Following the Wolf’s Path
Saturday marks the year’s first full moon, called the Wolf Moon by Native Americans and Europeans alike, as with January’s frigid cold and deep snows, the hungry animals came their closest to human settlements.
The moon spends week’s end near Gemini. The night of the 24th, look for the waxing gibbous moon at the twins’ feet just five degrees from the second-magnitude star Alhena, the third-brightest in the constellation. The next night the near-full moon shines below the twins themselves, Pollux and Castor.
In classical mythology, the two are paternal twins, Pollux the son of Zeus and Castor the son of mortal Tyndareus. No wonder the two don’t look alike, with brighter Pollux shining orange and Castor white. While the two are linked in mythology and appear together in our night sky, they have no physical relation, as Pollux is more than 50 light years from Castor. Modern-day astronomers have identified other differences. Castor, in truth, is four stars, its light made up of two pair of binary stars circling each other. Pollux, a single giant star, has the distinction of being the largest and brightest star to have a planet orbiting it.
Come Sunday, the moon is roughly 10 degrees west of Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion, and the next night the two are even closer. Regulus marks the end of the proverbial Sickle of Leo, which looks like an inverted question mark, Regulus being the dot at the bottom. The sickle outlines the lion’s head and mane, while its body stretches out behind, a bright triangle of stars making up the lion’s rear. While only the 21st brightest star, Regulus is right on the ecliptic, the imaginary line of the sun, moon and planets’ path around earth. This placement earned it a place among the great stars of antiquity as one of the Four Guardians of the Heavens, the others being Aldebaran, Fomalhaut and Antares.