Hey, Sky Fans!
Happy Friday! I hope you’ve had a great week and have something fun coming up this weekend.
If you want to take some time to look up, here are five things… no, it’s the first full week of the year… you know what… let’s make it six! Here are six… six things to look for in the skies this weekend! Ah-ah-ah! (What’d you think of my Count von Count impression?)
- Venus! The second rock from the Sun is that really bright thing in the west’s sky just after dusk. It’s been so bright lately that it looks like it’s something…. from spaaaaaaaace!!!! Now’s a great time to have a look, while it’s still in the oranges and pinks of a deepening sunset. Keep an eye on it off into spring as it moves father and father from the Sun from our point of view.
- The Moon! Our nearest neighbor is full tonight, but by the time it rises over the Americas, just around sunset, it’ll technically be a waning gibbous; just past the midpoint of its orbit. It’ll look full for the next couple of nights as it heads into the overnight shift. This weekend, watch its phase change and the shadows start to creep and stretch across the mountains and valleys as lunar night falls. The Moon will rise later each night, but through the weekend it’ll still be up early enough to see it before you turn in. And don’t forget about the setting almost-full Moon Saturday and Sunday mornings!
- Aldebaran! The red eye of Taurus the bull is a giant star around 65 light years away. This time of year, it’s up all night after dark, ready for prime-time viewing. To find it, look for the constellation Orion. Above and to its right, you’ll find a V-shaped group of stars. Aldebaran is the red one at the tip of of the V’s forks. That groups of stars is…
- The Hyades! Aldebaran isn’t actually part of the The Hyades. It’s in front of it from our point of view, between us and it. The Hyades is the nearest star cluster to us, and is about 150 light years away. It’s a great sight without, but if you have a pair of binoculars, it’s beautiful. While we’re on the subject of star clusters, let’s talk about…
- The Pleiades! If you look just to western the side of the Hyades, you’ll see a tiny, dipper-shaped group of stars. That’s not the little dipper, which is in a different part of the sky. It’s the Pleiades, a cluster of very hot, young stars, surrounded by glowing dust. It’s about 450 light years away and is my single favorite thing to look for in the entire night sky. It’s perfect for binoculars, absolutely stunning with them, but still gorgeous without.
- Betelgeuse! There’s been a lot of talk about the red star at Orion’s shoulder lately. It’s been dimming quite a bit, and there’s been talk that it’s about to explode as a supernova. It’ll be… um… out of this world when it does, but that might not be for a very, very long time, so don’t hold your breath. What you can do, though, is look for it tonight and keep an eye on it. Compare it to other stars around it. Is it dimmer than Aldebaran? How about Rigel, the bright, icy blue-white one at Orion’s foot? Check in on it again tomorrow, and again, and again. Does it look different than the night before? I can’t wait to see what happens. It’s slow, but the drama’s exciting. Betelgeuse is about 600 light years away, so everything you see tonight actually happened about 600 years ago. Its light is just getting to us now.
While you’re look at these, you can play near, far, very far! Start with the Moon, which is only about 1.3 light seconds away. Imagine your line of sight going from it, through the solar system to Venus, which is about 10 light minutes away. Then, deeper and deeper into space Imagine flying past Aldebaran, 65 light years, through the Hyades (120 light years), and then to the Pleiades (450 light years!). From there, it’s off into the farthest corners of galaxy. It’s something, and a great way to spend some time this weekend.
Thanks for stopping by, and clear skies, everyone!