Five Facts About Aldebaran!

Hey, Sky Fans! Well, here we are, another Friday. We did it. Another weekend, just about here. Here’s to you for making it through, especially if the pollen count around where you are is as high as it is where I am. I hope you have something good to look forward to; a movie, some friebee, maybe an exciting omelet.

In the skies over Europe, Mexico, Canada, and the US today, as well as the ocean in between, was another one of this long series of occultations of the star Aldebaran, by the Moon. To refresh your memory, an occultation is when one object passes in front of another, blocking it out. It’s similar to an eclipse, but without anything or anyone falling into shadow.

This was a lesser one for most of us, so I didn’t want to write too much about it.  Today’s Moon is a very young, very thin waxing crescent; it was new just Wednesday. So it’s hard to see because it’s close to the Sun and gets easily washed away by the glare. Stars are washed out against the bright sunlight, too, so binoculars needed to be used. In fact, with frustrating irony, the skies were finally clear, but I only gave it a quick try just before I settled into a turkey sandwich this afternoon.

Anyhow, in honor of all this, here’s five facts about Aldebaran!

  1. The name Aldebaran comes from the Arabic word for “the follower,” because it follows the Pleiades, rising and setting soon after it.
  2. Aldebaran is the eye of Taurus the bull, the orange star at the tip of the V-shaped Hyades star cluster. But it’s not actually part of the cluster. It’s between us and it, about 65 light years away. The Hyades is another 100 or so light years farther.
  3. Aldebaran is bright. It’s the brightest star in Taurus, the 14th brightest star in the entire night sky, the 9th brightest visible in the northern hemisphere, and one of the six bright stars that make up the vaunted Winter Circle. It’s bright enough that you can easily see its orange color in fairly good skies.
  4. It’s a giant star, over 40 million miles in diameter. For comparison, the Sun is about 850,000 miles across. If Aldebaran were dropped into our solar system, not only would it swallow up the Sun, but it’d eat Mercury, too.
  5. The Pioneer 10 space probe, which, in late 1973, gave us our first closeup look at Jupiter is heading in the general direction of Aldebaran. If not for everything insisting on always moving all the time, Pioneer 10 would reach Aldebaran in about two million years at its current speed. As a bonus fact, Pioneer 10 is one of 5 human-made objects currently out of or on their way out of the solar system. Can you name the other four?
The constellations Taurus and Auriga, November 5, 2016
The constellations Taurus and Auriga, November 5, 2016

Aldebaran, as I’ve mentioned many times, is one of my favorite stars in the whole sky. When it shows up in the east every fall, it makes me smile, like seeing old friends, and I love watching it cruise across the south all winter. These days, it’s low in the west after sunset along with the Pleiades and the planet Mars. Enjoy it now, and for the next couple of weeks, before it disappears into the twilight until the fall.

Have a great weekend, thanks for stopping by, and clear skies, everyone!

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6 thoughts on “Five Facts About Aldebaran!

    1. Terrible! Horrible! It was a disaster! They bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into…

      Actually, the Pioneer program was a long and really interesting one. Maybe this is better for its own post (yeah?), but the program started in the late 1950s and continued up through the late 70s. The early missions helped us figure out how to fly in space and get people to the Moon. Pioneers 1 through 5 were aimed at the Moon. Some made it some didn’t. Number 5 poked around the space between Earth and Venus. Six through Nine are orbiting the Sun; two a little closer and two a little farther from Earth. 10 and 11… to Infinity…. and beyond! Then, 12 and 13 closed out the program with trips to Venus as the Yankees caught up with the Red Sox and Fonzie rode his motorcycle.

      The crewed missions (Mercury, Gemini, the Space Shuttles, and, most of all, Apollo) are the sexist missions of them all, of course, but I’ve always really liked the robotic ones. Pioneer, Viking, and especially Voyager. I read a bunch about them when I was a kid, and still really like the way they all fit together and overlap with the crewed programs. For instance, with good reason, there’s lots of talk about President Kennedy’s big “…land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth…” speech before Congress, and that it happened only a couple weeks after Alan Shepard became the first American in space. What’s doubly interesting, though, is by the time that speech was made, the uncrewed programs had been trying and trying to get to the Moon for a couple of years.

      Don’t think I have all of this memorized. I got some help from Wikipedia for some of the specifics.

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  1. The Taurus constellation is my favorite, and the Left Eye is always a fun discussion piece. I’ve noticed since January in my tracking of this, that the moon seems to pass through Taurus almost every month, do you know if this occurs all throughout the year?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi… yeah, the Moon makes its way through there every month, but Taurus is gone from the nights from now until October or so. The Sun blocks out its stars for a while, but soon you’ll be able to see those stars in the morning, before sunrise. I love summer, but I miss those stars! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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