The Night Sky’s Sisters
Atlas’ daughters beckon
The waning gibbous moon still rises on the heels of sunset at week’s end. But by the 20th, when Luna reaches last-quarter, it crests the horizon past midnight.
Thursday and Friday the moon keeps company with Jupiter, leading the gaseous giant the first night and trailing it the next. Both nights, the two are less than 10 degrees apart, more than close enough for your outstretched fist to block out both.
Luna spends the weekend amid Taurus the bull. Saturday the moon is a dozen degrees above the bull’s red eye, Aldebaran, but just a few degrees to the moon’s left at the bull’s back is the Pleiades star cluster. Look closely, and you’ll see that its outline appears as a very small dipper. Named after the seven daughters of Atlas and the sea nymph Pleione in Greek lore, only six of these stars are visible to the naked eye, and that’s under dark skies without competing light from the moon. However, viewed with binoculars, even with the neighboring moon, dozens of stars pop into view.
Late Sunday through dawn Monday, the moon shines beside Aldebaran, and the V-shaped asterism that makes up the bull’s face, the Hyades star cluster. In Greek legend, these are the five daughters of Aethra and the titan Atlas. With the moon’s glow, you will be hard-pressed to distinguish five points of light. But on a moonless night, 15 Hyads shine at magnitude 5 or greater, bright enough to be seen by the naked eye. With binoculars and dark skies, well over 100 stars come into focus.
At day’s end, Saturn appears low in the west, but it is sinking fast and by month’s end will be lost amid the sun’s glare. But by 9pm, Jupiter fills the planetary void, shining high in the west come sunrise. Mars rises around 2am and is high in the east by dawn. And Mercury still clings to the eastern horizon for the half-hour before sunrise around 6:50.