.
Capricornus, the Goat, 21st of December
There are only two bright stars in Capricornus. The principal constellations to the north are Delphinus and Cygnus. Capricornus appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of July.
Aquarius, the Water Bearer, 20th of January
Above this sign one can see Pegasus and below it is the Southern Fish, which includes Fomalhaut – a brilliant star. Aquarius appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of August.
Pisces, the Fish, 19th of February
There are no bright stars to be seen in Pisces. Above it, a little to the left, is Andromeda and below it, in the same direction is Cetus the Whale. Pisces appears on the meridian at midnight during the latter part of September.