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Bright Aldebaran near moon on March 13

Tonight and tomorrow night – on March 13 and 14, 2016 – look west after sunset for Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull. You’ll be able to identify it because it’ll be the bright star in the glare of the waxing crescent moon. Try putting your finger over the moon to see Aldebaran more clearly, and to see its surrounding V-shaped pattern of stars (the Hyades star cluster). Then look nearby for the Pleiades star cluster, a dipper-shaped pattern of stars, also called the Seven Sisters.

Will you notice Aldebaran in the moon’s glare … ? Maybe!

You’ll surely see the planet Jupiter rather low in the eastern sky at nightfall. Jupiter beams as the fourth-brightest celestial object, after the sun, moon and the planet Venus. At present, however, Venus shines in the morning sky. Jupiter is even brighter than Sirius, the brightest star of the nighttime sky, which graces the sky at nightfall, too, in the south as seen from Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and overhead as seen from the Southern Hemisphere.

An imaginary arc going upward from the western horizon, and passing in between the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades cluster at early evening enables your mind’s-eye to envision the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac. The sun, moon and planets all travel along the ecliptic, so it’s a handy semi-circle across the sky that stargazers come to know. Aldebaran lodges to the south of the ecliptic, while the Pleiades star cluster resides to the north of it.

Whenever the moon travels through the constellation Taurus, it can swing anywhere from 5o south to 5o north of the ecliptic. When the moon reaches a southern extreme, it occults – covers over – Aldebaran once every month for months on end. When the moon reaches a northern extreme, it then occults the stars of the Pleiades cluster for months on end.

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The waxing crescent moon passes through the constellation Taurus on March 12, 13 and 14, 2016. The green line depicts the ecliptic - Earth's orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

The waxing crescent moon passes through the constellation Taurus on March 12, 13 and 14, 2016. The green line depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

For the rest of this year, the moon will occult the star Aldebaran every month. The moon started this series of monthly occultations of Aldebaran on January 29, 2015, and the series will continue until September 3, 2018. To watch any one of these occultations of Aldebaran, you have to be at the right spot on the Earth’s surface. I’ll bet we’ll get some awesome photos, though, from EarthSky friends on Facebook and Google+.

This time around, a good deal of Asia can watch the lunar occultation of Aldebaran on the evening of March 14, 2016. The worldwide map below shows where the occultation takes place. Everyplace in between the solid white lines can see the occultation in the nighttime sky, on the evening of March 14, 2016. The short blue lines to the left of the solid white lines depict evening twilight. Click here for the occultation times for numerous Asian localities in Universal Time. Remember to convert Universal Time to your local time.

How do I translate Universal Time to my time?

View larger. The worldwide map above shows where the occultation takes place. Everyplace in between the solid white lines can see the occultation in the nighttime sky, on the evening of March 14, 2016. The short blue lines to the left of the solid white lines depict evening twilight. Click here for occultation times.

View larger. The worldwide map above shows where the occultation takes place. Everyplace in between the solid white lines can see the occultation in the nighttime sky, on the evening of March 14, 2016. The short blue lines to the left of the solid white lines depict evening twilight. Click here for occultation times.

For your convenience, we list the local times for the lunar occultation of Aldebaran at Jaipur, India and Beijing, China:

Lunar occultation of Aldebaran on March 14, 2016

Jaipur, India
Occultation begins (Aldebaran disappears): 8:08 p.m. local time
Occultation ends (Aldebaran reappears): 9:18 p.m. local time

Beijing, China
Occultation begins (Aldebaran disappears): 11:12 p.m. local time
Occultation ends (Aldebaran reappears): 11:39 p.m. local time

About seven and one-half years from now, the moon will reach a northern extreme in the constellation Taurus. At that juncture, the moon will occult Alcyone, brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster, for months on end. That’ll happen on a monthly basis from September 5, 2023 to July 7, 2029. Something to look forward to!

Bottom line: On the nights of March 13 and 14, 2016, let the waxing moon show you the star Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

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Taurus? Here’s your constellation

Bruce McClure

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