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Volume 14, Issue 39 ~ September 28 - October 4, 2006

Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

The Wild One

A tame teapot today, Sagittarius is civilization’s first sidekick

Our fellow planets are scarce, with Jupiter offering the best visage at evening twilight in the southwest amid summer’s fading constellation Libra. Just as dusk turns to darkness, Jupiter drops beneath the horizon.

Mercury, too, bobs into view at twilight, appearing in binoculars just above the west-southwest horizon in the 20 minutes following sunset, around 6:50 this week.

Conversely, Venus and Saturn hover above the eastern horizon at dawn. Saturn appears first, rising around 3am in the east-southeast. As sunrise approaches, the ringed planet climbs to about 20 degrees due east. Not until the dawn’s early light, however, does Venus crack the eastern horizon, rising at most 20 minutes before sunrise, around 7:00 this week. Again, you may need binoculars.

The waxing moon, which reaches first-quarter phase Saturday, keeps us company later into the night and early morning. It also plays host to summer’s waning zodiacal constellation Sagittarius. At the southern foot of the Milky Way, Sagittarius appears to us today as a teapot, but our ancient forebears saw far more than we.

To the Greeks Sagittarius was an archer with arrow to bowstring aimed at the heart of the scorpion. By some accounts Sagittarius is Chiron the centaur, half-man and half-horse, born of a mortal woman and Chronus, the Titan father of Zeus, who took the form of a stallion to escape the watchful eye of his wife Rhea. Other accounts equate Sagittarius with Crotus, son of Pan and Eupheme.

Stretching back to ancient Sumeria, Sagittarius is Enkidu, the wild man raised by animals who only Gilgamesh could out-wrestle and tame. Thereafter, Enkidu pledged himself to civilization’s earliest hero, helping him defeat the Bull of Heaven, for which the gods struck him down.

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