Sunday, January 20, 2013

Look Up in the Sky Monday Night

As the Sun sets on Monday evening, Jan. 21, and you face South and look up, you should see a pretty sight. The planet Jupiter will be very close to the Moon, almost cheek to cheek with it. Their "closest approach" in the sky will be around 7 pm Pacific time.

The two just happen to look close on the sky -- in reality, Jupiter is 1,700 times further away. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system -- eleven Earths could fit side by side into its diameter.

As an extra treat, you get to see the bright star Aldebaran just below the Moon-Jupiter pair. Aldebaran, the reddish eye of the bull figure that gives its name to the constellation of Taurus, is a cool giant star, about 44 times as wide as the Sun. It is about 67 light years away, meaning the light we see tonight took 67 years to get to Earth. If you could see Aldebaran up close, it would shine over 400 times as bright as the Sun. But with all that distance between it and us, it's just a reddish point in our sky.

As you can see in the diagram, the Moon and Jupiter are already close tonight and will still be close on Tuesday night. But Monday is the best time to look up. Take the kids outside in the evening or make a date to be outside with someone with whom you like to spend time in the dark.

(Thanks to Sky & Telescope magazine for the diagram I am showing.)

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