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June 3, 2003: Taurus Bookends

Today, the Sun shines rather close to Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, the bull. Because the Sun passes through this constellation from May 14 till June 21, its stars are now lost in the Sun's glare. Generally, Taurus is next to impossible to make out at this time of year, except that for TONIGHT, two chance planetary alignments highlight Taurus' eastern border at evening dusk and its western border at morning dawn.

This evening, as dusk deepens into night, watch for the planet Saturn to appear to the lower right of the crescent Moon, quite close to the western horizon. Straddling the border of Taurus and Gemini, Saturn sets one and one-quarter hours after the Sun.

Incidentally, the constellation Gemini's brightest stars, Pollux and Castor, shine to the Moon's immediate right tonight, nearly in line with the Moon; and the intensely bright point of light to the Moon's upper left is the planet Jupiter.

Whereas Saturn's brilliance nowhere matches Jupiter's, it does rival that of the brightest stars. Even so, Saturn sits somewhat subdued, because of its low presence in the evening twilight. Binoculars help you to zoom in on Saturn illuminating the boundary between Taurus and Gemini.

Tomorrow morning, as Venus rises about an hour before sunrise, its beacon light flags the Taurus-Aries border. Although it's low in the east, a clear horizon should show you Venus, the solar system's brightest planet.

Tonight, look for Saturn at dusk and Venus at dawn, the two planets so well defining Taurus' borders that you'd almost think NASA astronauts had put flares into the heavens for that very purpose.

copyright 2003 by Bruce McClure