The wide waxing crescent moon has moved eastward of the planets Mars and Saturn on the sky’s dome, and is now heading for Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. The name Antares is Greek for “like Ares,” probably because the color of this star resembles that of its namesake planet, the Greek Ares or the Roman Mars.
It might be hard to discern the color of Antares and Mars in the moonlight. However, If you have binoculars, use them to contrast and compare the planet Mars with the red supergiant star Antares. This star is a giant among stars, boasting the volume of hundreds of millions of suns. That’s truly astonishing when you consider that the sun has the volume of 1.3 million Earths!
Note the ecliptic – the Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac – on the sky chart of the moon and planets above. As seen from Earth, the sun, moon and planets are always found on or near the ecliptic and in front of the rather narrow band of stars we call the Zodiac.
The planets Mars and Saturn both shine in front of the zodiacal constellation Libra the Scales at present, and are heading eastward, toward the star Antares in the zodiacal constellation Scorpius. Watch for Mars to have a conjunction with Antares in late September 2014, but slow-plodding (and sometimes backward-moving) Saturn won’t meet up with Antares until late next year, in December 2015.
The sun will have its conjunction with Antares on December 1, 2014. You won’t see Antares at this juncture, however, because Antares will only be out during the daytime hours, rising and setting with the sun, as it always does every year in early December.
This evening, after sunset on September 1, 2014, look for the planets Mars and Saturn on one side of the moon, and for the star Antares on the other.