The Ram of the Golden Fleece
is not considered a constellation of springtime, for the main stars of Aries cross the meridian at 11 p.m. in early November, and 7 p.m. in early January. The most convenient time for observation is in the fall; and in May this constellation is one of pre-dawn hours. Nevertheless, Aries is associated with the beginning of spring since in the ancient world the Sun entered the constellation at the time of the spring equinox. Thus Aries is the first of the Zodiac star groups—the Prince of all the signs.
The Greeks associated the constellation with the story of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece. The early Chinese called it the Dog; later they knew it as the White Sheep; and with the stars of Taurus and Gemini, these stars were the White Tiger, the western one of the four great zodiac groups of China.
These four quarters of the ancient Chinese sky were occupied by four great celestial beasts, and they were also symbols for east, south, west and north. The four animals were the White Tiger, signifying autumn, the Black Tortoise of winter, the Dragon of spring and the Red Bird of summer. Each in turn through the year directed the universe, and it was not so much that these stars distinguished the seasons as that these creatures caused them. Thus the Dragon fought and conquered the Tortoise; and when the White Tiger doomed the Red Bird, it symbolized the death of nature, the falling of leaves, and the first sadness of frost. Here, then, is the explanation of why in China the color of mourning is not black, but the white of the sad, autumnal White Tiger.
There are only nine naked eye-stars in Aries of magnitude 5 or brighter. The constellation is readily found by looking west from the Pleiades. The lucida—the brightest star in a constellation—is magnitude 2.2 Hamal. This star, Alpha Arietis, together with Beta and Gamma, identifies the triangular head of the proverbial ram. Another triangle of stars, comprised of 35, 39 and 41 Arietis, was once known as the asterism Musca Borealis, the Northern Fly, which hovered over the ram's rump. However, this fly was swatted in the 1800s, and the one celestial fly remaining is the constellation Musca in the Southern Hemisphere.
In the 1980s, Aries was in the news as the location of the “Aries Flasher,” an ephemeral and peculiar object observed by several amateur astronomers, appearing as a bright flash lasting from one to three seconds in duration. It could not be identified as an astronomical object, because nothing known had a similar brightness or period. The object was finally determined to be a reflection off an artificial satellite. Some satellites with apogees on the order of 700 miles altitude move so slowly that they appear almost motionless for a few minutes.
Of several deep-sky objects located in Aries, NGC 772 is the best for smaller telescopes. It is a spiral galaxy seen in about three-quarters view. It measures about 5 by 7 arcminutes and is about magnitude eleven.
Many beautiful double stars are found in Aries. Mesarthim, Gamma Arietis, is a pair of blue-white stars of equal 4.8 magnitude, separated by 8 arcseconds. This was the first double star to be so identified. The keen and versatile, yet controversial, scientist and astronomer Robert Hooke was following a comet in 1664 when he noticed this fine double star in his telescope's field of view. The two stars are aligned exactly north-south in the sky.
 

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