Volume 16, Issue 36 - September 4 - September 10, 2008

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Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

Guarding the Southern Sky

The red giant Antares

The waxing moon gains ground in our night skies, appearing Friday in the southwest with sunset, around 7:30, and setting at 10pm. Compared to the sun, which sets a minute later each night, the moon hopscotches across the sky, shifting more than 10 degrees to the south each night and setting almost 40 minutes later.

That places Saturday’s moon amid the constellation Scorpius and less than one-half degree to the south, its alpha star, Antares. Amid dim stars of southern summer skies and even awash in the Milky Way, Antares outshines them all as the 15th brightest star in the heavens.

Not only is Antares one of the brightest stars, it is one of the largest discovered, second only to Orion’s Betelgeuse. More than 500 times the size of our sun, this red giant would stretch beyond Jupiter were it placed at the center of our solar system. Fortunately, it is more than 520 light years away.

To the ancient Sumerians, Antares was one of four Royal Stars, the Guardians of the Heavens marking the cardinal compass points. The other three are Aldebaran, Regulus and Fomalhaut.

During Europe’s dark ages, astronomy thrived in the Arab world, and Antares could well be named for the pre-Mohammed hero Antarah, commonly called Antara.

Born around 580ad, Antarah was the son of a tribal leader and an African slave and grew up himself a slave. Yet he proved himself a mighty warrior, vanquishing the tribe’s enemies and winning his freedom. He became a great poet, writing of battle, courage and love. His works are still printed and inspired Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Second Symphony.


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.

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