February 2012

My apologies for the echoeyness (word?) of the podcast...Check 365daysofastronomy.org in the next couple of days for a shorter and clearer podcast.

Not much going on this month, although it's a beautiful month for lunar encounters and constellations, since the winter ones are out (they have more bright stars in total and more spread out than their summer counterparts) and it's getting warmer!  At least in Pennsylvania - Tomorrow it's supposed to reach 60 degrees - in FEBRUARY!  That certainly makes for some good winter observing!

EVENTS...

Full Moon - 7th (Visible all night - East around sunset, West around Sunrise) - Hopefully it snows so you can really see wonderfully by the light of the Moon - Good for night hikes.

9th - Close Encounter - Moon & Mars - Go out after 8:30pm and find the gibbous Moon in the East-.  Mars is about 10˚ to the left of the Moon.  Look for the reddish object below Leo.  Watch them rise throughout the night and be in the West by dawn.

12th, 13th - Close Encounter - Moon & Saturn - Look to the ESE before midnight and find the gibbous Moon rising.  Saturn will be the bright object about 11˚ down and to the left of the Moon on the 12th, and 9˚ above the Moon on the 13th.  These are really interesting in binoculars, given Saturn's rings and the Moon's craters, and travel to the SSW by dawn.

Last Quarter Moon - 14th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

New Moon - 21st (darkest skies)

22nd - Close Encounter - Moon & Mercury - If you can find the VERY thin, one-day old crescent Moon in the WSW, then only 5˚ to the left will be Mercury.  Binoculars are recommended, if not needed.

25th - Close Encounter - Moon & Venus - Look WSW after sunset.  The thin crescent Moon will be only 3˚ to the right of Venus.  Brilliant for pictures with zoom lenses.

26th - Close Encounter - Moon & Jupiter - Look to the SW after sunset and you'll see Jupiter about 4˚ to the left of the almost crescent Moon.

First Quarter Moon - 29th (Visible until midnight)

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset - Venus (WSW), Jupiter (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night - Jupiter (SàW), Mars (EàSW), Saturn (EàS)

Planets you can see in the Morning - Mars (W), Saturn (S)

Mercury - Not worth looking for, unless it's the end of the month when it's 10˚ above the horizon.  Bring binoculars and looks west after sunset.

VENUS - Look WSW after sunset.  From now until May, Venus will be very prominent, then quickly get lower and disappear by the end of May.  If you're looking with your naked eye, it is the brightest object about 30˚ or more (three fist-widths) above the southwestern horizon.  Below the horizon after 8:30pm.  Close to the Moon on the 25th right after sunset in the SW.  If you're looking through a telescope at dusk, you may see it in its gibbous phase right now, half-lit in March, then crescent in May.

Mars - Rising after 8pm in the East, and rises up and toward the SW by morning.  Look for the constellation of Leo and look for the reddish hued point of light under Leo's hindquarters - use a star chart to help.  Close to the Moon on the 9th.

JUPITER - Already in high in the southwest right at sunset and making its way down and to the West throughout the night, setting around 11pm.  Close to the Moon on the 26thExtra Challenge! Point some binoculars toward Jupiter.  You should be able to see the four moons of Jupiter right next to it - Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto - in different configurations each night.  To see these bright points even better, use a telescope.  You may even be able to see the cloud bands on Jupiter.

Saturn - Look SE before midnight and Saturn will make an appearance up to 35˚ above the southern horizon. Beautifully near the Moon on the morning of the 12th and 13th.

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month - or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00-5:30pm) - Perseus, Taurus, Auriga - Extra Challenge! Right in the middle of Perseus is an open cluster called Mel 20.  If you take binoculars and look around Perseus, you'll see plenty of stars, but right in the middle where Mel 20 is, there are a lot more than you can see anywhere else in Perseus, hence they call it a cluster of stars.

Between Sunset and Midnight - Auriga (Taurus is right nearby), Gemini

Midnight - Cancer, Gemini, Lynx, and Leo later in the month - Extra Challenge! Find M44 in the Middle of Cancer - an open cluster of stars also known as the Beehive Cluster.  You may be able to see it as a small fuzzy patch with your naked eye if you have very dark skies.  However with a pair of binoculars or a telescope on low power, it will look like a hive of bees in the distance, hence its nickname.

Early Morning - Corona Borealis, Hercules, Boötes (you can also find the Big Dipper's handle, and starting from the inside of the handle, follow the arc that those four stars make past the last star in the handle about 30˚ or three fist-widths to the next very bright star you find which is Arcturus, the base of the constellation Boötes.  Hence astronomers use the phrase "Follow the Arc to Arcturus")

GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS:

Winter constellations: Orion is easy to spot as he is risen in the south around 6pm.  You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.

Using Orion: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion's belt in the South after 6pm.  If you draw a line from the left (lowest) star to the right (highest) star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm's length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V).  Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you'll find the Pleiades.

If you start at his belt again, but instead go the opposite way and draw a line from the right (highest) star in Orion's belt to the left (lowest) star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you'll come to the brightest star in the sky - Sirius - part of Canis Major.

Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga.  The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky.  Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) - Rigel (Orion - bottom right foot) - Sirius (Canis Major) - Procyon (Canis Minor) - Castor & Pollux (Gemini) - Capella (Auriga).  It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

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