Mars and Regulus
Two of the most prominent objects in the night sky -- and two of the most important in ancient mythology -- are putting on a great show in the western sky the next few evenings.
The twosome is the planet Mars and the star Regulus, the leading light of Leo, the lion. This evening, they line up side by side, with orange Mars to the right. They're separated by about the width of a finger held at arm's length.
Mars gained its importance in many cultures in part because of its color. The reddish tint inspired thoughts of blood and war, so the planet was named for the war god. At its peak, it's one of the brightest objects in the sky, too. And it follows the same path across the sky as the Sun.
Regulus lies along this same path, but remains fixed in the same position. But part of its importance comes from its position relative to the Sun.
Thousands of years ago, when Leo was first drawn, Regulus first appeared in the dawn sky at the time of the summer solstice. And about 4500 years ago, the Sun stood almost directly atop Regulus at the solstice. Such an important relationship to the Sun gave Regulus special status.
Today, the Sun is a long way from Regulus at the solstice. Yet the star is still one of the most prominent in the night sky. It's made more prominent right now by its pairing with Mars, and by the planet Saturn, which stands a little to the upper left of them. The trio will remain tightly bunched for several nights.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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