A celestial version of Beauty and the Beast plays out in the western sky shortly after sunset the next few evenings. The viewing window is short, though, so you have to look at just the right time to see it.
“Beauty” is the planet Venus, the brilliant “evening star,” which represents the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Venus is the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon, so it pops into view not long after the Sun sets, when there’s still plenty of light in the sky.
And the “Beast” is Regulus, the heart of Leo, the lion. In Greek mythology, it represented the Nemean lion — a foul-tempered creature that plagued the Greek countryside. Its claws were more deadly than a sword, and its golden hide couldn’t be punctured. Heracles — better known by his Roman name, Hercules — was sent to dispatch the beast as the first of his 12 labors.
The star Regulus is less than one percent as bright as Venus, so it’s much harder to see through the early twilight. This evening, though, it’s only a couple of degrees to the left of Venus, which will help you pick it out as the sky begins to darken a bit. And binoculars will really enhance the view.
Regulus will be a little closer to the lower left of Venus tomorrow, and directly below it on Monday. After that, “beastly” Regulus will quickly disappear from view as it drops closer to the Sun. But Venus will climb higher away from the Sun, continuing its beautiful reign in the evening sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013