February 2018

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         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night.  Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed, or get my podcast feed on Stitcher, or iTunes.

February is a rather uneventful month for beginner’s stargazing, but take advantage of the month-long line up of Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter in the mornings in the East, with the Moon stopping by from the 7th to the 12th.  Should make for some good pictures.

 

Naked-eye PLANETS...

  • Around Sunset – None
  • Throughout the night – None
  • Morning (S) – Saturn, Mars, Jupiter

 

Mercury

  • Not visible this month

Venus

  • Not easily visible this month. You might catch it at the end of the month about 10˚ above the setting Sun.

Mars

  • Rises by 3:30am. Look SE and find the red object to the left of Jupiter and toward the top of Scorpius.

Saturn

  • Rises around 5:15am at the beginning of the month and 3:45am at the end. Look low on the SE horizon, to the left and down from Mars and at the top of Sagittarius.

Jupiter

  • Rises around 2am in early February, Midnight in late February, to about 30˚ above the S horizon at sunrise, hanging out right in the middle of Libra.

 

EVENTS...

Last Quarter Moon – 7th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

7th – 12thMorning Close Encounter Week – Moon, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn – All week, if you get up after 5:30am, you’ll see all three planets, with the Moon traveling through day to day. Jupiter will consistently be the brightest planet about 30˚ up in the South, with Mars about 15˚ down and to the left, and Saturn about 25˚ down and to the left of that.

       7th – The First Quarter Moon will be 6˚ up and to the right of Jupiter

       8th – The Moon will be almost right in the middle between Jupiter and Mars

       9th – A thinner Moon will be just 4˚ up and to the left of Mars

       10th – The Moon will be almost right in the middle between Mars and Saturn

       11th – A beautiful crescent Moon will be just 2˚ above Saturn

       12th – A very thin crescent Moon will form a nice line of objects, with the Moon visible as early as 5:15am, with Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter finishing the line up and to the right.

New Moon – 15th (darkest skies) 

First Quarter Moon – 23rd (Visible until midnight)

 

CONSTELLATIONS... STRAIGHT UP

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

If you’re looking straight up above you…

  • 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
  • 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”)

SEASONAL CONSTELLATIONS: 

Winter: Orion is easy to spot as he already high the South after sunset.  You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.

  • Taurus, Pleiades: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the East after sunset.  If you draw a line from the left (bottom) star to the right (top) 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.
  • Canis Major: Draw a line from the right (top) star in Orion’s belt to the left (bottom) 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.
  • Gemini, Auriga: 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.

 

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