Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

102,833 subscribers and counting ...

Crow, Cup and Water Snake sail the southern sky

10jun08_430

Tonight for June 3, 2014

Looking westward at nightfall on June 3, 2014. The ecliptic is the Earth's orbital plane projected onto the sky's dome. What is the ecliptic

Looking westward at nightfall on June 3, 2014. The ecliptic is the Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the sky’s dome. What is the ecliptic

Looking south at nightfall from mid-northern latitudes. What is the ecliptic?

Looking south at nightfall from mid-northern latitudes. What is the ecliptic?

Looking in the southeast on June 2014 evenings. What is the ecliptic

Looking in the southeast on June 2014 evenings. What is the ecliptic

This June evening, look to the south around nightfall. The first star you will likely see, nearly due south, is sparkling blue-white Spica, in Virgo. But don’t mistake the nearby ruddy planet Mars for Spica, or the golden planet Saturn for Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. The golden light to the east (or left) of Spica is the planet Saturn, and the bright ruddy light to the west (right) of Spica is Mars. You can distinguish blue-white Spica from golden Saturn and reddish Mars by color. If you have binoculars, they help you see color all the more vividly.

More about Spica: Spica is a whirling double star

As nightfall deepens into later evening, watch for a number of fainter stars will begin to become visible. Below and to the right of Spica and Mars are the constellations of Corvus the Crow, Crater the Cup, and Hydra the Water Snake.

In Greek mythology, Apollo sent the crow to fetch a cup of water. Corvus, however, got distracted eating figs and after much delay, finally remembered his mission. Rightly figuring that Apollo would be angry, the crow plucked a snake from the water and concocted a story about how it had attacked and delayed him. Apollo was not fooled and angrily flung all three into the sky, placing the crow and cup on the snake’s back. Then the god ordered Hydra to never let the crow drink from the cup. As a further punishment, he ordered that the crow could never sing again, only screech and caw.

None of these constellations has any bright stars, but Hydra holds the distinction of being the longest constellation in the heavens.

By the way, you can see the ecliptic with the mind’s-eye this month by referring to the planets Jupiter, Mars and Saturn, plus key stars of the Zodiac: Regulus, Spica and Antares. Whereas theses stars will be in the same place in the sky at this time next year, the planets will have moved relative to the backdrop stars. Mars goes full circle in front of the constellations of the Zodiac in about two years, while Jupiter takes about 12 years and Saturn 30 years.