Skywatch for the week of March 2, 2020
Tue Mar 3, 2020 MOON IN ORION When the waxing moon of March appears high in the southern sky after sunset, it can be found above the head of the constellation of Orion the Hunter. In Greek mythology, Orion was the son of the sea god Poseidon. Orion loved Artemis, the goddess of the moon and also of the hunt. Now Artemis had a brother, Apollo, the sun god, and he didn’t like Orion – not good enough for his sister, he decided. One day while Orion was swimming in the ocean, Apollo found his sister and pointed to Orion, who appeared as just a little dark speck way out at sea. He bet Artemis she couldn’t hit such a small target. And so she shot the far-off target with an arrow, not realizing it was Orion’s head. But Orion was a hero, so he was given immortality as a constellation of the night. Once a month the moon travels through this part of the sky, and to the storytellers this was a time when Artemis could visit with her old hunting companion.
Wed Mar 4, 2020 THE STARS OF THE PHARAOHS Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the Great Pyramid of Khufu still stands. Like many old monuments, its four sides are aligned with the compass directions of North, South, East and West. Near the pyramid there is the statue of the Great Sphinx, a lion’s body with a woman’s face. It also faces toward the east, toward the rising sun. It is said that the sphinx represents the combined constellations of Leo the Lion and Virgo the Maiden. And the Great Pyramid, along with other pyramids nearby, align with the positions of the three stars in the belt of the Orion the Hunter, known to the Pharaohs as the mythical god Osiris. In ancient Egypt, the moon was called the left eye of Horus; his right eye was the sun. And three planets were identified with this son of Osiris. Mars was called Horus the Red; Jupiter was named Horus who Limits Two Lands; and Saturn was Horus the bull, not to be confused with the constellation Taurus the bull, to the east of Orion.
Thur Mar 5, 2020 AURIGA THE CHARIOTEER High in the northern sky this evening there is a somewhat obscure constellation called Auriga, the Charioteer, in legend and myth, an early king of Athens, the son of the blacksmith god Hephaestus or Vulcan, and the inventor of the chariot. Another story portrays him as Phaeton, whose father was the sun god Helios, and who drove the solar chariot on a reckless path across the sky. Now if you're good at imagining constellation shapes, you'll immediately see Auriga in all his glory - a man, driving a chariot, while holding on to a whip in one hand, and a bunch of small goats in the other. But if you have that kind of imagination, then I probably didn't have to tell you all that. For the rest of us, Auriga looks like a pentagon shape - a five-sided figure of stars, marked by a bright yellow star - Capella, the head of the charioteer. Look for the goat kids also, a few tiny bright stars just to the south of Capella.
Fri Mar 6, 2020 CANOPUS If you're outside after sunset tonight, or on any clear evening this month, you should notice a bright star-like object low in the southern sky. It hovers there near the horizon, and at first you might think it was an airplane's landing light. If you've been watching too much TV, you might even think it was a UFO. This particular UFO is easy to identify - It's the star Canopus, second brightest star of the night sky. Canopus, an important star for navigators, is in the constellation of Carina the keel; it marks the rudder of the famous mythological ship Argo, which carried Jason and his crew in search of the Golden Fleece. Folks in the Northern U.S. cannot see this star - the earth blocks it from view. Only at southerly latitudes like Florida can Canopus be seen. When Canopus is near the horizon, the earth's thick atmosphere will even make the star seem to change color, brightness, and shape.