Lunar Checkers

StarDate: August 1, 2014

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The Moon plays a game of celestial checkers the next few evenings. It’ll jump over several stars and planets, creating a beautiful new lineup each night.

The first checker is close to the left or upper left of the Moon this evening: Spica, the brightest star of Virgo. The next one is a little farther along the same line: the orange planet Mars. Then come two checkers that the Moon will clear with a single jump: the star Zubenelgenubi, which is one of the leading lights of Libra, and the planet Saturn.

All of the “checkers” lie near the ecliptic, which is the Sun’s path across the sky. The Moon stays close to the ecliptic, too, so it passes by the same stars every month. And the planets also lie near the ecliptic, so they’re frequent companions for the Moon as well.

In ages past, stars and constellations along the ecliptic were seen as special — they were imbued with mystical properties. People born when the Sun was passing in front of Virgo, for example, were expected to be smart, inquisitive, and good with words. And those born under the influence of Libra, the balance scales, were said to be good with numbers and other complex concepts, such as the law.

All of that is just superstition, though. The stars of the ecliptic have no more direct influence over life here on Earth than any of the other stars that are sprinkled across the night sky — in other words, none at all.

We’ll talk about the Moon and Mars tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014


For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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