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Moon and Aldebaran

July 25, 2011

The crescent Moon and the eye of Taurus, the bull, team up in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. They climb into view by around 3 or 3:30, and are high in the east at first light. Bright orange Aldebaran lines up to the lower right of the Moon.

Aldebaran stands at one point of a V-shaped pattern of stars. In the classical connect-the-dots representation of Taurus, the V represents the bull's face, with Aldebaran as his angry-looking eye.

But the name "Aldebaran" doesn't refer to the bull's eye. In fact, it doesn't directly refer to the bull at all. Instead, it means "the follower." That's because Aldebaran follows the little Pleiades star cluster -- the bull's shoulder -- across the sky. Indeed, the dipper-shaped cluster stands well above Aldebaran at first light.

Over the centuries, of course, many cultures assigned their own names to the star, and their own skylore. In ancient Persia, it was one of four "guardians of heaven" -- stars that reigned over each of the four seasons. And to long-ago Arabs, it was sometimes referred to as a large camel, with a lot of little camels -- the stars of the Pleiades -- hanging out nearby.

And today, professional astronomers have their own names for the star -- mostly designations in various catalogs. The best known is Alpha Tauri, from an atlas that was published four centuries ago. The name indicates that the star doesn't follow anyone -- it's the brightest star in all of Taurus.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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