Face Polaris then turn around until you face in exactly the opposite direction. In other words, you are now facing the southern end of the meridian. Move your gaze up from the horizon along the meridian until you come to a fairly bright orangish or reddish looking star of magnitude 1. You have now found the red giant star Aldebaran (Alpha Tauri) in the constellation Taurus, The Bull. If these instructions are not clear to you, hold Figure 16 above your head when you are facing south to get your bearings.
Notice that Aldebaran sits at the tip of one leg of a sideways letter ĎVí formed by some much fainter stars. This asterism has a formal name, The Hyades and has the distinction of being the closest open cluster to Earth. An open cluster is a loose group of stars which are actually physically close to each other. In most asterisms (such as The Big Dipper) the stars only appear close to each other, when in reality some are relatively near to us while others are tremendously farther away! Also, in Taurus is a more famous and very beautiful open cluster known as The Pleiades which I shall not describe now because it is to the west of the meridian in January. Extensive information on The Pleiades can be found under my discussion of the December sky.
Move your gaze away from Aldebaran in a line slanting slightly downward toward the left until you encounter another orangish or reddish star which is even brighter (magnitude 0) than Aldebaran. You have spotted another well known red giant star called Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion, The Hunter. Betelgeuse is located in the hunterís left shoulder. Below and slightly to the right of Betelgeuse you will see three somewhat fainter stars which make a slanted straight line. These three stars comprise the hunterís belt. Evidently even mythical characters have to keep their pants up!
Assuming you are at a sufficiently dark site, you should see a straight line of three much fainter stars slanting downward below the belt. This line constitutes Orionís sword. Surprise! The middle ďstarĒ in the sword is not a star at all! It is the famous Great Nebula of Orion also known as M 42. I shall discuss this fascinating object in detail in the last section of this book.
Now make an imaginary line starting at Betelgeuse and slanting downward through the rightmost star in the Orionís belt. Extend this line until you encounter a bright white star of magnitude 0. This star (on Orionís right knee) is called Rigel.
Directly under Orion, look for the six stars which make up Lepus, The Hare. Weíll talk about some other more interesting constellations near Orion in Februaryís observational notes. For now, letís turn our attention back to Aldebaran.
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