Tonight – April 16, 2016 – as darkness falls around the world, the star Regulus, brightest light in the constellation Leo the Lion, appears near the moon. Although Regulus rates as a 1st-magnitude star (that is, one of the brightest stars in the sky), you might have difficulty spotting it in the moon’s glare tonight. Just don’t mistake the planet Jupiter, the much-brighter star-like point of light to the east of tonight’s moon, for Regulus. Jupiter is brighter! Plus Jupiter is a planet and shines steadily while Regulus, a star, twinkles.
The waxing gibbous moon, Regulus and Jupiter will move westward throughout the evening hours and finally set in the west in the wee hours before dawn on April 17.
And don’t forget to look again tomorrow night, when Jupiter will be closer to the moon!
Regulus is considered to be the most important of the four Royal Stars of ancient Persia.
Four to five thousand years ago, the Royal Stars defined the approximate positions of equinoxes and solstices in the sky. Regulus reigned as the summer solstice star, Antares as the autumn equinox star, Fomalhaut as the winter solstice star, and Aldebaran as the spring equinox star. Regulus is often portrayed as the most significant Royal Star, possibly because it symbolized the height and glory of the summer solstice sun. Although the Royal Stars as seasonal signposts change over the long coarse of time, they still mark the four quadrants of the heavens.
Regulus coincided with the summer solstice point some 4,300 years ago. In our time, the sun has its annual conjunction with Regulus on or near August 22, or about two months after the summer solstice – or alternatively, one month before the autumn equinox. Regulus will mark the autumn equinox point some 2,100 years into the future.
Bottom line: On the night of April 16, 2016, use the waxing gibbous moon to find the Royal Star Regulus! The very bright planet Jupiter shines to the east of the moon and Regulus.