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June 2002: Star Aldebaran and Planet Mercury's Summer Solstice Rendezvous

The Sun conjoins with the star Aldebaran of the constellation Taurus on June 1. Consequently, Aldebaran is lost in the Sun's glare for a month or so out of the year, roughly from middle May to middle June -- the exact duration depending on your latitude. At the vicinity of forty degrees north latitude, Aldebaran returns to visibility at about the time of the summer solstice on June 21. Southerners actually have the inside track on viewing Aldebaran at this time, but even so, the star only appears at early dawn, then succumbs quickly to the encroaching twilight.
Around the solstice, a diligent observer with an unobstructed eastern horizon might catch Aldebaran at about forty-five minutes to an hour before sunrise. Incidentally, this year's 2002 June solstice features the planet Mercury pairing with Aldebaran at dawn, residing to the star's upper left. With Mercury being the higher and brighter of the two, expect Mercury to be the easier to see. Aiming binoculars at Mercury, by the way, may help you to reel in Aldebaran.
As June parades onward towards July, Aldebaran and Mercury become easier to spot. Both climb higher into the dawn sky, and Mercury brightens day by day.
With calendar-like precision, Aldebaran's reappearance into the dawn sky happens around the June solstice every year. But Mercury -- being a planet rather than a star -- marches to the beat of a different drummer. It doesn't rendezvous with Aldebaran on the same date ANNUALLY, but on (or near) the same date in cycles of 13, 33 and 46 years.

Copyright 2002 by Bruce McClure

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