Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll
Gazing at the Heart of our Galaxy
There’s more to Sagittarius than just a bow and arrow
Sunset Thursday finds Mars and doubly bright Saturn little more than one-half degree apart above the west horizon. They’ve been drawing together for some time and will remain less than two degrees apart through the weekend. Blue-white Regulus, a little brighter than ruddy Mars, shines to their lower right. All three set by 11pm.
As Mars and Saturn set, Jupiter commands the heavens, a blazing light low in the southeast at sunset. By midnight mighty Jove is high in the south, and daybreak finds the orange giant setting in the southwest. Preceding Jupiter is Sagittarius, a constellation bereft of any stars brighter than second magnitude and looking more like a teapot than the archer of lore.
The constellation’s three brightest stars form the curved outline of a bow, and to the ancient Babylonians, Sagittarius was the god of war, his arrow aimed at Antares, the heart of the great heavenly scorpion. In Greek myths, Sagittarius is a Centaur with the upper body of a man and the lower body of a horse. The centaurs were skilled archers, but a cruel and drunken lot, more beast than man. The exception was Chiron, who tutored many of the Greek heroes. Some legends say that Chiron placed Sagittarius in the heavens to guide his former pupil Jason on his quest aboard the Argo.
Unknown to our forebears, Sagittarius sits at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. While the constellation boasts no stellar stand-outs, it is one of the richest areas in the heavens for stars and nebulae. Astronomers now believe that the relative darkness at the Milky Way’s center is a result of a black hole more massive than a thousand suns.
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