2020's Best Weekend for Stargazing Is Days Away — Here's What to Look Out For (Video)
See Venus, a crescent moon, a bright red star, and the night sky's most beautiful star cluster this weekend.
Every now and again you get the perfect week to go stargazing. While there are no supermoons, meteor shows, or lunar eclipses happening this Saturday and Sunday, March 28 and 29, there will be a few exciting astronomical sights to spot in the sky right after sunset.
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This Is 2020’s Best Weekend for Stargazing
After sunset on Saturday, March 28, look to the southwest, and there will be two really obvious bright lights; one will be the brilliant planet Venus, and the other will be a beautiful crescent moon. Just above them, making a triangle of sights, will be the Pleiades — also known as the “Seven Sisters” — easily the most beautiful star cluster in the entire night sky.
The following night, on Sunday, March 29, the crescent moon will have moved slightly to the east, and it will shine above another stunning star cluster, the Hyades, and its bright red, supergiant star Aldabaran.
If you’ve ever wanted to go stargazing, this weekend is a great time to get outside and start.
When to Go Stargazing This Weekend
You should go out as soon as it gets dark. Since everything is in the western night sky just after sunset, it will all be moving down towards the horizon, so you only have a few hours to stargaze.
How to Find the Pleiades Star Cluster
On Saturday night, all you have to do is locate Venus and the moon, and then just look above them. You'll see six or seven stars, depending on your eyesight, that together make up the Pleiades. A collection of young, hot, blue stars moving together through the Milky Way, the Pleiades are surprisingly bright. Look at them straight on and you'll see the stars, but if you look slightly to the side of the Pleiades, your eyes will be better able to appreciate their incredible brightness. The Pleiades are about 444 light years away from us, and they're best seen with the naked eye or through binoculars, not a telescope.
How to Find the Hyades Star Cluster
On Sunday night, find the crescent moon and look just below it, and you'll be viewing the Hyades star cluster. A much older, looser cluster of stars than the Pleiades, the Hyades are just 151 light years away from us. Right in front of the Hyades is Aldebaran, a giant orangey-red star about 65 light years away (so it’s not actually part of the Hyades). Aldebaran marks the eye of the bull in the constellation Taurus, one of the constellations of the zodiac.
How to Find Betelgeuse and Orion’s Belt
While you’re out stargazing at brilliant Venus, the crescent moon, and the sparking star clusters, shift your eyes to the left, and you’ll see the unmistakable sight of the three stars — Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka — that together make Orion’s Belt. Directly above them is red supergiant star Betelgeuse, which has been in the news a lot lately. Normally the 10th brightest star in the night sky, Betelgeuse has been visibly dimming since Christmas, and it is currently about a third of its usual brightness. It’s known that Betelgeuse will one day go supernova and explode, becoming as bright as a full moon for weeks or months on end. In fact, astronomers know that this will definitely happen… sometime in the next 100,000 years. Astronomically speaking, that’s any day now!
Betelgeuse Might Explode Soon
Could the dimming be an early sign of something dramatic? If Betelgeuse does go supernova, it will be the celestial sight of the century, though since the star is 642 light years away, it may have already happened. If so, we’ll see it soon, but let’s hope it happens in winter when Orion is above the horizon at night.
Meanwhile, make do with the arresting sight of a bright planet and a delicate crescent moon passing close to a couple of sparking star clusters — truly a jewel of 2020’s fast-disappearing winter night sky.