Skywatcher’s Guide

by J. Awen Labow

June/July, 2020

Season of Arcturus

“Star light, star bright; the first star I see tonight!” And so it is that each night as the sun drops below the horizon and the light of day begins to dim, the brightest stars in our night sky are the first that can be seen by watchful eyes. Twinkling brightly “up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.” Except, they aren’t all diamonds. In fact, at this time of year, the first star I see shines with a reddish-orange glow that is more like a dazzling ruby, and its name is Arcturus: “Guardian of the Bear!”

Arcturus is the brightest star found North of the celestial equator, and is the brightest star in the constellation of the Herdsman, AKA Boötis. This constellation appears as a grouping of six stars shaped like a kite. Arcturus marks the point where the string would tie on to the kite, and then the rest of the “kite” shape stretches out back towards the Big Dipper. There are many different stories and myths regarding this constellation, but as the Big Dipper is also known as the Great Bear, it becomes obvious why this impressive star, part of a constellation so near in proximity to the Great Bear might have also been given the name, Guardian of the Bear.

The fourth brightest of all the stars that can be seen shining down upon the Earth, Arcturus is not hard to spot. It is especially visible in the early summer months here in the Northern hemisphere when it is rising near the top of the celestial dome in the early evening hours. Arcturus is easily distinguished as it shines with a reddish-orange color. In this way, it is quite similar in appearance to the other prominent reddish stars: Aldebaran (eye of the Bull), Antares (heart of the Scorpion), and Betelgeuse (shoulder of Orion) – however, it is brighter, and the only one of the bunch found so far to the North of the ecliptic.

If you are still unsure of how to locate Arcturus, just remember the old mneumonic: “follow the arc to Arcturus!” That is, follow the handle of the Big Dipper as it curves away from the bucket in an arc that, if extended, continues on to point right to our new reddish friend.

If you’ve got that, you might as well continue the same line and “Speed on to Spica,” brightest star in the Virgin Priestess constellation, and find yourself back on the ecliptic. Although Arcturus is 19 degrees North of the ecliptic, it shares the same zodiac degree of 24 Libra with Spica suggesting that these two stars are somehow linked astrologically.

Speaking of astrological links, 24 degrees of Libra, is a part of the sky which is currently in a direct square with 24 Capricorn, where Pluto has been hanging out (unseen by our naked eyes) since February. If you want to connect with this invisible planet, doing so via Arcturus could be a useful way. As the sky darkens, Arcturus will be near its highest point in the in the sky. Face south, and lift your arms so they both point up at Arcturus.

Next, keep your right arm where it is, and drop your left arm down until it is pointing 90 degrees from your right. You should be pointing towards the Western horizon and more or less right to invisible Pluto. To confirm, try this on June 26th, when Jupiter – visible in all its splendor – will be conjunct Pluto at that same 24 degrees of Capricorn. If you stay up late enough to see Jupiter rise, you will notice its 90 degree (square) relationship to Arcturus.

Arcturus is also known to have been classified as one of the Behenian stars, which were important to the ancients in the practice of alchemy. Still commanding its same place in our present day night skies, it is simply a magical star to observe and breathe in as you gaze up this Summer. I hope you will enjoy this time of the waning moon to get out under dark skies and see if you can spot it!




May, 2020

To what degree do the constellations inform the signs? Although in Shamanic Astrology we often ponder this question intellectually, I am always amazed at how much more clearly I can develop answers after spending time out under the night sky simply looking up… and it’s way more fun!

With comfortable Summer nights approaching (in the Northern Hemisphere anyway), it is a great time to get outside and spend some quality time under the stars. For those of us who are still learning the night sky and not sure what to look out for, here is something you may want to check out:

Although well known winter spectacles like the belt of Orion, the eye of the Bull, Sirius, and the “Sacred Hoop” are beginning to drop out of the sky just after sunset, all is not lost! Rather, the month of May presents one of the best times for viewing one of my favorite constellations, the Lion. It may not be as obvious or dazzling as those just mentioned, but it is certainly an easy one to spot if you know where to look.

To get started, first, find the Big Dipper. As most of us know, at the end of the bucket of the Big Dipper are pointer stars that point towards Polaris, the north star. Such handy stars, these same pointer stars, when used to draw an imaginary line in the opposite direction, point us right to the Lion. Follow that line, and look for a small triangle of stars that make up the Lion’s back legs and tail, and a group of stars shaped like a backwards question mark that make up the head and mane. It is a rather large constellation, so broaden your view, and once you see it, you will know it!

Although it is not the brightest constellation in the sky, the Lion is unique in that of all the zodiacal constellations, it is one of three that most resemble the creatures they are named after. As a result, we find that many cultures around the world all conjured similar images of lions or other great cats when observing this grouping of stars. King of beasts on Earth, the Lion in the sky can command our attention and is a powerful sight to observe!

Unlike some other constellations which are host to some extremely bright stars, the Lion’s form is made up of nine moderately bright stars that are all fairly close in brightness. Because of this, I find a really great time to distinguish the Lion is right after sunset when only the brightest stars in the sky begin to emerge.

It is at this time, that each star in the Lion constellation pounce to the forefront without any other stars to distract our viewing. At this time of year, the Lion is perfectly poised, sitting like a sphinx with his head facing West and his tail to the East. If you have clear skies tonight, try going out shortly after sunset and look to the South as the sky darkens and the first stars begin to appear to see if you can watch as the Lion emerges.

Another important factor for astrologers to consider is the usefulness of the Lion’s brightest star, Regulus, in locating and visualizing the path of the sun and all the “wanderers.” Regulus is actually the closest bright star to the ecliptic, sitting just 28 minutes north of the ecliptic. Also, at 0 Virgo 06, it gives us a great marker for the boundary between the signs of Leo and Virgo on the sky’s dome.

If you tune in to this star around on May 28th and 29th as the Moon makes it’s monthly pass, you may just be able to “see” as the Moon’s energies shift from Leo to Virgo. Or, how about over the next few nights watching to “sense” into the location of Mars – approaching opposition to Regulus. That means if you have it in you to stay up long enough to watch Regulus set on the May 12 and 13, with a low horizon, you will be able to turn around and watch Mars rise!

Although Venus in the evening sky and Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the morning sky have been providing quite a spectacle for the past several months, the anatomy of the night sky’s fixed stars give us a point of reference and a backdrop for observing the great dance of the luminaries. I hope you will add the Lion to your list of constellations to look out for this summer, and hope that observing this regal grouping of stars will guide you to new and magical insights!

Wishing you many blessings and starry skies!

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