By the Light of the Moon

The waxing gibbous moon brightens the night sky this week, appearing high in the southeast Thursday at sunset a little after 5:00. The next evening, and each following night, sunset finds the moon roughly a dozen degrees to the east.

Thursday, the moon shines in front of the constellation Aries, with the three stars outlining the ram’s head shining to the upper right of the moon. A rather indistinct constellation at best, Aries’ brightest stars, Hamal, Sheratan and Mesarthim, pale against the light of the moon. A pair of binoculars will help you pinpoint them; all three fit within the field of view.

Friday, the moon has left behind the ram and nears the stars of Taurus the bull. Less than 10 degrees to the northeast of the moon, look for a diffused smudge of light — the Pleiades star cluster, which marks the bull’s shoulder. Named after seven sisters in Greek lore, six of these stars might be spotted with the unaided eye — absent the moon’s glare. But this week you’ll again want binoculars, which will reveal far more individual stars than just six or seven.

The next evening, the moon sits just a few degrees to the other side of the Pleiades, with the red-giant Aldebaran, the eye of the bull, glaring 10 degrees to the east of the moon. Below both the moon and Aldebaran, marking the third point were you making a triangle, look for another dim star cluster, the Hyades, which marks the face of Taurus. Once more you’ll want binoculars to discern any of the single stars, which according to legend were half-sisters of the Pleiades.

Tuesday’s moon, shining above the twins of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, looks full. But the astronomically full moon — which is directly opposite the sun — is Wednesday at 4:21pm, when the old moon rises at 5:12pm in the northwest as the sun sets in the southeast.