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Friday, October 5, 2012
Star Gazing: This Week the Three brightest Celestial Bodies in Your Night Sky
Tonight look into the east-northeast sky after about 11 p.m. local time late Friday evening (Oct. 5) for a changing celestial array involving the moon, a bright planet and a bright star, weather permitting.
The planet in question is Jupiter, usually the second brightest planet next to Venus. At a dazzling magnitude of -2.6 on the astronomers' brightness scale (the lower the number, the brighter the object), Jupiter shines three times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star. Whenever it's above the horizon, Jupiter, the solar system's biggest planet at 88,800 miles in diameter -- always attracts immediate attention; to the eye it resembles a brilliant silvery white, non-twinkling "star."
Currently, Jupiter is 419 million miles from Earth. Although primarily an after-midnight sight right now, Jupiter is rising an average of just over 4 minutes earlier each night. By Dec. 3 it will arrive at opposition and be visible all night from sunrise to sunset.
One star in the V stands out far more than the others. That's Aldebaran, marking the Bull's angry orange-red eye. This star seems like it's a member of the Hyades, but in reality, it's only an innocent bystander; it's lined up almost perfectly with the other neighboring stars to fill out the V-shaped pattern, but it's actually much closer to the Earth at a distance of 65 light-years, compared to the Hyades, which is more than double that distance at 153 light-years away.
The moon is currently on the wane, with full phase having occurred this past weekend; last quarter (or half phase) will come early on Monday (Oct. 8). So a gibbous moon will be interacting with Jupiter and Aldebaran late this Friday night.