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Volume 14, Issue 26 ~ June 29 - July 5, 2006

Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

Ruler of the Heavens

It’s not just because Jupiter is last planet standing, either

With July comes the zenith of our summer, some of the hottest days when the sun seems to never let up. But take heart: we could be another three million miles closer to the sun, as we will be in January on perihelion. At perihelion, our nearest to the sun, we’re a mere 91.67 million away. July 5 marks aphelion, Earth’s farthest point from the sun, 94.84 million miles.

The waxing moon takes a prominent place in the night sky this week, arching low through the south along the ecliptic. Monday night the moon rests not 10 degrees to the west of Spica, and the following evening it is even closer still, this time but a few degrees to the east of the bright, blue beauty.

Spica is the ear of wheat in the outstretched hand of the constellation Virgo, whose ascendancy ushers the growth of the crops. To the ancient Greeks she was Demeter, sister to Zeus.

Well told are the tales of Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, who spends six months of each year in the underworld with her husband Hades — one month for each of the pomegranate seeds she ate while his “guest.”

But Homer tells of another child to Demeter, who had “lain with Iasion in a thrice-plowed field,” from which union bore Plutus, whose name means “riches from the soil.” Plutus was the blind god of wealth and bountiful harvest. To ensure that such powers were given to one and all, without favor, Zeus took Plutus’ sight.

Wednesday night highlights Zeus, or Jupiter in planetary form, when the gibbous moon shines five degrees directly below the gaseous giant. With the twilight setting of Mercury, Saturn and Mars, and with Venus barely above the eastern horizon at dawn, Jupiter truly is ruler of the heavens.

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