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!
- The name Aldebaran comes from the Arabic word for “the follower,” because it follows the Pleiades, rising and setting soon after it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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!