The Changing of the Guard
As one royal star sets, another rises to watch over us
The waning moon reaches new phase Saturday, but it takes a couple days before the waxing crescent pulls far enough away from the sun to emerge from its glare. But by dusk Monday, a thin sliver of moon appears low in the west. Saturn shines less than two degrees away toward the horizon, and Venus is about six degrees to the other side of the moon. Between moon and Venus shines Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion.
The 21st brightest star in the heavens, Regulus means kingly one. In the cradle of civilization, the ancient Mesopotamians saw the star as one of their gods, Amil-gal-ur, king of the celestial sphere. Sharing vigil over the celestial sphere, the heavens and the earth below were three other royal stars: Antares, Aldebaran and Fomalhaut.
As Regulus sets soon after the sun, Antares appears in full glory in the south not five degrees below Jupiter. Marking the heart of the scorpion, Antares is not only the 15th brightest star but also the reddest in all the heavens.
By 1am, Antares and Jupiter are sinking to the southwest as the third royal star is rising in the southeast. Fomalhaut stands out not for its place at the mouth of Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, but rather for its brightness 18th overall in a bare patch of sky. Called the solitary one, Fomalhaut marked the winter solstice for the Mesopotamians.
A few hours before dawn finds Mars high in the east. Following within an hour is Taurus the bull, with 13th-brightest Aldebaran marking its eye. Five thousand years ago, Aldebaran rose in sync with vernal equinox, which the Mesopotamians marked as the new year. To them, Aldebaran was the eye of revelation and, no wonder, the fourth sentinel.
Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2007 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.