Tonight

Moon and bright stars on January 12, 13 and 14

Moon and bright stars, positions of moon along slanted green line of ecliptic, with red arrow pointing from Orion to Aldebaran.
January 12, 13 and 14, 2022: See the moon and bright stars. The waxing gibbous moon slides past the dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster and the bright star Aldebaran – fiery eye of the Bull in the constellation Taurus – on January 12 and 13. Then, look for the moon above the easy-to-see constellation Orion the Hunter on January 14. Notice that the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt point to Aldebaran. Chart by John Jardine Goss.

Moon and bright stars

Look for the moon near a group of identifiable objects on the evenings of January 12 to 14, 2022. You’ll see the tiny, misty, dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster, aka the Seven Sisters. In addition, you’ll see the red star Aldebaran, fiery eye of the Bull in the constellation Taurus.

And, when the moon moves away, you can still confirm it’s Aldebaran you’re seeing, using the famous constellation Orion as a guide. First, notice the three stars of Orion’s Belt. Then, draw an imaginary line through the belt toward the Pleiades. The first bright star you come to will be Aldebaran with its distinctive red-orange glow.

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Sky chart showing an arrow from Orion's Belt to the star Aldebaran. The Pleiades is in the upper right.
If you can find the prominent constellation Orion, you can find the bright red star Aldebaran. Notably, Orion’s Belt always points to Aldebaran. Consequently, extending that line takes you generally toward the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.
Star chart of constellation Taurus with blue ecliptic line running across.
A detailed map of the part of the sky shown on our chart, above. Image via IAU/ SkyandTelescope.com/ Constellation Guide.

Come to know the legendary Pleiades

The Pleiades star cluster is visible from virtually every part of the globe. In fact, it’s seen from as far north as the North Pole and farther south than the southernmost tip of South America. It’s very noticeable with its tiny size and dipper-like shape. Sometimes, people mistake it for the actual Little Dipper, which is in the northern sky.

The Pleiades cluster is a true open star cluster in space. That is, it’s a family of stars that were born together and still move together in orbit around the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

Brilliant blue-white stars in bluish mist against star field.
Fred Espenak – aka Mr. Eclipse – posted this image of the Pleiades at EarthSky Facebook. This image is a stack of 20 individual 5-minute exposures. Photo via MrEclipse.com.

Aldebaran is Taurus’ brightest star

The name Aldebaran is from the Arabic for the follower, presumably as a hunter following prey. To the early stargazers, this “prey” was probably the Pleiades star cluster. Correspondingly, Aldebaran follows the Pleiades across the sky.

Aldebaran is part of a V-shaped group of stars – the Hyades – that forms the Bull’s face. In fact, according to Richard Hinckley Allen in his classic book Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, people once applied the name Aldebaran to the entire Hyades star cluster. But Aldebaran isn’t a true member of the Hyades cluster. It is actually only located near the cluster along our line of sight.

Aldebaran is a huge, aging star. Indeed, its diameter is between 35 and 40 times the size of our sun. For example, if Aldebaran replaced our sun, its surface would extend almost to the orbit of Mercury.

Antique etching of front half of a bull superimposed over a star chart with Aldebaran written on its left eye.
View larger. | The constellation Taurus. See Aldebaran marked as the Bull’s Eye? Image via Wikipedia.
Part of huge orange circle with little yellow circle beside it labeled sun.
A comparison of the size of Aldebaran with our sun. Image via Wikipedia.

Orion is easy to spot

The constellation Orion the Hunter is a constant companion to stargazers around the globe at this time of the year. It’s probably the easiest constellation to spot thanks to its distinctive Belt: three stars in a short, straight row at the Hunter’s waistline. If you pick out any three medium-bright and equally-bright stars in a row in the evening sky now, you’re probably looking at Orion. Want to be sure? There are two even brighter stars – one reddish and the other blue – on either side of the Belt stars.

As seen from mid-northern latitudes, you’ll find Orion in the southeast at early evening and shining high in the south by mid-to-late evening (around nine to 10 p.m. local time, the time on your clock wherever you are). However, if you live at temperate latitudes south of the equator, you’ll see Orion high in your northern sky around this hour.

Arrow from Orion's Belt stars to region of sky with Aldebaran and star cluster Pleiades.
Once the moon drops out of the evening sky, you can use the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt to find the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster. Image via Janne/ Flickr.

Bottom line: Watch for the noticeable Pleiades star cluster, and the bright red star Aldebaran, near the moon on the nights of January 12 and 13, 2022. Then, on January 14, be sure to notice the moon near the constellation Orion the Hunter. The short, straight row of three stars that represents the Belt of Orion points to Aldebaran.

Posted 
January 12, 2022
 in 
Tonight

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