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Moon, Saturn, and Spica

April 6, 2012

Spica, the brightest star of the constellation Virgo, rises in early evening on April nights. And tonight, it’s especially easy to find because it’s bracketed by a couple of bright companions: the full Moon and the planet Saturn. Spica is just to the left of the Moon, with brighter Saturn a little farther to the left of Spica.

Westerners have called the star by the Latin name Spica for at least 2500 years. It represents a spike of wheat held by Virgo, the virgin. In Chinese astronomy, though, Spica has long been known as Jiao -- the horn of the dragon.

The Chinese traditionally divided the sky into five segments, or “palaces.” Four of them correspond to the four cardinal directions, while the fifth is a central region that contains the pole star. The directional segments are the azure dragon, black warrior or tortoise, white tiger, and vermillion bird. These segments are further divided into 28 lunar “mansions” that roughly correspond to one day of the Moon’s motion across the sky. So each of the four directional palaces contains seven lunar mansions.

The dragon is the eastern palace, and like its “horn,” Spica, it’s associated with springtime and spring rains. Unlike the mythological creature of the west, though, the eastern dragon is an auspicious symbol -- it’s reputed to bring good fortune and rebirth. So when the horn first appears in the evening sky, it’s a sign of renewal -- a new beginning in the sky and on Earth.


Script by Robert Tindol, Copyright 2012


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