The Moon stands among some of the brightest stars in the night sky this evening, along with a planet that outshines them all. The whole group is in the western sky at nightfall, and slides out of view by the wee hours of the morning.
The brightest of the Moon’s companions is the planet Jupiter. It looks like a brilliant cream-colored star, and stands above or to the upper left of the Moon. Pollux and Castor, the “twins” of Gemini, are above Jupiter.
To the lower left of the Moon, look for bright orange Betelgeuse, which marks the shoulder of Orion. The rest of the hunter stretches below Betelgeuse, including his prominent three-star belt and his bright blue foot, the star Rigel.
If you extend your view farther from the Moon, you’ll see many more bright stars. In fact, this region is packed with many of the brightest stars in the entire night sky.
One reason for that is that we’re looking into the closest of the Milky Way galaxy’s spiral arms — the Orion arm. The spiral arms contain many stars that are especially big, hot, and bright, including Betelgeuse, Rigel, and the stars of Orion’s Belt. That same region includes several stellar nurseries that are giving birth to even more brilliant stars.
Not all of the bright stars in this region fall into that category, though. Some are especially close, which makes them look especially bright — surrounding the Moon with brilliant lights.
More about the Moon and Jupiter tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.