In mid-February around 8 p.m., the majestic constellation Orion is due south, with his three-star belt and bright white foot (the star Rigel) and bright red-orange shoulder (the star Betelgeuse).

Look to the upper right of Orion for another bright red-orange star, Aldebaran. Although not quite as bright as Betelgeuse, the star stands out well and appears connected to a group of stars tracing a large capital letter "V" but on its side!

This "V" shape is the star cluster known as the Hyades and is the closest star cluster to the sun.

Aldebaran and the Hyades, by the way, are situated in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

The Hyades cluster is 151 light years distant; light from these stars we see tonight has been traveling since the mid-18th century to reach your eyes.
Although Aldebaran, on the "tip" of one of the ends of the "V" shape, is actually a foreground star. Aldebaran is only 65 light years away. Classified as a red giant star, Aldebaran is 35 to 40 times wider than the sun, similar to comparing a large beach ball to a glass marble. Aldebaran has at least one planet, several times the size of Jupiter.

To the upper left from the Hyades is the much  more well known star cluster, the Pleiades. This group is more compact, and brighter, although further away (444 light years). Both clusters are roughly 16 or 17 light years across.

There are about a dozen stars in the Hyades you can see with eyes alone, unless the moonlight or light pollution is overpowering. With binoculars, you can find many more. Several nice double stars are within reach of binoculars in this group. has an article on exploring the Hyades with binoculars, written by columnist Bob King.

The Moon reaches first quarter on Tuesday, February 12. The red planet Mars shines a few degrees above it, in the southwestern evening sky. About 45 minutes before sunrise be sure to look in the southeastern sky for three planets in a row, starting with Saturn at lower left, the very bright planet Venus and at upper right, the brilliant planet Jupiter. Saturn is the least bright; use binoculars to find it in the brightening glow of dawn.

Keep looking up!
-- Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.