04 April 2011

The Moon and two Star Clusters: Pleiades and Hyades

The Moon graces the last vestiges of the winter sky this week, as the waxing Moon splits two of the prettiest star clusters, the Pleiades and the Hyades. This will be an exciting sight for stargazers, one that will look particularly magical through binoculars. So mark your calendar for Thursday April 7th and watch the show unfold all week long.

When the Moon emerges from the New phase and starts its 29 1/2 day journey around the Earth, the first few days are always a treat, because the waxing crescent offers so much to see through a telescope or binoculars, and even without optical aid, the sight of the thinly-lit Moon and the glow of Earthshine always catch your eye.

On Thursday, the Moon moves past the Pleiades star cluster, one of the best known clusters in the sky because the stars in it are fairly bright and concentrated into a small space, creating a kind of glow in the sky. Around the bright star Aldeberan in Taurus is the open cluster called the Hyades. These stars are also a close grouping in the sky, but not as tightly arranged, so you don't get the same kind of glow. However, through binoculars this cluster offers much to see.

Use the graphic (above) to help you orient yourself this week. You will want an observing location with a clear western horizon, away from streetlights or other distractions, and good weather. If you get all these conditions just right, you have no excuse for missing this gem of a celestial lineup. And if you live in San Francisco, come join me at the Cal Academy for a personal tour :-)

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