4 Sky Events This Week: Seven Sisters and a Stellar Sandwich

This photo shows the Hyades open star cluster anchored by the bright orange Aldebaran, the eye of the bull in the Taurus constellation. Credit: NASA, ESA, and STScI

A final glimpse of the seventh planet from the sun comes this week, and the moon takes sky-watchers on a celestial tour of some stunning star clusters.

Last-chance green giant. After dusk on Monday, March 3, the razor-thin crescent moon acts as convenient guidepost to the fast-fading planet Uranus, which will hang just below the moon.

North Americans will see the pair separated by 6 degrees—slightly more than the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length. Lucky sky-watchers across the Asian continent, however, will view a much more interesting sky show and witness the pair only 2 degrees apart.

Sitting some 1.9 billion miles (3 billion kilometers) away from Earth, Uranus is seen through binoculars as a faint, tiny, green orb. But get your views in soon because the green ice giant is sinking closer toward the western horizon every evening. By mid-March, Uranus will disappear from view as it goes behind the sun.

Seven Sisters. After nightfall on Thursday, March 6, look for the moon to point the way to a stunning star cluster in the constellation Taurus, the bull.

Hanging midway up in the southwestern evening sky, the waxing crescent moon appears just 6 degrees below and to the left of the Seven Sisters cluster of stars, 400 light-years distant.

Also known as the Pleiades, the tight collection of more than 40 stars is easily visible with the naked eye as a tiny, hazy patch in the sky. Binoculars and small telescopes can reveal their true beauty—a stellar nursery filled with hot, young, blue stars.

Hyades cluster. By Friday, March 7, the widening crescent moon will have parked itself above the very distinctive V-shaped star cluster that represents the face of Taurus.

Located only 153 light-years away, the Hyades is the nearest open star cluster. It can be clearly made out with just the naked eye, even from bright city suburbs. In ancient Greek mythology, these stars were known as the half-sisters to those in the Pleiades cluster.

Stretching nearly 18 light-years across, the star cluster is thought to be some 700 million years old, with members numbering in the hundreds. Many of them can be seen through binoculars.

The superbright orange star Aldebaran, now visible just under the moon, marks one end of the cluster and is the red eye of Taurus, the bull. But it is not physically part of the Hyades. The red giant sits much closer, at only 65 light-years distant. It only appears to be in line with the cluster members from our line of sight.

Aldebaran and the moon will appear only 1.5 degrees apart—equal to the width of three full moons set side by side.

Lunar sandwich. After dusk on Saturday, March 8, the first-quarter moon will appear wedged between two of the brightest starlike objects in the evening sky.

Below the moon will rest the brilliant orange star Betelgeuse, while just above will hang the planet Jupiter.  However, even though the two “stars” may appear similar in brightness, their distances couldn’t be more different.  The red giant sits some 642 light-years away, while Jupiter is much closer at only about 40 light-minutes from Earth.

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Changing Planet

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.