Here is a familiar figure – to stargazers – and to Texans like me. My little neighbor – age 5 – told me she saw a scorpion. To those of us who watch the skies, the chance to see a celestial Scorpion is present mostly in the summer months. Here it is – Scorpius the Scorpion – only visible at nightfall and very early evening now that summer is fading away.
Before darkness completely drapes the sky, however, look into the western sky at dusk to catch the planets Venus and Saturn close to the horizon. Venus, the lower of the two, is also the brighter. In fact, Venus ranks as the third-brightest celestial body to light up the heavens, after the sun and moon. Venus sets first, around nightfall, and then is followed by Saturn and then Antares.
The Scorpion is one of the few constellations that looks like the creature for which it was named. It’s that curved “tail” of stars looping down toward the southern horizon that does the trick. The star Antares is sometimes called the Heart of the Scorpion. It is a fiery red star, one of the brightest stars in the sky, with a reputation for twinkling fiercely. The fierce twinkling no doubt stems from the fact that, to us in the Northern Hemisphere, Antares arcs across the southern sky and is often seen low in the sky. And when we look low in the sky, we’re looking through a thicker-than-usual mass of Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere, of course, is what causes stars to twinkle.
Tonight’s waxing crescent moon, as seen from North America, is over 40 percent illuminated by sunshine. In the world’s Eastern Hemisphere – Europe, Africa, Asia, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand – the waxing crescent exhibits a little thinner phase and lies somewhat farther west of Antares. But no matter where you live, the moon – as always – is moving eastward in front of the background stars, now heading for the constellation Scorpius’ brightest star: Antares, the Heart of the Scorpion.
As seen from around the world at evening tomorrow – on Thursday, September 12 – the moon will have moved noticeably to the east (left) of the star Antares. Incidentally, the first quarter moon will come tomorrow, at 17:08 Universal Time.
Watch for the waxing moon near the star Antares, the Scorpion’s Heart, on the evenings of September 11 and 12.