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Moon and Antares

April 27, 2013

A star with a storied name sticks close to the Moon late tonight. Antares is close to the lower right of the Moon as they climb into view by around midnight, and below the Moon at first light tomorrow.

The bright orange star represents the “heart” of Scorpius. But the name “Antares” has nothing to do with the scorpion. Instead, it means “rival of Mars.”

The star is about the same color and brightness as Mars, and it’s also close to the path followed by Mars and the other planets, so every couple of years Mars passes by it. It seemed natural, then, to think of the two as rivals. So long-ago skywatchers called the star Anti-Ares, which means “rival of Ares.” Ares was the Greek version of Mars, so today, the name is usually translated as “rival of Mars.”

The name Antares is a popular one right here on Earth, too. The U.S. Navy named a cargo ship for the star, and so did a modern shipping company. There’s also a rocket that’s being designed to boost cargo to the International Space Station, plus a line of ultralight aircraft and a line of experimental aircraft powered by fuel cells.

And back in the 1970s, the crew of Apollo 14 named its lunar lander for the star as well. It carried astronauts Alan Shepard and Ed Mitchell to a safe landing near a good-sized lunar crater.

The astronauts used the stars to help keep the lander on course. And one of those stars was Antares - the bright star that appears near the Moon tonight.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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