The brilliant waxing gibbous moon will wash out a lot of stars from the nighttime tonight – February 8, 2014 – but if you look closely in the moon’s glare, you might see the star Aldebaran, brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull. If you can’t see Aldebaran with the unaided eye, try shielding the moon with your finger and then look for this star. You might also see the The Pleiades star cluster in the moon’s glare tonight. It looks like six stars in the shape of a tiny dipper. Meanwhile, the brightest object near the moon tonight will be the planet Jupiter.
You’ll surely see Jupiter because it’s so bright. But if you can’t see the Pleiades or Aldebaran (which will be closer to the moon than Jupiter), try binoculars.
Earth passed between the sun and Jupiter on January 5, 2014. We are now fleeing ahead of this planet in our smaller, faster orbit. But Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, and it’s always bright. In February 2014, it’s the brightest starlike object in the night sky until Venus rises in the east before the sun.
Aldebaran and the Pleiades both reside in the constellation Taurus. Because Taurus is a constellation of the Zodiac, the ecliptic – the pathway of the sun, moon and planets – passes right through it, to the north of Aldebaran but south of the Pleiades cluster.
In predictable cycles, the moon in its orbit can travel anywhere from 5o north to 5o south of the ecliptic when it passes through the constellation Taurus the Bull. In 2014, the moon swings south of the ecliptic but to the north of Aldebaran every month. However, starting on January 29, 2015, the moon will occult – cover over – Aldebaran every month until September 3, 2018. But you have to be on the right spot on Earth to witness any lunar occultation of a star.
For the rest of this year, though, the moon will pass south of the ecliptic and to the north of Aldebaran whenever it goes in front of the constellation Taurus the Bull.
Bottom line: The brightest object near the moon on the night of February 8, 2014 is Jupiter. If you look closely in the moon’s glare, you might see two other objects: the bright star Aldebaran and the dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster. Both are in the constellation Taurus the Bull.