On June 11, 2014, the moon is sweeping past the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion, shining below the planet Saturn at nightfall. The brightest star in the moon’s vicinity is Antares, sometimes called the Scorpion’s Heart.
The name Antares means like Mars. This star got that name because of its ruddy hue, similar to the red planet. If you remember your Greek mythology (or perhaps episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess), Ares is the god of war, the counterpart to the Roman god Mars. Antares = ant-Ares. On June and July evenings in 2014, both Antares and Mars are above the horizon. Mars lies in the southwest sky, somewhat close to a star called Spica, brightest light in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. Look below for an expanded chart, which includes the star Spica and the planet Mars.
Do you have binoculars? If so, they may help you to better discern the reddish color of Antares and Mars on this moonlit night. Or identify these objects now, and wait until the moon moves away.
Throughout June 2014, the planets Mars and Saturn plus two bright zodiacal stars, Spica and Antares, will enable you to visualize the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the dome of sky – with the mind’s-eye. The ecliptic is the sun’s path across our sky. It’s useful to think about, because the moon also travels this path, and so do the planets.
Some people ask why is Antares so red? The answer is that the outer layer of its atmosphere – its surface for lack of a better term for this giant ball of gas – is cooler than other stars that appear whitish. In much the same way, we think of something red hot on Earth as being cooler than something white hot. Antares’ surface is still very hot by earthly standards, some 3,100 degrees Celsius (5,600 degrees Fahrenheit). But it’s a far cry from our sun’s surface temperature of 5,200 degrees C (9,400 degrees F). As a result, the light we see from Antares comes mostly from the red side of the spectrum.
Want more about word origins? Look at the June 11 moon. It is more than half lighted but less than full. The moon’s almost-full phase tonight is called “gibbous,” which derives from the Latin word for hump. A gibbous moon is sometimes called a hump-backed moon.
Bottom line: On June 11, 2014, the waxing gibbous moon appears near the reddish star Antares. During the evening hours, the moon and Antares may be found ascending in the east below the planet Saturn.