As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us wonder: what’s the most romantic gift for one’s sweetheart? Chocolates? A candlelight dinner? Excellent choices—but for a nightcap, Bob Berman invites us to look to love in the heavens—and the legends inspired by the stars and Moon! See Bob’s latest post.
There’s nothing like a moonlit or starlit stroll. But the problem is obvious: In most of the United States, Valentine’s night is an arctic experience. A romantic starry walk is about as appealing as reading poetry in a meat locker.
But let’s say you’re so incurably romantic that some saccharine bromides under the stars absolutely must be part of this special night. You still need one final ingredient: You’ve got to find something amorous about the February sky.
Where to Start Finding Love Above?
Venus, the Godess of Love
The logical starting place would be Venus, of course—the goddess of love. Unfortunately, after being eye-catching for most of the past year, that dazzling planet has now joined nearly all the other planets in being barely visible—and then only super-low in the east just before dawn, at the very coldest possible hour.
Only Mars is still prominent, but the god of war is nobody’s idea of a fun time.
“The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510)
The Lunatic Moon
Not to worry. On February 14, the lunatic Moon, the very celestial embodiment of passion, hovers in the southwest at nightfall, immersed in the colors of the fading twilight. It then displays its crescent motif, the lunar phase so often depicted in classical art of the Romantic period.
On February 14, look for a slender waxing crescent Moon that’s just 3 days into the new lunar cycle and 9% lit. It’s often a lovely sight thanks to the Moon’s night side glowing gently from the earthshine (light reflected from Earth). See the Moon Phase Calendar for your zip code!
Luna is the divine embodiment of the Moon in ancient Roman religion and myth. She was often presented as the female complement of the Sun, Sol, conceived of as a god.
The Greek equivalent is “Selene.” They believed she would ride the white chariot of the Moon across the night sky, while Helios would do the same every morning in his Sun chariot.
The Moon was depicted as a woman with a crescent Moon diadem set on her head. She was sometimes said to drive a team of oxen and her lunar crescent was likened to a pair of bull’s horns.
Andromeda and Cassiopeia
And we’re not finished. Our desperate attempt to squeeze love out of a dark February night can also take us to the most famous mythological feminine constellations: Andromeda, the princess with diaphanous robes. She now floats high in the evening sky, as does Cassiopeia. Retelling their legends with a bit of mushy bias might just do the trick.
The Andromeda galaxy is that large spiral galaxy next-door to our own Milky Way galaxy—and the only other spiral galaxy we can see with the naked eye. Here’s a great article from EarthSky on how to see the Andromeda Galaxy in February.
Look to the left part of above photo for Messier 31, or the Andromeda Galaxy. Credit: ESO.
It’s more than enough to inspire romance. Guaranteed, your Valentine will welcome your embrace. Anything at all, to convince you to come in from the cold.