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Astro Bob: Red eyes of Taurus are upon us!

Mars is really getting bright. For the next few nights, it lines up with Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull and 'looks' straight at us.

Mars and Aldebaran
Bright Mars, left, shines directly across from Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. Together they make a neat line beneath the Pleiades star cluster, top, the next few nights.
Contributed / Bob King
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Staying up too late has its benefits. I should have been in bed before midnight Monday night, Sept. 19, but I was writing and working on photos instead. To clear my brain before turning in I stepped outside and looked up. To my delight and surprise Mars and Aldebaran looked right back. Tucked in a gap between trees they glared like a pair of bright, red eyes.

The fact that they were both level to the horizon and nearly the same color really caught my attention. Yes, I'm a simple man. Dangle a pattern of lights in front of my eyes, and I'll follow them anywhere. Seriously, they looked cool, so I quick set up a camera to take a photo so you could see for yourself.

Mars
This map shows the view facing northeast around 11 p.m. local time. If you're out at midnight, Mars and Aldebaran will stand higher and look even more impressive.
Contributed / Stellarium

The pair will hang together like this for a few more nights, giving us some good viewing opportunities. That's not all. The duo luminaries are joined by two of the brightest star clusters in the sky: the Pleiades, shaped like a tiny dipper standing on its handle, and the V-shaped Hyades cluster. Both look truly fantabulous in binoculars.

Mars doesn't rise until after 10 o'clock local time, so you'll have to be out around 11 p.m. or later to check out the scene. When you do, you'll see how much brighter the planet is compared to the star. Mars shines at magnitude -0.4, brighter than every nighttime sun except Canopus (visible from the southern U.S.) and Sirius. It even outshines neighboring Capella in Auriga the Charioteer. Aldebaran is about a magnitude and a half fainter at 0.9.

Taurus myth
Taurus the Bull is an ancient constellations that goes back thousands of years to Mesopotamian times. Aldebaran represents the bull's right eye; a star in the Hyades his left. Just for fun, we're substituting Mars for the second eye.
Contributed / Urania's Mirror

In mythological drawings, Aldebaran is depicted as the right eye of Taurus the Bull , one of Greek god Zeus's favorite disguises whenever he'd try to pull a fast one. At least temporarily, Mars makes a fine, substitute second eyeball. The planet and Earth are slowly drawing nearer to one another and will come closest during its current visibility cycle on Dec. 8. Befriend the planet and you'll see it wax brighter than Sirius by the end of November.

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First Webb Mars
Webb captured its first images of Mars on Sept. 5, 2022. Left: Reference map of the observed hemisphere of Mars from NASA and the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA). Top right: The near-infrared image reveals surface features such as craters and dust layers. Bottom right: A simultaneous photo in deeper infrared light shows the planet giving off heat (yellow) where the sun is nearly overhead, as well as darkening of the giant Hellas impact crater caused by atmospheric effects.
Contributed / NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Mars JWST, GTO team

While we're talking Mars, NASA's Webb Space Telescope took its first images of the Red Planet in two different colors (wavelengths) of infrared light. Because the telescope is optimized for faint targets, astronomers had to use special observing techniques to prevent overloading its sensitive light detectors. Mars is, after all, very bright right now. Stay up late, and you'll see what I mean :)

Related Topics: SCIENCE AND NATURE
"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer and retired photographer for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at nightsky55@gmail.com.
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