Monday, November 26, 2012


Taurus the Bull is easy to identify even in light polluted skies. This year you have a extra bright clue to help point your way.  The giant planet Jupiter is hanging out in the bull's horns and you can't miss it.  Look east after sunset and Jupiter will be the brightest starlike object.

Just to the right of Jupiter is a bright star that should look a little orange.  That's the Bull's Eye star called Aldebaran.  Fainter stars nearby make a "V" shape with Aldebaran and represent the bull's face.  Aldebaran means "the follower," but what is it following? If you look about 15 degrees above Aldebaran you will see a little cloud of stars.  Those are the Seven Sisters (aka the Pleiades).  As the night goes on, Aldebaran follows the Seven Sisters through the sky.

See the "V"?
Inside the "V" are a lot of stars. This is called the Hyades star cluster (in Greek mythology five of these were the half-sisters to the Pleiades) ((wait a second... seven plus five... that's a lot of kids for the god Atlas to raise!)). The Hyades are the closest open cluster to Earth at only 150 light years distant. You can observe dozens to hundreds of these stars with a good pair of binoculars. Aldebaran is not a Hyade, though. It is much closer to the Earth and just appears in the same neighborhood.

In November and December you can see Jupiter and Taurus all night long. In the evening they'll be in the east.  Around midnight they'll be high in the south.  And before dawn, they'll be setting in the west.  Check them out and watch Aldebaran "following" those Seven Sisters!

Shameless, eye-catching picture of Jupiter