A Changing of the Guard
Mighty Orion gives way to nurturing Virgo
The winter constellation Orion stands high in the south at sunset, just before 6:00 this week. One of the most familiar shapes in the heavens, Orion is highlighted by the line of three bright stars, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, forming his belt. To the lower right is his front-facing leg, punctuated by Rigel, the seventh brightest star. To the upper left, marking the hunter’s shoulder, shines the red giant Betelgeuse, 10th brightest star.
Appearing to the naked eye as a single star in the middle of the hunter’s outstretched sword is the Orion Nebula, the closest star-forming region to earth. The Hubble Space Telescope has detected patches within this interstellar brew on the verge of collapsing into stars and perhaps planetary systems.
As the great hunter strides to the west, the spring constellation Virgo, promising rebirth and fertility, rises in the east. By the time Orion sets at 3am, Virgo shines high in the south.
Although Orion’s nemesis is the scorpion, there cannot be two more different figures in mythology. Orion was a giant of a man, the most handsome on earth. He relished in the hunt and the kill and, a ravager of women, pursued the opposite sex just as he did his prey. Virgo, by contrast, was a nurturer, coaxing life from the land and its creatures. In mourning for her daughter Persephone, who spends six months of the year in the underworld, the great earth mother ushers in the cycles of death and rebirth.
Virgo is the second largest constellation (after Hydra), and there is no mistaking Spica, the ear of wheat in Virgo’s outstretched arm. The 14th brightest in the sky, blue-white Spica is about twice the size of our sun but but burns so hot it shines 2,000 times brighter.
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.