Signs of the Seasons

In the water, on the land and in the heavens, fall is on the way

The gibbous moon waxes to full Tuesday, traveling through the rising constellations of autumn. At one time, great sturgeon filled America’s waterways each August as they fattened up for the coming cold, and so this full moon was called the Sturgeon Moon. But these days the fish are so scarce they are off limits to anglers. Today, reflecting our modern, agrarian society, August’s full moon is called the Corn Moon and the Grain Moon.

Against the glow of the moon, its neighboring constellations this week appear muted and washed out, the brightest, in Sagittarius, peaking at magnitude 2. Known in mythology as the half-man half-horse archer, Sagittarius appears like a teapot, its handle to the west and its spout pouring out the east.

To the east is Capricornus, the sea goat, with the head and forelegs of a goat and the tail of a fish. Capricornus looks like a large, triangle or a big smile. Farthest west is the star Giedi — the goat. Just southeast of Giedi is Dabih — the slaughterer — a name dating back to the ancient Sumerians, who made human sacrifices when Capricornus rose with the sun.

The moon finishes the week in the company of one of the dimmest constellations of the zodiac, Aquarius the water bearer, with brilliant Jupiter farther to the east. Were it not for its place along the ecliptic, the imaginary path over which the sun, moon and planets seem to travel, Aquarius would be in the celestial bottom drawer.

South of the moon’s path this week, a single bright star stands out. Fomalhaut, the 18th brightest star in the sky, is known as the Lonely One, or the Solitary One. Of the 25 brightest stars, it resides amid the most barren stretch of heaven, with no stellar standouts anywhere nearby.