Tonight – January 18, 2016 – as night begins, the waxing gibbous moon, star Aldebaran and Pleiades star cluster are found high in the sky. Aldebaran shines as the brightest star near the moon, though the moonlit glare might make it difficult to see the tiny, dipper-shaped Pleiades cluster tonight. In spite of the moonlit glare, you can always use binoculars to gaze at the Pleiades – also called the Seven Sisters – near tonight’s moon.
You might have an easier time spotting Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Aldebaran represents the Bull’s fiery red eye. It’ll be shining in the moon’s glare on January 18. Then tomorrow evening, the moon will occult Aldebaran on January 19.
You really need a moonless night to see the constellation Taurus the Bull in all his starlit majesty. Once the moon drops out of the evening sky toward the month’s end, you can use three stars of Orion’s Belt to star-hop to Aldebaran and the Pleiades cluster.
The moon, Aldebaran and Pleiades are highest up for the night tonight around 8 to 9 p.m. local time. The threesome will be high in the south as viewed from mid-northern latitudes, yet rather low in the northern sky as seen from temperate southern latitudes.
As evening deepens into late night on January 18, the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades cluster follow the moon westward across the sky. Then these Taurus stars and the moon set in tandem beneath the west-northwest horizon in the wee hours after midnight. The farther north you live, the later they set. The farther south you live, the earlier. At mid-northern latitudes in North America, the moon and Pleiades sink below the horizon tomorrow around 4 a.m. local time.
How can you find Aldebaran and the Pleiades when the moon has left the evening sky? Well, they’re very noticeable in and of themselves: a small compact dipper of stars. You can also use Orion’s Belt to point the way to this most famous of star clusters, as shown on the chart above.
The Pleiades star cluster is also called the Seven Sisters, even though most people can only see six Pleiades stars with the unaided eye.
Stories about the Lost Pleiad abound in sky lore.
Bottom line: The Pleiades star cluster – and bright star Aldebaran – are in the moon’s vicinity on the night of January 18, 2016. If you can’t see them, break out the binoculars!