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Moon and Companions

July 13, 2012

The “superstars” of the night sky share a tight stage before dawn the next few mornings: the Moon, the two brightest objects after the Moon, and the Pleiades star cluster. And the bright orange eye of Taurus is in the middle of things, too.

At first light tomorrow, the Moon is well up in the east, with the Pleiades a little to its upper left. The cluster looks like a tiny dipper. If you look straight at it, it looks sort of hazy. But if you look through the corner of your eye, it’s easier to see the dipper’s individual stars.

Most people see six stars with their eyes alone. But the Pleiades actually consists of hundreds of stars. It’s more than 400 light-years away, though, so most of the stars are much too faint to see without a telescope.

Photographs of the Pleiades show wisps of blue around the stars, like a hazy veil. That glow comes from a giant cloud of gas and dust that’s passing by the Pleiades. Light from the cluster’s brightest stars reflects off the dust grains, forming the hazy nebula.

Two brilliant points of light stand below the Moon — the planets Jupiter and Venus. Venus is the brighter of the two, and is lower in the sky.

And the final member of this beautiful tableau is to the upper right of Venus: Aldebaran, the star that represents the eye of Taurus, the bull.

On Sunday morning, the Moon will stand between Jupiter and Venus, creating an even tighter stage for these astronomical superstars. More about that tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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