Crazy Bright Moon Hops Across The Hyades Tonight

The bright moon provided plenty of light to capture both my neighbor’s snow-drifted house and a starry sky. The Big Dipper stands on its handle near center. Details: 17mm lens, f/2.8, ISO 400 and 15 seconds. Credit: Bob King

Brilliant nights! When a big moon beams over the snow-covered forest and Orion raises his club in the south I don’t care how cold it gets. By the time the sky cleared last night, the nearly full moon was already at its highest. Light bouncing off rooftop drifts and snow piled high across fields and lawns lit up the very air.

Winter nights give us the brightest gibbous and full moons because the moon occupies the same high place in the sky that the sun does in summer. Its light is direct and little sullied by atmospheric dust and water vapor. Add in snow and you can read a newspaper at midnight.

he tiptoes across the Hyades star cluster in Taurus tonight. This map shows the sky facing southeast around 8 p.m. local time. Stellarium

Tonight the moon will cross through the northern half of the Hyades (HI-uh-deez), the nearest star cluster to Earth located 153 light years away in the direction of the constellation Taurus the Bull. Skywatchers living at mid-northern latitudes won’t see any of its bright members get occulted or covered by the moon, but it’ll be cool to see our satellite nestled in the little group with a pair of binoculars.

The moon moves through the Hyades tonight as shown to correct scale and how it will appear in binoculars. Motion over 3 hours is very easy to see. Stellarium

The bright orange giant star Aldebaran sure looks like a Hyades star, but it’s a poser. Located more than twice as close to Earth at 65 light years Aldebaran’s a foreground star that just happens to neatly line up with the star cluster.  Take a look tonight in binoculars around 5-6 p.m. and then again around 9 and you’ll easily see how much the moon has traveled “across the cluster” as it orbits the Earth.

Sirius (top) and Canis Major rise over a snow-drifted garage in this photo taken last night. Credit: Bob King

I had fun before going numb last night taking photos of scenes in moonlight. It’s crazy how bright a snowy landscape is – at ISO 800 you can get away with exposure times of just a few seconds. All you need is a tripod and a point and shoot camera.

10 Responses

  1. Richard Keen

    Bob, looks like you’re getting lots of snow this year!
    Do you live in the high country outside of Duluth? A dark-sky site?

    1. astrobob

      I’m just outside the city limits up over the hill. We were particularly hard hit during the big storm with about 40 inches total. The sky is dark to the north, northwest and east. South has major light pollution from Duluthy proper especially in the winter with snow reflecting streetlights.

  2. Edward M. Boll

    Total lunar eclipse Aug. 16, 1989. The newspaper could be read at Full Moon but became too hard to read as the darkening of the Moon progressed. We were in a tent in western Wisconsin that night.

  3. Norman Sanker

    Hey Bob,

    In fear of that oncoming brilliant moon, I dragged myself outside after moonset on Sunday morning for one last look at Comet Lovejoy. It took me quite a while to spot it (I even stumbled across M-13 first) as it’s much smaller and dimmer than my last view a few weeks ago. Lovejoy was the first of the four (later 5!) morning comets that I spotted and I’ve really appreciated its steady performance in contrast to ISON’s wild ride. Two Q’s. What’s the prognosis for exploding Comet LINEAR as it approaches perihelion (March?)–any chance of its reaching binocular level again? And, any sign–by amateurs, pros, spacecraft–of ISON’s rubble pile, dust cloud, remains, or whatever? Later.

    Norman Sanker

    1. astrobob

      Thanks for the update on Lovejoy. There’s always a chance it could re-brighten, but at least it’s still hanging in there around 9-9.5. It’s expected to continue to expand and fade in the coming weeks/months even as it approaches perihelion though it does remain well placed for observation for months. Here’s a graph showing expectations:

      1. Edward M. Boll

        Comets this week recorded 3 December observations of ISON. Magnitude 7.5 by J. Gonzales on the 6th, 7.2 on the 7th by P. Guzik, and mag. 9.6 on the 9th by J. Cerny.

  4. Edward M. Boll

    Completely clouded out during the Geminids. I took the coordinates of 8 comets, all well placed, the first 5 in different constellations. But the dimmest 3 were all in Gemini. Giclas, Hug-Bell and Oukaimedan which, the last of the 3 we may see in late August in large binoculars before it slips south of the Equator and into the twilight.

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