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Moon in the Middle

January 12, 2014

The gibbous Moon is boxed in tonight by three bright stars and one brilliant planet. The whole group is in view as night falls, and climbs high across the south later on.

The brightest corner of the box is marked by the planet Jupiter, which is well to the lower left of the Moon. It far outshines all the other planets and stars in the night sky right now, so you just can’t miss it. The Moon is moving toward Jupiter, and will stand beside the giant planet on Tuesday.

Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the bull, is close to the upper right of the Moon. Aldebaran is a stellar giant — it’s dozens of times wider than the Sun. It’s puffed up because it’s nearing the end of its life. A series of changes is making the star’s core smaller and hotter, and its outer regions bigger and cooler — hence the star’s orange color.

Another orange pinpoint is below the Moon in early evening: Betelgeuse, the shoulder of Orion, the hunter. Like Aldebaran, it shines orange because its outer layers are cool. But Betelgeuse is not a giant, but a supergiant that’s hundreds of times the Sun’s diameter. It’s so much bigger because it’s also heavier — one of the biggest and most massive stars in our region of the galaxy.

The final corner of the box is to the upper left of the Moon, and is marked by two giants locked in a close orbit — Capella, the leading light of Auriga, the charioteer. The system shines yellow-orange — a beautiful complement to a beautiful Moon.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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