Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of April 9th - April 15th,  2004

The Stars Come Out at Night

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Lovers at Sunset

Lovers at Sunset

  Each week we explore a few of the silent whispers of the stars, listening to what heaven has to tell us, observing where the planets are in the tropical zodiac, and interpreting what it all means. Sometimes we'll examine how the personality of a planet may be anticipated, or what it's role was in history or literature; but this week we'll look at some astronomy, and appreciate a small portion of the beauty and splendor which has passes right over our heads every evening.

  There are many gems which we can currently see in the night time sky. Of the seven visible 'planets' (astronomically the Sun and Moon are generally not consider to be planets, although astrologers do tend to think of them as a group), the Sun is obviously our principal star and commands the day time sky. Depending upon your location, it is currently setting in the west a little after 7:30 PM, although this time changes slightly each day. As we head into the weekend, the Moon is in its balsamic phase, at the tale end of its cycle. Astrologically this means that emotional enthusiasm for things is waning, but astronomically it is a wonderful time to look at the darkened sky, because the lunar glow can interfere with our ability to see the surrounding stars, especially around the Full Moon. When the Moon catches up with the Sun on Monday, we will have not only a New Moon, but a Solar Eclipse in the last degree of Aries.

Eclipse

Solar Eclipse

The crescent New Moon will become visible in the early evening hours just after sunset on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week, catching up to and conjuncting Venus and Mars through the day on Friday the 23rd. By the time the Sun goes down Friday and the stars come out at night, the infant Moon, while growing larger, will have just passed the two mythological lovers.

  Mercury is currently retrograde and has 'turned' back into the Sun. It is therefore no longer visible because it is lost in the solar glare. At the end of March it was observable right after sunset, but since the pivot both the Sun and Mercury are racing to embrace each other in the full light of day. In mythology, although they started out on a somewhat tenuous relationship, these two developed into the best of friends, and Mercury never ventures far from the Sun.

  The remaining four planetary gems have been beautifully conspicous each evening. Here we switch from the tropical sign designation of astrology, which calibrates heaven based upon the ingress into the seasons, and reference the observable constellations, which pass overhead nightly. There is a difference between the signs and the constellations which share the same names, a unfortunate overlap which generally confuses many new students of the stars. About two thousand years ago the two systems coincided, but precession has caused them to slowly drift apart ever since. Astronomers use hours of right ascension to designate the positions of the stars, rather than degrees of longitude, and therefore do not run into the same confusion that astrologers sometimes do.

  First to appear in the western twilight is Venus, the third brightest object in heaven after the Sun and the Moon. It is currently forming a small triangle with the Pleiades and Hyades, two groupings in the constellation of the Bull. Close by, between the Bull's horns is to be found Mars, a pale reflection of its former brightness last August. Venus and Mars currently walk together and might seem to be holding hands as they move through the stars of the heavenly Bull.

The four currently visible planets

The four currently visible planets

  Saturn is currently in the 'legs' of the constellation Gemini, which may be found slightly to west and south of the brighter stars of the twins, Castor and Pollux. Jupiter, the brighest planet after Venus, rises in the eastern sky just below the belly of the Lion. With even a telescope of moderate magnification, both the rings of Saturn and the Moon of Jupiter can be seen, which offer an added dimension of appreciation while veiwing the planets. If you watch carefully over the course of several hours on a clear night, the Moons of Jupiter can be seen to change position, 'spinning' around Jupiter's nine hour rotational period.

  In quick succession, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter are currently watching over us each night, weaving their myths, marking their celestial cues and sharing their sparkling splendor with us, a highway of diamonds with many personalities on it.



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