One of the biggest stars in our region of the galaxy huddles close to the Moon in the pre-dawn hours tomorrow -- Antares, in Scorpius, the scorpion. They rise around 2 or 3 a.m., with the bright star a little to the upper right of the Moon. They're in the south at first light.
Antares is a supergiant star. That means it's much larger and more massive than the Sun. But it's so puffy that its outer layers are fairly cool, so they glow a dull reddish orange.
That color is responsible for the star's name. Since it looked so much like the red planet Mars, the star was called the "rival of Mars" -- Antares.
In ancient mythology, Antares was one of the "guardians of heaven" -- stars that looked over large areas of the night sky.
The name Antares plays a role in modern life and folklore, too -- sometimes as a guardian right here on Earth. Three United States Navy ships have borne the name Antares, including one that was stationed at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. It was at sea when the Japanese attacked.
Science-fiction writers also have liked the name "Antares." It's popped up in several of the Star Trek series, for example.
And one Antares combines space travel with the Navy. Although it wasn't a Navy ship, it was commanded by a naval officer -- Alan Shepard, the first American in space. In February of 1971, Shepard and fellow astronaut Ed Mitchell landed on the Moon -- in a lunar module named Antares.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2004, 2007
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.