Touring the Night Sky
Planets and clusters and meteors
As the sun sets around 5pm, Venus blazes in the south-southwest. Our sister planet is at its farthest point east of the sun. But the geometry between Venus, the sun and earth doesn’t add up to a better view, as the evening star climbs only a dozen degrees above the horizon and sets within 90 minutes of the sun. Still, Venus is near impossible to miss, and Thursday evening it is joined by the waxing crescent moon a little higher in the sky.
As Venus sets in the southwest around 6pm, the red giant Aldebaran rises opposite in the northeast. The fiery eye of Taurus the bull, Aldebaran is the 14th brightest star. Taurus contains two of the brightest star clusters in the heavens. The first, the V-shaped Hyades, makes up the bull’s face. Above Aldebaran and the Hyades, look for a series of stars shaped like miniature ladle or dipper, the Pleiades cluster, which makes up the bull’s shoulder.
Keep your eyes on Taurus and the Pleiades, as this is the apparent point of origin for the North Taurid meteor shower, which peaks on the 12th. The glare of the waxing gibbous moon will bleach out all but the brightest of these meteors, but that night it sets around 1:30am, providing a dark background before dawn. And while the North Taurids produce at best 10 to 12 meteors an hour, the shower is a steady producer for a week or two both before and after its peak.
Jupiter rises in the east-northeast at around 9pm. By midnight it is high in the east, and around 4am it is directly overhead atop the celestial sphere. Above Old Jove are the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux.
Mars rises around 2am and is high in the east at sunrise. The red planet trails equally bright Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion, by roughly 10 degrees.
With the new week, Mercury begins its escape from the sun’s blinding glare, climbing above the east horizon before dawn. Don’t be confused by blue-white Spica less than 10 degrees higher.