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. Our chart shows the sky scene from the vantage point of North America, with the waxing crescent moon shining north of the planet Mars and Antares, the bright star that depicts the beating heart of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion.
As soon as darkness falls, look into the southwestern sky at nightfall to glimpse the planet Saturn rather close to the horizon. Saturn sets first, at relatively early evening. The moon, Mars and Antares follow the sun beneath the horizon by around mid-evening.
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 about 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 where it does in North America. But no matter where you live, the moon – as always – is moving eastward in front of the background stars.
Behold the waxing crescent moon near the planet Mars and star Antares, the Scorpion’s Heart, on the evening of September 29.