||February Skywatch Highlights|
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||Behold our glorious Winter Sky! Winter boasts the brightest stars of any season. Orion & his faithful hunting dogs, (Canis Major & Minor), as well as Taurus, Gemini, Leo, & the other great constellations of Winter, display boldly in our evening skies. Stunning VENUS glows brilliantly, high in the southwest just after sunset. At magnitude minus -4.0, our "sister planet" shines far brighter than any other point of light in the sky. Each night, Venus will appear a bit higher in the sky & set later. By the end of the month, Venus will be 40-degrees above the Western horizon at sunset, gleam at magnitude minus -4.3, & remain visible until 9:45PM. Look for a lovely pairing of Venus & a slender crescent Moon on Feb. 25th.
Hard to miss JUPITER, the gas giant blazing at magnitude minus -2.3, high overhead at sunset. Jupiter glows twice as bright as any other point of light in the sky, except Venus. The 2 brightest planets appear to draw closer to one another with each passing night. (By Feb. 29th, Venus & Jupiter will appear less than 10-degrees apart).
With a small telescope or good binoculars, you can view Jupiter's 4 bright Galilean moons in their ever-changing configurations. Galileo first saw them nearly 400 years ago with a 1.5-inch telescope of lower quality than any available today. Larger scopes will reveal Jupiter's dark equatorial belts, (one on either side of a brighter equatorial zone), the giant red spot, & other dynamic surface features.
MARS rises in the east shortly before 9PM at the beginning of February, & just a few minutes after the Sun sets at month's end. The Red Planet nearly doubles in brightness this month, blazing at minus -1.2 magnitude by the beginning of March (when it reaches opposition). It's the brightest point of light in Leo, & shines with a ruddy glow, just SW of Denebola, "the tail of the Lion." Look for the waning gibbous Moon next to Mars on the night of Feb. 9-10.
Early in the month, SATURN rises in the east at midnight & shines at magnitude 0.5. The Ringed Planet rises by 10PM at month's end. Look for Saturn just 7-degrees ENE of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. Saturn shines with a slightly brighter, golden hue compared to blue-white Spica. At 6AM, Saturn & Spica stand side-by-side, high in the southwest, with Saturn on the left. Saturn's spectacular ring system currently tilts 15-degrees to our line of sight from Earth. This wide angle affords magnificent telescopic views. Look for the waning gibbous Moon next to Saturn on the night of Feb. 11-12.
MERCURY becomes visible at dusk during the last 10 days of the month.
A good night to look for the tiny innermost planet is Feb. 22nd, when a thin crescent Moon lies 5-degrees to its right. Mercury then shines at magnitude minus -1.3 & shows up easily in the twilight, a half-hour after sunset. The pair sets about an hour after the Sun. During the next week, Mercury climbs higher but dims slightly. By the 29th, look for it low in the west around 7:15PM, about 6-degrees above the western horizon.
The Southern Cross, (Crux), rises by 1:40AM at the start of February, and by 11:40PM at the end. To view Crux, you'll need an unobstructed view to the southern horizon. About an hour after Crux rises, look for 2 bright stars, Alpha & Beta Centauri, which "point" to the Cross to their right/west. At that time of early morning, you should be able to see all the way from Polaris, (the North Star), to the bottom star in the Southern Cross, Acrux.
For a February Hawaiian sky map & sky watch column visit Bishop Museum Planetarium
Maintained by Roz Reiner - Kauai, Hawaii
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