This Week's Night Sky: Moon Hits a Bull’s Eye

Fresh from its showing in the super blood moon total eclipse, the moon lines up with Uranus, Orion, and the eye of the constellation Taurus.

Asteroid Primetime. Vesta, the second largest body in the asteroid belt, will shine this week at magnitude 6.2, the most brilliant the asteroid will get in our skies this year.

The giant space rock measures 326 miles (525 kilometers) across, and officially reaches opposition on Monday—when it's opposite in our sky from the sun.

While you can easily track down the asteroid with binoculars, a telescope will allow you to watch it move in front of a background of stars from the faint constellation Cetus, the whale.

With help from these star charts, a pair of steadily-held binoculars, and some patience, you should be able to find Vesta, 133 million miles (215 million kilometers) distant.

Moon and Uranus.  A bit easier to hunt down on Monday night will be the planet Uranus, which will be posing beside the moon.

The cosmic pair will be separated by less than three degrees, not quite the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length.

Uranus reached opposition just last week, so it will still be offering up its best views for the year. At magnitude 5.6, it should be visible with the naked eye; however, with the glare from the nearby moon and light pollution, this distant ice giant is best viewed with binoculars.

Moon Hits Bull’s Eye. Late night on Thursday, look to the low eastern sky for the waning gibbous moon gliding next to the bright orange star Aldebaran, which marks the constellation Taurus, the bull’s eye.  

As a bonus on Friday morning, 66-light-years distant Aldebaran will appear to be eclipsed or occulted by the moon at dawn for viewers on the west coast of North America, and during daylight for the rest of the American continent.

The best way to catch a glimpse of the star-moon pair during daylight will be to use binoculars. Scan to the left of the moon for the star. Aldebaran should reach the limb of the moon at 9:55 a.m. EDT (6:15 a.m. PDT) and will reappear on the other side, the darkened limb of the moon, at 10:52 a.m. EDT (7:15 a.m. PDT).

Moon and Orion.  The waning moon will rise in the early morning hours in the northeastern sky on Sunday and will appear to be perched above the bright constellation Orion, the hunter.

Sky-watchers looking under the moon will be greeted by one of the largest naked-eye stars in the entire sky: Betelgeuse, which marks the left shoulder of Orion. Shining with a distinct orange hue, Betelgeuse is a red giant star that is 700 times the size of our sun. It's so large, in fact, that if it replaced the sun at the center of our solar system, the edge of Betelgeuse would reach at least to the orbit of Mars.

Clear skies!

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

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