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Moon and Antares

October 11, 2010

The Moon skips close to one of the brightest stars in the night sky this evening: Antares, the leading light of Scorpius. Antares stands a little to the lower right of the Moon as night begins to fall. The view is best from the southern states, where the duo stands higher in the sky at nightfall.

If you look carefully, you'll see that Antares shines with a distinctly orange hue. That's because the supergiant star's surface is fairly cool -- thousands of degrees cooler than the surface of the Sun.

That color is responsible for the star's name. The orange glow reminded skywatchers of Mars, so they called the star "Antares," which means "rival of Mars."

In ancient times, Antares was one of the "guardians of heaven" -- stars that kept watch 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 ships of the United States Navy 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" has popped up in several of the Star Trek series, for example.

And one Antares combines space travel with the Navy. 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 2010


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