Sentinels of the Sun

Early risers Friday might catch the last of the waning crescent moon low in the east in the 90 minutes before daybreak at 5:48. Ten degrees to its left, glows Aldebaran, the bright red heart of Taurus the bull. Later that same day, as darkness settles in after 8:30, Venus appears above the west horizon. The bluish light of Regulus shines about one degree to the lower left of Venus, but there is no comparison, as the so-called evening star shines more than 150 times brighter than the real star.

By Saturday evening, the two have switched positions, and now Regulus has climbed about one degree higher than Venus. Regulus is the heart of zodiac constellation Leo the lion. But looking at Regulus and the stars closest to it, you may recognize other shapes, like a question mark with Regulus marking the dot at the bottom. Dating to the days when the harvest was critical to more lives than language, the same grouping was called the Sickle of Leo. 

Sunday’s new moon leaves a dark celestial backdrop here in Chesapeake Country. However, along a swath stretching through the South Pacific, that same moon will eclipse the sun for almost five minutes. The best view is from Easter Island, one of the most remote places on earth. The island is most famous for its monolithic statues — called moai — built by its original seafaring inhabitants who settled there nearly 2,000 years ago. The largest of the moai, weighing several tons, were erected facing the rising sun of summer solstice and with their backs to the setting sun of winter solstice. 

Monday’s moon is still obscured by the sun, but by Tuesday a nascent crescent returns to view just after sunset in the west, a few degrees below Venus and Regulus, and a few degrees above Wednesday at twilight.