Ara, the Latin word for “The Altar”, is one of the original 48 constellations first named Βωμός (Bōmǒs) by the ancient Greeks as described by the astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Said to be shaped like an altar, it is one of the southernmost constellations described by the Greeks and borders the constellations Scorpius, Telescopium, Triangulum Australe, and Norma.
Although the constellation lies too far south to be seen by most of the northern hemisphere it is relatively easy to locate from below the equator. It sits just south of the scorpion’s tail. The Milky Way passed through the northern portion of the constellation and it contains several notable stars including Beta Arae, Alpha Arae, and Westerlund 1-26, thought to be the largest star known, in the super star cluster Westerlund 1.
Ara is 63rd constellation in the world and it is placed in the third quadrant of the southern hemisphere. If you are interested in seeing it just look for H shaped constellation at latitudes between +25° and -90°.
Ara is best visible during July in the southern hemisphere at latitudes between +25° and -90°.
Its notable stars form an asterism in the shape of the letter H and thanks to that you can easily spot it in the sky
Right Ascension: 05:24
Diameter (°): 9
Area (square °): 237
Opposition: Jun 13
Size Rank: 63rd
Brightness Rank: 45th
Major stars in Ara
β Arae (Beta Arae)
α Arae (Alpha Arae)
γ Arae (Gamma Arae)
ζ Arae (Zeta Arae)
μ Arae (Mu Arae)
ε Arae (Epsilon Arae)
Deep sky objects in Ara
Ara Cluster (Westerlund 1)
Hen 3-1357 (The Stingray Nebula)
IRAS 16594-4656 (Water Lily Nebula)
Mythology of the Constellation Ara
According to some legends, Ara represents the Altar of Zeus and is usually depicted with smoke or incense rising southward. It was here that the Gods of Olympus vowed to overthrow and reclaim the universe from the titans.
The titan Cronus (Kronus) was one of the 12 gigantic children of Uranus (the Sky) and Gaia (the Earth). After Uranus banished 2 of his siblings, Gaia persuaded her other children to castrate Cronus and depose him from his throne. The other children were not willing to follow through with the deed, so Cronus was given the sickle and did the deed.
Cronus ruled the Earth and, with his consort Rhea, had 5 children. All seemed well until his mother prophesized that he would suffer the same fate as his father at the hand of his own children. Fearing the five future gods and godesses (Demeter, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and Poseidon) would overthrow if they were allowed to live, he swallowed them all.
When a 6th child, Zeus, was born Rhea saved her son by giving Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow in his place. Rhea hid her son in Crete where he was raised by the nymph Amalthea and fed with the magical horn of plenty.
Once he reached adulthood, Zeus freed his brothers and sisters by tricking Cronus into drinking a nectar that caused him to vomit the gods and goddesses he had swallowed. When this army of gods was released they vowed upon the sacred altar “Ara” to fight together. They vanquished the titans and created a kingdom atop Mount Olympus.
To commemorate their victory, Zeus placed Ara, the Altar, among the stars.
“Neath the glowing sting of that huge sign the Scorpion, near the south, the Altar hangs.”
Authors of astronomical biblical interpretations are divided. Some refer to it as the “Altar of Noah,” erected after the deluge and others as the permanent golden temple of Jerusalem.