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Waxing moon in Taurus, heading toward Jupiter

2015-february-24-taurus-pleiades-moon-night-sky-chart

Tonight for February 24, 2015

Tonight – February 24, 2015 – the fat waxing crescent moon shines in front of the constellation Taurus the Bull. Despite the lunar glare, you should be able to make out the Bull’s brightest star, Aldebaran, and the tiny, dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster, aka the Seven Sisters.

Look in the east at nightfall, and you also can’t miss the king planet Jupiter. This world is much brighter than the evening’s brightest stars. By early March, you’ll see a very bright waxing gibbous moon pairing up with the planet Jupiter.

Although the moon and Jupiter (and all the stars) go westward during the night, the moon is actually going eastward relative to the backdrop stars and planets. The moon, planets and stars appear to go westward for the same reason that the sun appears to go westward during the day. The Earth spins from west to east on its rotational axis, making it appear as if these celestial bodies are traveling from east to west across the sky every day while the Earth stands still. But it’s really Earth that’s doing the moving.

The dark side of a waxing moon always points eastward, or in the direction of the moon’s orbital motion. Take a close look at tonight’s moon and you might be able to discern that Jupiter lies to the east of the moon on the sky’s dome.

Then, over the next several days, watch for the moon to edge eastward along the ecliptic – pathway of the sun, moon and planets, shown as a green line on the chart below. That motion of the moon – caused by the moon’s own motion in orbit around Earth – will carry our companion world closer and closer to Jupiter.

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You can imagine the ecliptic with the mind's-eye by drawing an imaginary line from Jupiter, and in between the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades cluster.

You can imagine the ecliptic with the mind’s-eye by drawing an imaginary line from Jupiter, and in between the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades cluster.

The ecliptic (see green line on chart, above) is an imaginary semi-circle on the great dome of sky, arcing all the way from the eastern horizon to the western horizon.

The constellations of the Zodiac run astride the ecliptic, defining the narrow beltway of the stars through which the sun, moon and planets forever travel.

The moon will drop out of the evening sky by around the second week of March 2015. Then you can use the planet Jupiter and the constellation Taurus to imagine the ecliptic – the pathway of the planets – with the mind’s-eye. The ecliptic runs past Jupiter and in between the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster.

Bottom line: On the evening of February 24, 2015, the moon shines in front of the constellation Taurus, in the vicinity of the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster. The moon never really stays still relative to the stars of the Zodiac, though, going its own diameter eastward every hour.

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